VAIL, Colorado --Colorado officials released a revised proposal for protecting roadless areas in the state Monday.
The new proposal adds 160,000 acres for protection, but environmental groups are still concerned about loopholes that could open expanses of backcountry up for logging and road building.
Under the new agreement, 4.2 million acres of land are protected from building roads and cutting trees, up from about 4 million acres in last year's version. The White River National Forest has about 636,000 acres of protected land. The rules include protected land in the Berry Creek, Game Creek, East Vail and Buffehr Creek areas, among others local land in the area. Mike King, deputy director of Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the proposed new revision added little or no additional protected land for Eagle County.
King said the big issue facing Eagle County is the migration of the bark beetle. The new agreement allows communities to build roads 1.5 miles into the protected areas for tree removal. Beyond 1.5 miles, tree removal can still take place but no roads can be built.
The new revision allows the Forest Service to cut down trees to lower wildlife risks. Temporary roads could also be built to develop utilities and waterways.
One exception eliminated from the agreement would have allowed the construction of temporary roads for ranchers to get access to federal land they lease for grazing.
Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, said the state made significant efforts to improve the rules, but there is still need for major revisions. The conservation watchdog group's biggest concern pertains to logging and road building, Bidwell said.
"The Colorado Rule would allow logging and road building anywhere in the roadless area in some circumstances," Bidwell said. "That's a loophole that could result in million of acres of logging. That's our biggest concern and the one that should be easiest to fix."
Colorado Wild and other watchdog groups called for stronger protection rules, similar to the 2001 Roadless Rule.
"The 2001 rule placed protecting roadless areas as its highest priority," Bidwell said. "Protecting backcountry forest was the priority. The Colorado rule places a priority on loopholes - logging, mining, oil and gas drilling. There is an exception for virtually everyone."
State officials countered by saying the 2001 rule --which had 60,000 more acres of protected land --included land that was already "substantially altered." Also, the 2001 rule applied to all states even though they were dealing with vastly different problems.
The Department of Natural Resources will accept public comment on the revision for 60 days. Bidwell is hopeful the state will use the public comments to improve the new rules.
Staff writer Ian Smith can be reached at 748-2928 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.