Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Strong conservation framework makes a better rule for Colorado

Gov. Bill Ritter today submitted a revised state petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture concerning the management of 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest in Colorado.

 The Governor asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to adopt Colorado’s roadless rule and roadless inventory, which was developed during four years of exhaustive public and stakeholder outreach. Colorado originally elected to pursue development of a state rule because the national 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was being challenged in federal district court.

The revised Colorado proposal includes:

· An updated inventory that protects more than 400,000 roadless acres missed in 2001;

· Elimination of a loophole that would have allowed construction projects in all roadless areas;

· Flexibility for community wildfire protection, ski slope expansions and coal mine operations.

“This is simply a better rule for Colorado,” Gov. Ritter said. “Our roadless areas will get stronger protections and we will get the targeted flexibility we need to address Colorado’s unique circumstances, such as the pine beetle epidemic, the ski industry and Western Slope coal mines.”

The initial Colorado roadless petition submitted to the U.S.D.A. in November 2006 was based on the recommendations of the bipartisan Colorado Roadless Task Force. In July 2008, the U.S. Forest Service published a draft Colorado Roadless Rule for public review. In August 2009, Colorado released a revised draft Colorado rule that reflected a number of changes made after receiving input from stakeholders. Since the close of a state comment period on Oct. 3, 2009, the Department of Natural Resources has incorporated more than a dozen significant changes into the revised petition.

“The State’s openness to hearing feedback during the comment period is a model for high-quality public involvement,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables. “I appreciate our ability to work closely with the State on such an important land management issue. The State of Colorado is a great partner in this effort.”

The new Colorado inventory is based on a GIS reanalysis and revision of the 2001 Rule’s numerous, often dated roadless inventories. As a result, the Colorado Roadless Areas inventory more accurately reflects land use conditions today. The state rule closes a loophole in the 2001 Rule that renders federally designated roadless areas vulnerable to major construction projects and it bans road-building for any future oil and gas leasing. It also asks the Forest Service to lock in the higher levels of protection that are currently applied to some roadless lands.

Since the promulgation of the 2001 Rule, Colorado has witnessed a bark beetle outbreak unprecedented in modern times. However, drafters of the 2001 Rule did not contemplate such a major forest health crisis or the need to provide mountain residents living in close proximity to beetle-infested forests the ability to respond to significant risks to public safety and welfare.

The revised Colorado rule provides communities adjacent to roadless areas the greatest flexibility to propose fuel reduction projects within a half-mile of their boundaries, but limits opportunities for projects out to 1½ miles from their boundaries, compared with the approach in the August 2009 draft rule.

Also under the Colorado rule, roadless acres representing 0.2 percent of the inventory would become available for the expansion of ski slopes within 14 existing ski permit boundaries. In addition, three coal mines in the North Fork of the Gunnison basin would be allowed to drill methane vents to expand existing mines into an area equivalent to 0.5 percent of the inventory. Taken together, these two exceptions would result in the potential for activity in 30,000 acres of the roughly 4.2 million acres in the Colorado Roadless Inventory.

Because of the number of significant changes since July 2008, the Forest Service has signaled that a revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement will need to be prepared in the coming months.

Maps of the Colorado Roadless Area Inventory, rule language and other materials may be found at DNR’s roadless page: http://www.dnr.state.co.us/roadlessrule.

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