April 15, 2011
A Colorado Roadless Rule and Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement, proposed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, places more than 500,000 acres of national forest land into a higher level of protection than the previous 2001 rule, but drew fire from Earthjustice staff attorney Ted Zukoski, who cited “damaging loopholes” in the proposal.
According to the USDA, which published the proposal, the rule provides an updated inventory to protect high-quality backcountry areas with “true roadless characteristics” by removing substantially altered acres from the inventory and adding new acres containing “a high level of roadless characteristics.”
The USDA also said the rule removes existing ski areas from the roadless inventory and provides special protection for the headwaters of cutthroat trout streams. Temporary road construction may be allowed for fuels treatment and ecosystem restoration to within one-half mile of communities.
Coal, methane drainage in North Fork
However, the agency also noted that the rule
Provides flexibility for temporary road construction for underground coal activities, such as methane drainage wells, on 20,000 acres in the North Fork coal mining area
Zukoski, in a press release, noted that the rule will allow bulldozers for coal mining in wild forests and does not “… end the threat of oil and gas leasing on leases pushed through by the [U.S.] Forest Service after 2001.”
Citing the 2001 national roadless rule as the “gold standard,” Zukoski said, “We need a strong national rule in place. In the 1980s and 90s, with no national guidance and an ad hoc approach, national forests across the West carved up scores of roadless areas, degrading wildlife habitat, fragile watersheds and irreplaceable recreation areas. These national treasures belonging to all Americans were lost.”
Complicating matters is a pending ruling from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (referenced by Zukoski) on a challenge from the state of Wyoming to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which could uphold the stronger national rule.
“The 2001 rule granted protection to about 58 million acres of national forests nationwide, sparing America’s last unroaded lands from auction, bulldozing and commercial logging,” said Zukoski in the Earthjustice press release. The administration “… should not put forward a watered-down roadless rule for Colorado when the Tenth Circuit could uphold the national rule here any day. We shouldn’t have to accept weaker protections for our roadless areas.”
For more information, including maps, follow the Colorado Roadless Rule link on the U. S. Forest Service Colorado Roadless Rule web page. To view the Federal Register listing for the rule, visit this Notice of proposed rulemaking page.
Comments on the ruling must be received in writing by July 14 and may be sent via email to COComments@fsroadless.org. Comments may also be submitted from the Regulations.gov website.