Colorado’s roadless backcountry at risk in Bush rulemaking

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A gap between the effective dates between the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule and an 11th-hour attempt by the Bush administration to roll-back those protections could open areas of Colorado’s roadless National Forests to new oil and gas roads.

The Denver Post reports:

The Forest Service’s timetable would adopt the rule before the Bush administration leaves office.

“This rule leaves Colorado with less protection on its national forest than any other state in the country,” said Jane Danowitz, director for the Pew Charitable Trust public lands program.



The 2001 Rule allows existing leases (that pre-date 2001) to go forward and even allows new leasing–as long as companies develop those resources without building new roads, through directional drilling and other technologies. But the Bush administration has tried relentlessly, and failed, to open these roadless lands for new industrial and other development.  

Since 2001 only seven miles of new roads have been built in the nation’s roadless forests, and a federal court has upheld the 2001 rule as fair and appropriate to protect these cherished landscape.  Indeed, the Clinton Rule was the most extensive federal rulemaking ever, and the overwhelming public sentiment was to protect these important wildlife and backcountry areas.

Now the Bush administration is attempting to push through a new rule in Colorado, which would weaken protections and establish a standard for roadless forests in our state lower than those in any of the others in the Lower 48.  

The Post story continues:

Only Colorado, under Owens, a Republican, and Idaho went ahead with state plans. Ritter inherited the roadless task force from Owens.

“Ritter tried to make the best of it, but it was already a flawed process,” said Dave Peterson, Colorado field director with Trout Unlimited and a member of the task force.

Colorado’s petition for a roadless rule was filed at the end of 2007.

The state and Forest Service have been “refining” and “clarifying” the proposed rule, according to Sharon Friedman, the Forest Service’s strategic planning director in the region.

Conservation groups, however, say the plan proposed in December makes concessions to mining, ski, energy and timber industries.

A Pew study set to be released today found that under the state plan, about 100 oil and gas leases in roadless areas – covering about 87,000 acres – could be developed.

Lands on White River National Forest are particularly at risk, according the the Post-Independent:

The Bush position could potentially open an estimated 42,569 acres in the White River National Forest – mostly in the Rifle district. It could affect lands near McClure Pass as well as the Thompson Creek area, the study says.

Steve Smith, associate regional director for The Wilderness Society, said environmentalists aren’t at odds with Ritter over the issue.

“We’re much more focused on what the feds are doing,” Smith said. “We’re not blaming the governor.”

The Pew report claimed the federal government’s plan to allow oil and gas projects in the backcountry hasn’t been thoroughly reviewed for environmental impacts. It recommended that Ritter ask the Bush administration to suspend new rules so the impacts can be assessed.

The proposed rule and draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be posted this Friday.  The first meeting is scheduled–in Washington DC on Tuesday, giving interested citizens very little time to consider what this move means for Colorado’s national forests.  

Even more egregious, it is suspected that the Bush administration will be holding only eight meetings in Colorado, four of those in the middle of the DNC when attention is focused elsewhere.  In Idaho–with about 1/3 of Colorado’s population–the Bush administration held 16 meetings.  

Coloradans–like Americans across the nation–have strongly favored roadless area protection.  For example, the Colorado Division of Wildlife field biologists supported protection for all of our state’s remaining backcountry roadless forests due to the wealth of critical wildlife they support.  Apparently the Bush administration–as it moves to push this rule through in its waning days, piling on its decision to lease every acre of public land on the Roan Plateau, expedite oil shale, and tells the state it will ignore any new regulations for oil and gas on BLM lands, does not care about Colorado’s–or anyone’s–public lands.  

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