Udall, Rep. Salazar back Colorado roadless plan | VailDaily.com

Udall, Rep. Salazar back Colorado roadless plan

DENVER, Colorado – Two Democratic members of Colorado’s congressional delegation say Colorado’s plan to manage more than 4 million acres of roadless national forests should move forward, despite calls for the state to wait for a national policy.

Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. John Salazar voiced support for the state proposal in a column in Friday’s (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel. They said Colorado’s proposal could serve as a national model.

Conservation, hunting and angling groups recently asked Colorado’s congressional delegation to urge Gov. Bill Ritter to delay completion of the state’s plan while the Obama administration considers a long-term policy for 58 million acres of roadless forests nationwide.

They contend the plan would leave Colorado’s roadless areas the least protected nationwide because it would allow temporary roads for wildfire prevention, expansion of existing coal mining and some utility infrastructure.

Some ski area terrain would be permanently removed from the inventory of roadless areas.

Colorado began crafting its own roadless rule amid legal battles over a Clinton-era ban on new roads in national forests. Ritter called a state plan an insurance policy as different federal courts upheld and overturned the road-building ban and a Bush administration policy that opened some of the land to development.

Critics of Colorado’s proposal say Ritter can now take advantage of a time-out ordered by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fix the flaws in the state’s plan.

Vilsack, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, reinstated for one year a ban on most new road construction in roadless forests so the Obama administration can develop its own policy.

Six conservation groups sent a letter Tuesday to Vilsack, asking him to instruct the U.S. Forest Service to delay finalizing the state roadless rule in Colorado “until the Colorado roadless rule can be measured against a national roadless rule.”

Vilsack will have final say on Colorado’s roadless management plan.

Udall, though, believes Colorado’s proposal is bipartisan and fair, said Tara Trujillo, the senator’s spokeswoman.

“It’s something that all the groups worked together on through Gov. (Bill) Owens’ administration and now Ritter’s,” Trujillo said.

Udall and Salazar said the compromises in Colorado’s plan shouldn’t be scrapped.

A state task force appointed by Owens, a Republican, and the Democrat-controlled Legislature wrote the plan in 2006. Ritter, a Democrat, made some changes and resubmitted the proposal to the U.S. Forest Service, which is negotiating with the state on some provisions.

Colorado and Idaho were the only states to write their own roadless policies when the Bush administration replaced the Clinton-era roadless rule. Some of the land was opened to development, but President George W. Bush said governors could petition to protect the forest land.

Idaho’s plan has been approved and Vilsack has said more than 9 million acres of roadless national forests there will remain under state control.

Some of the areas that were protected under the Clinton-era policy have trails and roads, but generally are prized for their pristine qualities and are considered important as wildlife habitat, watersheds and recreation areas.

“These areas are critical to both the health of watersheds and a range of big-game species,” said David Petersen, Colorado field director for Trout Unlimited.

Petersen, a member of the roadless task force, believes Colorado’s plan should be put on hold while a national standard is developed.

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