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Governor plays Paul Bunyan

Alex Miller

At first glance, the Bush administration’s decision to toss decisions on protected roadless areas back to the states sounded like yet another industry gimme – this from a White House that’s anything but popular with environmentalists.It was the Clinton administration, in its final days, that put the restrictions in place, effectively banning the construction of any more roads in certain remote areas. While that may have been balm to the souls of tree-huggers everywhere, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens is correct when he pointed out that such a move wasn’t fair to everyone.During an interview in Vail recently, Owens said he couldn’t see the problem in opening the question up to all those involved. He backed up his words by signing a bill creating a statewide task force to review the issue. The process ostensibly will create plenty of opportunity for public comment.Sounds fair enough, but there’s still plenty of room for monkey business. For one, no matter what the task force decides, Owens himself has the final say in what our state recommends to the feds. As he recently showed by vetoing nearly 50 bills out of the state Legislature – some with strong bipartisan support – the lame-duck Owens isn’t afraid of casting aside opinions that differ from his own. But who knows what kind of political pressure he’ll be under as lobbyists from the timber, oil and gas and even ski industries work their mojo behind the scenes.Also of concern is what Russell George – the director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources who’s chairing the task force – calls the 10 percent of roadless areas that likely will contain “conflicts.” We’d guess the percentage will be even higher than that. But with some 640,000 acres in question in the White River National Forest alone, the potential for unhappy campers could be pretty high.Almost nothing is more important to Colorado than the proper management of our public lands. Flawed though it may have been, the Clinton rules at least erred on the side of less development in our forests and plains. Colorado now has the chance to either muck it up more or arrive at a well-considered management plan that takes the interests of all the stakeholders into account. When the public meetings start to pop up, we encourage anyone with an interest in preserving the best of Colorado to take part. With recommendations due next year, this process will come and go quickly.And when it comes down to the final recommendation, we urge Owens to think more about the people he represents than any other groups whispering in his ear.Vail, Colorado


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