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Roads widespread in Colorado forests

Bob Berwyn

From the air, the roads lacing the national forests of western Colorado look like an interconnected maze of spider webs. Nearly every ridgeline and hillside has at least one rough path, and many areas are literally carved into neat squares by backcountry paths.Researchers with the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project who recently completed a State of the Ecosystem Report for the region estimate that, no matter where you are in the forest, you’re rarely more than two miles from the nearest road.While the existing network provides access and opportunities for recreation, it also causes extensive ecological impacts. Many scientists say wildlife habitat is carved into smaller and smaller chunks, and invasive species of non-native plants and animals move farther into the interior of undeveloped areas, aggressively competing against native flora and fauna. According to the Forest Service, many of the existing roads are ill-maintained, resulting in excessive erosion and water quality problems.Even some off-road enthusiasts who commented on the plan said the favored blocking the creation of new roads, but expressed concern that the policy could ultimately lead to the closure of existing roads.In an earlier interview, White River National Forest planner Dan Hormaechea said the roadless policy will only apply to parcels larger than 1,000 acres. Conservation activists wanted the Forest Service to include smaller chunks in the policy, but under the proposed final rule, they will be addressed under forest management plans.Hormaechea says the White River would look at each of the smaller roadless parcels individually, with input from the districts and allocate them accordingly.The roadless policy could also affect ski area plans, Hormaechea says, explaining it depends on how it’s ultimately interpreted. He named Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge and Copper as areas with expansion needs and opportunities that could be affected, with roadless areas near ski area boundaries.While ski areas can build lifts without roads, there remains the question of cutting trees for ski terrain, he explains.The Forest Service held 600 public meetings on the roadless rule and received more than 1.5 million comments, garnering overwhelming support for the measure. The policy will affect 2 percent of the entire U.S. landbase, and 31 percent of the Forest Service land base.Some logging would still be allowed under the plan, but generally only for stewardship purposes, where it maintains or improves roadless characteristics. That means the logging must: Improve threatened, endangered, proposed or sensitive species habitat; Reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects; Or restore ecological structure, function, processes or composition.


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