Valley residents given look at roadless area rules | PostIndependent.com
Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

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Valley residents given look at roadless area rules

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Area residents had an in-depth look at a proposed U.S. Forest Service rule for managing about 4 million acres in Colorado during an open house at the Hotel Colorado on Wednesday.

That rule has drawn sharp criticism from environmental groups, who say those rules could open those lands up to significant oil and gas development. Lands that could see roads in roadless areas to service oil and gas leases include areas near Thompson Creek southwest of Carbondale and East Divide Creek near Sunlight Mountain Resort.

The Forest Service has three possible alternatives for managing forests in Colorado in its rule ” including one submitted by a Colorado task force. The final rule and environmental impact statement is expected early next year.

One alternative may allow the building of an estimated 54 miles of roads to access 68,400 acres of oil and gas leases in Inventoried Roadless Areas that were issued before Jan. 12, 2001. Based on Forest Service projections, there could be 59 possible well pads placed in roadless areas.

Another option, based on a state proposal, could possibly allow about 136.5 miles of roads to access 130,000 acres of leases that may be issued before the final rule is adopted in Colorado Roadless Areas. Projections show that there could about 143 well pads in those forest areas under that alternative.

An estimated 140 miles of roads could be built to access 219,000 acres of lands available for oil and gas leasing in Inventoried Roadless Areas under a third alternative. About 132 well pads could be placed under that scenario, according to a Forest Service analysis.

Most existing oil and gas leases in Colorado roadless areas are in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, the San Juan National Forest and the White River National Forest.

Kathy Kurtz, the Colorado Roadless Rule team leader for the Forest Service, noted that any oil and gas project that may go forward in those roadless areas would be subject to an environmental analysis. All leases that have been issued in roadless areas have already been subject to an environmental anaylsis, according to Forest Service officials.

Clare Bastable, conservation director of the Colorado Mountain Club, said a major concern is that the proposed rule may allow roads in roadless areas so companies could access mineral leases issued between 2001 and when the Forest Service adopts the final rule. Most of the leases issued after 2001 are concentrated near Thompson Creek and in East Divide Creek, Bastable said.

“What is the biggest concern to residents of Garfield County is that a lot of these ‘long term temporary roads’ are going to be in our backyards,” said Bastable, adding the “long-term temporary” roads may last for 30 years. “We are talking about roads in landscapes right next to our communities that are supposed to be roadless.”

More roads could be constructed than what the Forest Service has estimated if there is a resolution that could be reached in the the long legal wrangling surrounding the Clinton roadless rule. In 2001, Clinton issued a rule that declared 58.5 million acres of roadless forest land nationwide off-limits to road construction. That rule was thrown out in 2003 by a federal judge in Wyoming.

The Bush administration then approved a policy in 2005 that potentially opened the land to logging, road-building and other development. States were given 18 months to petition the federal government to protect some or all the land.

Colorado submitted a petition crafted by a state task force formed by the Legislature and Gov. Owens. Current state officials say the Colorado roadless plan that is under consideration is an insurance policy because of ongoing legal battles over the roadless rule.

The Bush rule was tossed out and the Clinton rule reinstated in 2006 when U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte of San Francisco said the Bush administration didn’t conduct the necessary environmental reviews before adopting its policy.

That prompted Wyoming, which initially filed the complaint against the roadless rule, to renew its complaint in federal district court.

But last month, a federal judge in Wyoming again issued a permanent injunction against the so-called “roadless rule.” Environmentalists said they were going to appeal.

The Forest Service’s open house in Glenwood Springs is one of eight being held in the state on the proposal. Residents at the open house were allowed to submit written comments at the meeting. They also had the option of providing oral comments to a court reporter.

Comments on the Forest Service rule will also be accepted at COcomments@fsroadless.org or by mailing them to Roadless Area Conservation – Colorado, P.O. Box 162909, Sacramento, CA 95816-2909 or faxed to 916-456-6724.

The deadline for submitted comments is Oct. 23.

More information on the Colorado Roadless Rule is available online at http://roadless.fs.fed.us/colorado.shtml.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.