Will new roadless rules help? | VailDaily.com

Will new roadless rules help?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Colorado foresters are proposing less restrictive, more flexible rules for protecting roadless areas of the forest, but environmental groups are worried that big loopholes could open large expanses of untouched backcountry to new roads and logging.

Roadless areas are the more natural looking areas of the forest ” this is where you find pristine forests, great views, wildlife and clean air, soil and water. The proposed Colorado Roadless Rule would replace the more restrictive federal rules implemented in 2001 that protect roadless areas throughout the country.

The U.S. Forest Service says the new Colorado rules will prohibit building roads and cutting trees in more than 4 million acres of forest and about 636,000 acres in the White River National Forest ” but allow several exceptions.

Under the new rules, temporary roads would be allowed if the Forest Service needs to cut down trees to lower wildfire risks. Roads could also be built for livestock grazing, to develop utilities and waterways, and for the development of oil and gas leases issued before 2001.

These exceptions aren’t allowed under federal rules, but the Forest Service needs the flexibility to build temporary roads when needed, especially when it needs to protect residential areas from wildfires, said Wendy Haskins, a planner with the White River National Forest.

“It still protects the characteristics and values of the roadless areas, while allowing us to manage the forest if needed,” Haskins said. “If we do build a road, it’s for a good, particular reason.”

The federal rules implemented in 2001 are the same in a place like Florida as they are in Colorado ” and the states have vastly different problems to deal with and must be able to act in a responsible way, Haskins said.

“They’re not having a beetle infestation in Florida,” Haskins said. “The Colorado Rule is very particular in dealing with Colorado conditions.”

Other groups see this flexibility as a big threat to the environment. Wilderness Workshop, a conservation watchdog group for the White River National Forest, says the language of the rules is so vague and filled with loopholes that it’s unclear if any roadless areas would truly be protected.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, says his main interest is seeing the White River National Forest remain roadless, wild and primitive. The Colorado Rule, filled with exceptions for oil, gas, utility lines, logging and ski areas, looks like a “blueprint for how to mess those places up,” he said.

“This whole laundry list of special interests managed to get an exception put into the rule that allows these special places to lose what’s so special about them,” Shoemaker said.

Colorado and Idaho are the only states where special roadless rules are being considered ” the Roadless Area Conservation Rule created by the Clinton Administration and implemented in 2001 would continue to govern roadless areas in other states.

The 2001 rules had been overturned by President Bush in 2005, and reinstated by a federal judge in 2006. Because the rule was in constant litigation, Colorado decided creating its own rules would be the best way to ensure that roadless areas are protected, according to the Forest Service.

The proposed Colorado Roadless Rule is based on the recommendations of the State of Colorado’s Roadless Taskforce, which held nine public hearings and received over 40,000 written comments.

Shoemaker said he’d rather see Colorado stick with the federal rules implemented in 2001, and isn’t worried for now of them disappearing because of litigation.

“That’s a much stronger, much more preferable rule,” Shoemaker said. “We’re pretty proud of our state. I don’t think we should have second-class protections.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism