White River is leasing some roadless lands to gas companies
While a task force plows ahead with a process to determine whether roadless areas in Colorado should be developed or preserved, the U.S. Forest Service is allowing some of the lands in question to be leased to gas companies.The federal government’s quarterly sale in August of gas leases on public lands will include about 2,500 acres of roadless lands in the White River National Forest. Those parcels are located in the Mamm Creek Roadless Area south of Rifle.Conservation groups condemned the sale of gas leases that could eliminate roadless lands from being eligible for special protections. Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, said past sales have also included leases on roadless lands in the White River National Forest.”They are leasing the heart out of the Mamm Creek Roadless Area,” said Shoemaker.Forest Service officials counter the agency cannot stop selling gas leases while waiting for the state task force to complete its work.”There are so many unknowns (with the roadless task force process) so it’s hard to put things on hold,” said Pam Skeels, Forest Service roadless coordinator for the region that includes the White River National Forest.The Bush administration invited western states to determine how it wanted the federal government to treat land officially designated as roadless by the Forest Service. The president wanted local residents to determine if roadless areas should be preserved or developed for activities like logging and gas production.In Colorado, the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force is collecting public opinion in meetings around the state. The meeting for the Roaring Fork Valley will be held Wednesday from 5-8:45 p.m. at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. There are 640,000 acres of inventoried roadless lands in the White River National Forest.The task force is scheduled to forward a recommendation to Gov. Bill Owens by Sept. 13. The governor will review the recommendation, then forward a final opinion to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture later this year.Melody Holm, program manager for leaseable minerals for the Forest Service’s regional office, said that process could take more than one year to resolve, and the recommendation by the state could be rejected by the secretary of agriculture. Therefore, the Forest Service is allowing the lease of lands for gas development to continue on land deemed appropriate for that activity by the latest management plan, she said.The sale of gas leases doesn’t necessarily mean wells will be developed, Holm noted. In addition, restrictions placed on gas companies could retain roadless characteristics of leased lands, she said.Shoemaker said conservation groups want roadless areas to be off-limits for gas leases until the debate about the fate of those lands is resolved. The Bush administration wanted local control of those lands, Shoemaker said, so it only makes sense to protect those lands from gas leasing until the task force is finished.”If they want public input, they should put a moratorium on any activity in roadless areas until this process plays itself out,” Shoemaker said.
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