Roadless task force takes shape | VailDaily.com

Roadless task force takes shape

Bob Berwyn

EAGLE COUNTY – A 13-member state group that will help determine the future of Eagle County’s (and the rest of Colorado’s) roadless areas is starting to take shape. Several prominent Colorado officials have acknowledged their appointment to the roadless review task force, which was created by the state Legislature last spring.At issue is what types of activities – if any – will be allowed in roadless areas, including logging, energy extraction and recreation. The topic is not yet high on the radar screen locally, said Eagle County open space planner Cliff Simonton.”I haven’t had anything come across my desk for any kind of evaluation or response for Eagle County,” Simonton said. “The county has not been directly approached for an opinion, so we just don’t have any details yet.”Wendy Haskins, a planner for the White River National Forest headquarters in Glenwood Springs, said it’s a big project.”We haven’t really determined yet what the forest’s role will be,” she said. “We sent (the task force) a bunch of information, so they have an idea of what they’re dealing with. Certainly we’d hope to work with them.”Haskins said different states are dealing with the roadless question in varying ways. Some, she said, are more hands-on, dealing with specific areas on a case-by-case basis. Others may take a more global approach.”When you look at a roadless area, there’s a lot to it, because each forest has its own planning and management,” Haskins said. “Each state is also grappling with the issues of cost and what we want to do with this process.” First meeting soonState officials have not formally announced any task force members, but Doug Young, policy director for Rep. Mark Udall (who represents Eagle County); Melanie Mills, policy director for Colorado Ski Country USA; John Swartout, executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado; and Jim Lochhead, former director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources are all confirmed as members. Current Department of Natural Resources director Russ George will chair the group.”We hope to have our first meeting within the next three to four weeks,” said Dawn Taylor Owens, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources. In addition to appointing the remaining members of the task force, Taylor Owens said the state is still waiting to make sure it has adequate funding before launching the process. The federal budget includes $100,000 that will pay for a facilitator and meeting expenses, Taylor Owens said.The task force will ultimately make a recommendation to Gov. Bill Owens regarding some 636,592 acres in Colorado. The lands were designated as roadless under a Forest Service plan developed in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. The roadless rule was subsequently rescinded by the Bush Administration and replaced with the current version that calls for state-by-state input.In Eagle County’s Holy Cross and Eagle ranger districts, the Forest Service mapped nearly 150,000 roadless acres, including parcels in the Camp Hale area, Red Table Mountain, Bald Mountain, Hardscrabble Mountain, Adam & Eve mountains and Dome Peak.When the Forest Service developed the rule under its former chief Mike Dombeck, the agency highlighted the value of roadless areas as reservoirs of biological diversity, buffers against invasive species and as protection for pristine water sources. As well, the agency’s leadership pointed out the tremendous maintenance backlog on existing national forest system roads.Critics of the rule charged that it was presented as a top-down order, without adequate input from local interests. But conservation groups supporting roadless protection pointed to the record number of public comments that poured in at each opportunity, always overwhelmingly in support of roadless protection.Local input will be accepted in the upcoming round of rule-making, although the task force recommendations are non-binding. Gov. Owens will consider the task force results and then make a recommendation to the Forest Service. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to make unanimous recommendations,” said Young. He also called on the Forest Service to start the process by offering a detailed briefing on the status of Colorado’s roadless areas.===========See the sites:link to WRNF roadless map: http://roadless.fs.fed.us/states/co/state3.shtml======================Web extra:Go to vaildaily.com for a more comprehensive list of roadless areas in the White River National Forest===========Vail Daily editor Alex Miller contributed to this story.Vail, Colorado