May 6, 2012
The U.S. Forest Service released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the final 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule, drawing both praise and criticism from environmentalists.
According to USFS, the “preferred alternative” for the rule provides conservation for 4.2 million acres of national forest roadless areas within Colorado.
In addition, the agency noted, the alternative:
- Provides 1.2 million acres in a higher category of protection than 2001 rule
- Allows more flexibility for communities to be protected from catastrophic wildfires with provisions for hazardous fuel treatment in urban areas near forests (wildland urban interface areas)
- Protects more roadless acres than the 2001 rule by including an updated inventory that adds high-quality acres (409,500 acres) not covered in the 2001 rule and removes areas (459,100 acres) where roadless characteristics were compromised
- Addresses economic and job growth concerns by allowing more flexibility for existing ski areas and access for construction of methane venting associated with existing and future coal mining within the North Fork area
- Does not affect valid existing rights in roadless areas such as valid existing oil and gas leases and the development rights or restrictions associated with those leases
According to USFS, there are 363 roadless areas across 4.2 million acres throughout Colorado in eight national forests, which would now be managed under the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule. Future forest plans and revisions will be consistent with the provisions of the Colorado Roadless Rule.
Logging, coal development loopholes cited
“The rule announced today is an improvement over previous Colorado proposals,” said Ted Zukowski, staff attorney in the Denver office of Earthjustice. “Protecting 1.2 million acres with the ‘Upper Tier’ designation, including increased protection from pipelines and power lines, is a step forward. The rule also moves in the right direction on limiting road construction on existing oil and gas leases, and we look forward to working with the [U.S.] agriculture department on further improvements.”
However, Zukowski cited a loophole ” … that allows coal companies to bulldoze roads on 20,000 acres of roadless forests and meadows, and it permits logging in remote areas far from communities. The Colorado rule leaves nearly three million roadless acres vulnerable to more road-building than was allowed under the 2001 national roadless rule. So taken on balance it is a step in the wrong direction.”
“Though the Colorado Rule released today does a better job than the draft of protecting national forest roadless areas in the state, we believe that the rule will result in road construction and loss of wildland values in some key areas,” said The Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams. “The rule is moving in the right direction to ensure it does not facilitate oil and gas development on approximately 80,000 acres of roadless areas — many in the Thompson Divide region — but there is still work to do. We will continue to advocate for improvements in the Colorado rule before it is finalized.”
The final Colorado Roadless Rule, said USFS, will be finalized a minimum of 30 days after the final EIS is published in the Federal Register.