GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Colorado environmental groups say Colorado's newly revised draft Colorado Roadless Rule opens up roadless areas to development, while the Department of Natural Resources' deputy director said the proposed rule is tailored to Colorado's "unique circumstances."
The Department of Natural Resources released the proposed revisions to the draft roadless rule Monday for public review for the next 60 days.
A national 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted in the waning days of the Clinton administration, that would have protected 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest land. President Bush overturned the rule and replaced it with a policy leaving it up to states to petition for such protection. So far only two states, Idaho and Colorado, have sought to create rules protecting its roadless areas.
Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service and a wide variety of stakeholders including representatives of mining, skiing, logging and environmental interests have attempted over the past three years to hash out rules governing the state's roadless lands.
The revisions in the current draft are a result of public comments received since the state's proposed roadless rule was published by the forest service in 2008.
Conservation groups believe the Colorado rule doesn't protect the state's roadless areas as well as the national rule.
"Our concern a year ago, as today, is there are major loopholes allowing logging, road building and mining," said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, of Colorado Wild - a nonprofit, conservation organization that works statewide on national forest issues.
The 2001 Roadless Rule contained narrowly allowed exceptions for road-building and development in certain areas, Bidwell said.
"Whereas the Colorado Rule has broad exceptions which could lead to a great deal of development of those backcountry areas," Bidwell said.
Mike King, Department of Natural Resource's deputy director, said the proposed rule is tailored to Colorado.
"A national approach won't take into consideration allowing ski areas to expand by 8,000 acres within existing permit boundaries," King said.
Also, the current draft allows for 29,000 acres be opened for coal development in a "tightly controlled" manner, King said.
The 2001 rule contained no exceptions for coal development.
Another huge component of the new draft is the addition of 160,000 acres to the roadless inventory, King added.
The Pew Environmental Group, the conservation arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, issued a statement saying the Colorado proposal reduces protections for the state's roadless areas: "Our initial review indicates that Colorado's draft plan offers even less roadless protection than the controversial proposal introduced last year. The Colorado plan would open some of the rocky Mountain West's best backcountry and pristine watersheds to mining, oil and gas development, logging and road-building.
"We call on the Obama administration to extend the national protection provided by the 2001 roadless rule to all of American's national forests, including those in Colorado."
King said it could take years to reinstate the 2001 roadless rule, and the state's national forest could be subject to other development in the interim.
Bidwell said the new rule allows logging and road-building "virtually anywhere under the guise of community wildfire protection."
The allowance of fuel removal was increased due to the bark beetle epidemic that has left 2 million acres of dead trees, King said.
"It creates a tremendous risk of catastrophic wildfires, so our rule gives us a little bit of flexibility to deal with it," King said. Roads will be allowed to be built no further than 1-1/2 miles of a community in high risk areas, he said.
The public can comment on the proposed rule by e-mailing Roadless.Comments@state.co.us, or by sending written comments to Roadless Rule Comments, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, 1313 Sherman St., Room 718, Denver, Colo. 80203. The state will accept comments through Oct. 3.
"We thinks the governor has done a great thing by creating this public conversation, providing an opportunity for the public to have a say in what roadless protections look like in Colorado," said Matt Garrington, of Environment Colorado.
Reach Sharon Sullivan at email@example.com.