Bush Administration refutes roadless charge | VailDaily.com

Bush Administration refutes roadless charge

Leah McBride

WASHINGTON (Medill News Service) ” The future of more than 4 million acres of Colorado roadless areas is still unknown after the Bush administration filed a brief this week denying allegations that it rescinded a rule protecting roadless areas without conducting necessary environmental studies.

The administration lifted a nationwide rule for national forests, known as the “roadless rule,” last May. The rule, created in the final days of the Clinton administration in early 2001, banned development in 58 million acres of national forests.

Attorneys general from California, New Mexico and Oregon, the governor of Oregon and 20 environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service last August, charging the rule was improperly repealed because the agencies didn’t ask for public comment and didn’t conduct environmental studies required by law.

The agriculture department replaced the rule with a petition process that allows governors to list which land they want protected; the agriculture secretary would make the final decision.

This answer to the lawsuit denied the allegations without offering any supporting arguments.

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Roadless areas have not been left unprotected, said Forest Service spokesman Dan Jiron. The original roadless rule did not involve individual states in the decision-making process, he said.

“It’s not a question of whether there will be roadless protection, but how it’s done and who is involved,” Jiron said.

But Vera Smith, conservation director of Colorado Mountain Club in Golden, said the roadless rule should be reinstated.

“Our roadless areas are the foundation for the recreation industry here, and protecting them also protects the economic well being and quality of life,” she said. “If we don’t steward those places wisely, and maintain that backcountry character, we’ll be losing the economic engine of Colorado.”

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican whose district in on the state’s eastern plains, said having access to public land is important to the health of Colorado’s forests and contributing to the economy.

“It is important for people on a local level, such as the current (state) task force, to determine what is best for Colorado,” Musgrave said in a statement Thursday. “An overreaching federal bureaucracy should not be empowered to ignore that balance and just close the gates like President Clinton attempted.”

Dawn Taylor Owens, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Colorado’s Roadless Areas Review Task Force has had three meetings, each attracting between 350 and 500 people. The task force’s next meeting is in Denver on Feb. 24.

With the repeal of the roadless rule, more than 65 percent of formerly protected areas are now open to development, said Rob Vandermark, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign in Washington.

“I think we’re seeing some factions in industry looking forward to getting into some of these areas,” he said.

For instance, energy development, such as phosphate and natural gas, could be moving into the Rocky Mountains, Vandermark said.

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