Newsroom

Colorado Joins national “Great Outdoors Week” push and Congress threatens rollbacks

Click here to view the press release: Great Outdoors Week Press Release

August 23, 2011: 

Summit County Citizens Voice

Colorado celebrates Great Outdoors Week

Conservation activists and outdoor enthusiasts organize daily hikes and highlight threats to roadless areas

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado outdoor enthusiasts are celebrating the second annual Great Outdoors Week (Aug. 20-28) with a series of fun hikes and educational eventsaimed at highlighting potential threats to cherished backcountry areas.

A fierce Washington, D.C. ideological battle over public lands management, as well as continued controversy over a proposed Colorado roadless rule, serve as a backdrop for the activities, with Representative Diana DeGette highlighting what she describes as a special interest-driven attack on protections for backcountry areas.

“Here in Colorado, while my constituents and I are working with the Forest Service to keep the best of our backcountry forests protected, some in Congress are pushing on behalf of special interests to take those protections away entirely,” said DeGette. “Coloradans depend on these areas for our drinking water, our outdoor economy and our cherished way of life, and they must be preserved.”

In July, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 1581, introduced by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, which would take away protections for national forest lands and Wilderness Study Areas, opening up an area the size of Wyoming to large-scale development.

The House could vote on the bill this fall.  Wyoming’s Sen. John Barrasso has introduced a companion bill, S. 1087. The measure is only one of multiple attempts by lawmakers in Washington, DC to undo fundamental environmental protections for clean air, clean water, endangered species and public lands.

“The bill is a double threat to Colorado’s national forest roadless areas,” explains Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Not only would it end existing protections provided to these treasured landscapes, it would also bar future action to safeguard them under either the Roadless Area Conservation Rule or the current state-based rulemaking underway by the Obama administration.”

Colorado conservation, sportsmen’s and outdoor industry groups have been critical of the latest roadless proposal for national forest lands in Colorado. The plan, still under review, includes a tier system that would give the most pristine lands the highest level of protection.

Management of lands in the lower roadless tiers would be more flexible, enabling officials to more easily permit certain activities, including fire mitigation projects.

Exactly which lands will be designated into the various tiers has not yet been finalized, but conservation groups and recreation enthusiasts are taking a pre-emptive approach to advocating for the most protection possible.

Conservation groups have also found some allies in the business community, with Charlie Berger, owner of Denver Beer Co., calling for strong protections.

“A quarter of Colorado’s headwaters originate in roadless areas. Colorado mountain water is not only good to drink; it’s good for business. Beer is 95 percent water and I cannot maintain a high-quality product without the availability of high quality water,” Berger said.

Colorado national forest roadless areas and other public lands also make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation contributes over $10 billion annually to the state’s economy and supports 107,000 jobs in Colorado.

Craig Mackey, director of government affairs at the Outdoor Industry Association, encouraged residents and visitors to participate in some of this week’s events.

“People can have fun and show their support for saving these treasured places,” said Craig Mackey, director of government affairs at the Outdoor Industry Association.

”Our public lands in places like Pikes Peak or Hermosa Creek, provide some of the best outdoor recreation areas we have in the state, and Coloradans are enjoying their public lands even more today than they did ten or twenty years ago.”

Interested individuals can go to http://www.coloradodeservesmore.org to find out about the week’s activities in their area, and to learn how to support roadless area protection.

August 22, 2011:

Colorado Independent

DeGette honors Great Outdoors Week, slams efforts to remove wilderness protections

Colorado’s senior member of Congress, Democrat Diana DeGette, issued a statement today blasting Republican attempts to roll back wilderness and roadless area protections for public lands, also offering her support for national Great Outdoors Week Aug. 20-28.

“Here in Colorado, while my constituents and I are working with the Forest Service to keep the best of our backcountry forests protected, some in Congress are pushing on behalf of special interests to take those protections away entirely,” DeGette said in a release. “Coloradans depend on these areas for our drinking water, our outdoor economy and our cherished way of life, and they must be preserved.”

Critical last month of the proposed Colorado Roadless Rule, DeGette has long been a champion of expanding, not contracting, wilderness protections for federal lands in the state. A bill introduced last spring by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would remove wilderness and roadless area protections from an area of the country the size of the state of Wyoming, critics say.

McCarthy’s bill (H.R.1581) is entitled the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act. The House could vote on it as early as this fall. Republican Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“The bill is a double threat to Colorado’s national forest roadless areas,” said Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Not only would it end existing protections provided to these treasured landscapes, it would also bar future action to safeguard them under either the Roadless Area Conservation Rule or the current state-based rulemaking under way by the Obama administration.”

McCarthy says his bill is necessary to generate jobs and to provide “more reliable grazing and numerous recreational activities, including motorized sports and increased access for better hunting and fishing.”

But critics, including numerous sportsmen’s group, say the bill is mostly aimed at providing greater access for logging, mining and oil and gas production. Outdoor recreation in Colorado contributes more than $10 billion to the state’s economy each year and provides about 107,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

“People can have fun and show their support for saving these treasured places,” said Outdoor Industry Association Director of Government Affairs Craig Mackey. “Our public lands in places like Pikes Peak or Hermosa Creek provide some of the best outdoor recreation areas we have in the state, and Coloradans are enjoying their public lands even more today than they did 10 or 20 years ago.”

In an email release today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar offered these statistics on the economic benefits of outdoor recreation nationally:

“Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation contribute an estimated $730 billion to the U.S. economy each year. And one in 20 U.S. jobs are in the recreation economy – more than there are doctors, lawyers, or teachers. More than 12 million Americans hunt; more than 30 million Americans fish; and three out of four Americans engage in some kind of healthy outdoor activity,” Salazar said.

Some Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have called efforts by Salazar to expand wilderness protections under his controversial Wild Lands Order a massive “federal land grab” that would stifle economic recovery in the West.

For a list of Colorado activities associated with Great Outdoors Week, go to the Colorado Deserves More campaign website.

Colorado Conservation, Business, and Recreation Groups hold end of comment period telepresser

Click here to view the press release

Click here and here to listen to the telepresser

July 15, 2011:

Aspen Daily News

Forest roadless rule draws more criticism from conservationists

As the public comment period for the U.S. Forest Service’s new rule for roadless areas ended Thursday, statewide conservation groups including Carbondale’s Wilderness Workshop called on the feds to strengthen protections.

The roadless rule applies to 4.2 million acres of roadless lands in Colorado’s national forests, including 640,000 acres in the 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley.

The controversial Thompson Divide area, outside of Carbondale, was among the places the conservation campaign highlighted as needing stronger protection than afforded in the new roadless plan. Neighbors and environmentalists have been trying to block gas drilling in the area, where the feds have granted leases.

The Thompson area should be included in the “upper tier” category, the campaign claims. Under its current recommended designation it would be accessible for drilling and the construction of temporary roads to access gas pads.

A report released Thursday by the consortium of conservation advocates claims the Obama administration had previously identified 2.8 million acres of roadless areas in Colorado that qualify for top tier protections. The administration’s proposed rule, however, includes just 560,000 acres in the upper tier.

Led by Wilderness Workshop and Colorado Mountain Club, the conservation alliance called for 3 million acres to be placed in the top tier. It highlighted 10 areas in the most critical need of such protection, including Thompson Creek.

The Thompson Divide area includes eight roadless areas, including Thompson Creek.

“Thousands of people in the Roaring Fork Valley and the Crystal River Valley and the North Fork Valley have opposed industrial oil and gas development there,” Peter Hart of the Wilderness Workshop noted in a conference call with reporters. “They deserve the highest level of protection that we can possibly give them.”

Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, said the call for more “upper tier” protections mischaracterized the lower tiers. He said the upper tier is actually worse for overall forest health than the lower ones, because it would bar his staff from cutting trees for prescribed burns.

“This mentality that more protection will somehow benefit the forest more I don’t think is right,” Fitzwilliams said.

He stressed that all of the roadless areas in the plan — no matter the tier — will remain roadless.

“People say, ‘We don’t want roads up there,’ and I say, ‘I’m with you on that,’” Fitzwilliams explained. “Then I say, ‘Do you want prescribed burns?’ and they say, ‘Of course.’ They need to understand that these long-term restoration efforts would really be curtailed.”

Conservation groups launched the stronger-protection campaign shortly after the Forest Service released its draft plan in April. Along with highlighting wildlife and ecological needs, the groups’ final push this week included calls from the mountain commercial touring industry.

Craig Mackey of the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group representing 1,200 suppliers and manufacturers of mountaineering, biking and rafting gear, claimed the proposed roadless rule would hurt the multibillion-dollar industry his trade industry represents.

“Colorado’s roadless backcountry is a boon to business in the state,” Mackey said. “Expanding the upper tier protections to more of our roadless forests will ensure these opportunities and amenities remain intact.”

Areas categorized below the upper tier are subject to exemptions, which could allow road building for purposes like logging and oil and gas extraction. The groups called for those exemptions to be taken out for any roadless area.

The roadless proposal should not be confused with the Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan, which was also released this spring.

The Forest Service has received tens of thousands of comments on the roadless plan, including a letter from the Pitkin County commissioners echoing many of the conservation groups’ concerns.

Summit County Citizens Voice

Colorado: Roadless rule elicits more than 50,000 comments

Conservation groups still seeking more protection for certain areas

SUMMIT COUNTY — U.S. Forest Service officials say they’ve received more than 50,000 comments on a draft roadless rule that would determine management of more that 4 million acres of national forest land in Colorado.

The comment period ended July 14 after a series of nine meetings around the state and in Washington, D.C. More info on the rule is online here.

“This response is an indicator of how important roadless areas are to the citizens of this state and nationwide,” said said Randy Karstaedt,  the acting deputy regional forester for the Rocky Mountain region.

“The extensive comments from stakeholders and the public will help guide us as we review the proposed Colorado Roadless Rule and work with the Forest Service to finalize it,” said Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike King. “We appreciate the diversity of views from across our state. We want to ensure the rule safeguards our valued roadless areas while also reflecting the broadest range of support from Coloradans.”

The proposed Colorado Roadless Rule provides protection for 4.2 million acres across the state. It also identifies more than a half million acres as upper tier which provides higher level protection than the 2001 Rule.  The rule prohibits tree cutting, road construction and reconstruction, and the use of linear construction zones within roadless areas, with some exceptions to the prohibitions.

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with the State of Colorado, will analyze and prepare a response to comments that will be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  A notice of availability of the FEIS is expected in late 2011 with publication in the Federal Register of a final Colorado Roadless Rule in early 2012.

Despite the extensive public involvement, conservation groups are rallying their members to urge stronger support for higher-quality roadless areas. The groups released a report on the final day of the comment period showing that not all the top-tier roadless areas are getting the protection they deserve. Visit the Colorado Deserves More website to learn more. The report is online here (pdf).

The report shows that the Obama administration  identified 2.8 million acres (or 66 percent) of roadless areas on national forest lands that qualify for top tier protections — two-thirds of the inventoried roadless areas in the state. Yet the proposed rule would only provide that level of protection to 13 percent, or about 560,000 acres.

The report, issued by Colorado Deserves More campaign, the Colorado Mountain Club, and Wilderness Workshop, calls for top-tier protections for 3 million acres and identifies 10 key areas that deserve those protections, including Hermosa Creek, Priest Mountain/Current Creek, Cochetopa Hills, Pagoda Peak, Bristol Head, Kannah Creek, Turkey Creek, Pikes Peak, Thompson Creek, and Wet Mountains/Tanner Peak.  These areas are critical for Colorado’s wildlife, provide a significant amount of the state’s water supply, and help support a thriving outdoor industry.

“Colorado’s roadless backcountry is a boon to business in the state,” said Craig Mackey with the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group representing outdoor gear manufacturers, retailers and others in the recreation industry.  “Our members not only rely on these areas for their customer base, but also because they provide the lifestyle and ‘real world’ field experience necessary to attract a good workforce and design a successful product.  Expanding the upper tier protections to more of our roadless forests will  ensure  these opportunities and amenities remain intact.”

The report is also asking for the upper tier protections to be strengthened to close exceptions that would undermine the ability to properly protect and manage roadless values on these lands. Key to these changes are including strict No Surface Occupancy stipulations on any future oil and gas activity and prohibiting new transmission and telecommunications lines from carving through Upper Tier areas under an expansion of the ‘linear construction zone’ concept.

“Colorado’s roadless forests deserve strong protections—equal to or greater than the 2001 Roadless Rule,” said Jay Heeter with the Colorado Mountain Club. “These areas offer outstanding backcountry recreation, provide secure wildlife areas, and are the source for much of our state’s water supplies.  This comment period will show, once again, overwhelming support for protecting these important lands and for expanding the upper tier of protection.”

All of America’s national forests except for those in Idaho, which also pursued its own state-specific rule, are currently managed under the 2001 Rule, although it remains the subject of court challenge.  The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering one challenge to the 2001 Rule and could issue a decision at any time.

The Obama administration defended the 2001 Rule before the 10rh Circuit.  But regardless of how the court ultimately decides, once Colorado’s rule is finalized and approved, the 2001 Roadless Rule will no longer apply to Colorado’s national forests, making the need for strong and meaningful protections all the more important.

Colorado Public News Service
DENVER – A wide coalition of groups representing businesses and environmentalists are joining to oppose Colorado’s proposed roadless-rule plan.The Obama administration is considering how much of Colorado’s national forest land should remain wild. Public comment ended this week on a proposal which would protect 13 percent of current roadless areas – an amount significantly less than what advocates are hoping for. They want 3 million acres to fall into the most-protected category, which is about 70 percent of the current roadless lands. The group includes environmentalists, but also recreation-related businesses and brewers such as Charlie Berger, co-founder of Denver Beer Co.”What we’re looking to accomplish is, I think, to maintain that high water quality. Colorado is a leader in the craft beer scene nationally and internationally.”About one-fourth of river headwaters in Colorado lie within the more than 4 million current roadless acres, Berger says, adding that it’s important to maintain those areas to safeguard the state’s water supplies.

Recreation is a $10 billion industry in Colorado, according to Craig Mackey, director of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association, providing more than 100,000 jobs and adding $500 million to the state’s tax coffers.

“We recognize that outdoor-recreation tourism and the quality-of-life industry are big business in Colorado. We view protecting wilderness areas as a strategic investment in wildlife, healthy lifestyles and sustainable domestic employment.”

Even if the full 3 million acres were protected, says Ted Zukoski, an attorney withEarthjustice, Colorado would still lag behind its neighbors.

“The Four Corners states which touch Colorado have national Forest Service lands, and 100 percent of their forest lands are protected with the highest levels of protection.”

Those states are covered by the 2001 federal standard, and Zukoski says Colorado’s protections should meet or exceed that standard.

Colorado was allowed by the Bush Administration to set up its own roadless-rule policies for Forest Service land. The government review process of the plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

Information on the Colorado Roadless Rule is online at the Forest Service website.

Colorado Conservation and Recreation Groups Launch “Colorado Deserves More” Campaign

Click here to download the press release

Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation

June 2, 2011:

Durango Telegraph

Colorado Roadless Rule to visit town

Durangoans can weigh-in on Colorado’s controversial roadless rule next week. The Forest Service will host an open house on June 8 in Durango to “increase public understanding” about the proposed rule.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was originally signed into law in 2001 to provide protection for the nation’s 60 million acres of designated roadless areas. Under the rule, the areas were strictly off-limits to new roads and natural resource extraction. In La Plata County, it created safe havens on more than 600,000 acres in the HD Mountains, along Missionary Ridge and in the Hermosa Creek drainage on the state’s largest roadless area.

However, the tides shifted in the summer of 2004 when the Bush Administration announced a “modification” to the rule that shifted responsibility for roadless area protection to state’s governors. In response, then Colorado Gov. Bill Owens convened a roadless area protection task force and started drafting new guidelines for roadless areas. Colorado forged ahead in spite of a U.S. District Court’s overturn of the Bush modification in 2006. And in-mid April of this year, the Forest Service released the draft Colorado rule, which would render the 2001 rule moot.

Colorado hopes to take a tiered approach to roadless area protection. The rule bans road-building or tree cutting on nearly 4.2 million roadless acres in Colorado and goes on to grant “higher protection” to 560,000 acres, including the 148,000-acre Hermosa Creek Roadless Area. However, it also contains several exceptions. Logging would be allowed to mitigate the threat of wildfire in the urban interface and existing ski areas would be removed from the roadless inventory.

The conservation community has taken a dim view of the new plan for Colorado. Ted Zukoski, of the environmental law firm Earth Justice, argued that Colorado roadless already has “gold standard” protection under the 2001 Roadless Rule and the new proposal would weaken that.

“The proposed Colorado roadless rule has damaging loopholes,” he said. “It will allow 20,000 acres of our state’s remaining wild forests to be scarred with bulldozers for coal mining. And it doesn’t end the threat of oil and gas leasing on leases pushed through by the Forest Service after 2001.”

Nine other Colorado conservation groups – including Durango’s Colorado Wild and San Juan Citizens Alliance – have come out against the new rule and allege that the 2001 rule offers better protection.

However, Durango residents can decide for themselves. On June 8, the Forest Service will hold a public meeting on the proposed rule from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Durango Recreation Center. Although the agency will not take public comments at the session, the meeting is designed to help locals develop informed written comments. The deadline for written comments is on July 14 and they can be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov anytime prior to that date.

May 31, 2011:

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Renews Interim Directive Covering Roadless Areas in National Forests

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2011 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that he is renewing an interim directive regarding inventoried roadless areas within our National Forests and Grasslands for an additional year. This is the third one-year, interim directive issued by Secretary Vilsack that governs projects in roadless areas in our National Forests.

“As we await a ruling on the 2001 Roadless Rule from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, I will continue to work with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure we protect roadless areas on our National Forests,” said Vilsack. “Renewing this interim directive for a third year reflects this Administration’s commitment to conserve our forests by ensuring that projects in roadless areas receive a higher level of scrutiny by this department.”

The directive provides decision-making authority to the Secretary over proposed forest management or road construction projects in inventoried roadless areas. This directive also ensures a consistent national review of all proposed projects. In 2009, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Rule is currently under appeal in the 10th Circuit. A ruling on that case is expected soon.

The revised interim directive does not require Secretarial approval for activities such as emergency fire-fighting activities and small diameter timber cutting to improve endangered species habitat and to reduce risk of catastrophic wildlfire. These activities were also exempted under the previous interim directives and are consistent with the 2001 Roadless Rule.

This interim directive does not affect roadless areas on National Forest System lands in Idaho. Idaho developed its own roadless rule through the Administrative Procedures Act. The Idaho rule provides strong protections for roadless areas.

A recent judgment issued by a federal court in Alaska reinstated the 2001 Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The judgment, which was jointly developed by the Forest Service and plaintiffs in the case, allows a series of activities, including construction of hydroelectric facilities and other projects, to move forward.

Vilsack has approved 38 projects under the two, previous interim directives. These projects allowed, for example, forest restoration activities near towns, small hydroelectric facilities in Alaska, moving trailhead and campground facilities, short access roads to state forest lands, mine cleanups, realignment of roads to reduce water run-off and erosion, and drilling methane wells for pre-existing coal mines. Some approved projects allowed for mineral exploration activities under the mandate of the1872 General Mining Law.

This revised interim directive will last for one year.

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to states and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

May 28, 2011:

Coloradoan

Proposed roadless rule draws worry

Larimer County has about 154,000 acres of proposed roadless areas, all of them managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which is considering a new rule that would prevent new roads from being developed in those areas and on more than 4 million acres of forest land across Colorado.

That worried many Larimer County residents who attended a meeting about the proposed rule Thursday night, many of them concerned it would keep Jeeps out of the woods and prevent foresters from harvesting trees.

Called the Colorado Roadless Rule, the measure would apply only to Colorado national forests and, with some exceptions for mining, energy development, ski area expansion, emergencies and bark beetle-killed tree removal, bar most new development occurring on some of the forests’ most pristine lands.

It would not bar motorized vehicle access or bicycles, only the creation of new roads. Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts would still be allowed to use motorized vehicle trails within roadless areas under the measure.

The latest incarnation of the Colorado Roadless Rule was unveiled earlier this year and was created following a long public hearing process in 2005 and 2006. It’s championed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources for striking a balance among wildfire control, development and conservation.

Derived from an earlier but court-challenged 2001 roadless rule, which protected 58 million acres nationwide, the Colorado Rule is criticized by environmentalists for not being strict enough. They generally prefer the earlier rule, which has a different set of development exceptions.

Thursday’s meeting was one of many hosted around the state to encourage public comment about the rule. The comment deadline is July 14.

May 27, 2011:

The Mountain Mail

USFS: ‘New rule would not affect existing uses’

In Pike and San Isabel national forests, the Colorado Roadless Rule would designate 107,300 more roadless acres than proposed under the 2001 rule, but wouldn’t affect motorized travel in national forests.

Bill Schuckert, district ranger for U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District, said the proposed rule, if adopted, would impose no restrictions to existing land uses.

He said roadless areas can still have trails where motorized vehicles are permitted including all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes.

Locally, the proposed rule differs from the 2001 rule by eliminating 63,000 acres from the roadless inventory and adding 170,300 acres in Pike and San Isabel forests

One of the most significant changes is on Mount Antero in Baldwin Lake basin, Mike Picard, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for Salida Ranger District, said.

Picard said the area was proposed for roadless protection under the 2001 rule, which would have closed existing roads, including those on adjoining Mount White.

The area has been removed from the roadless inventory proposed under the Colorado Roadless Rule so existing roads will remain open to the public, Picard said.

He mentioned reductions to proposed roadless acreage in the Mount Princeton area about 10 miles west of Nathrop.

The draft environmental impact statement identifies the area as “within a horseshoe-shaped configuration, with Mount Kreutzer along the Continental Divide and Gladstone Ridge on the north arm, and Mount Princeton and its western ridges on the south arm.”

The impact statement cites timber activity and the presence of roads as reasons for eliminating the land from consideration for roadless designation.

Land along the south fork of Cottonwood Creek is one local area where proposed roadless acreage has been expanded closer to the road, Picard said.

Another area proposed for increased roadless acreage is south of the road to North Fork Reservoir. Other minor expansions proposed, he said, are near Buffalo Peaks, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness and Porphyry Creek.

Schuckert said the proposed rule would allow more flexibility to protect communities from wildfires by allowing roads to be built to manage forest fuels and create defensible space.

Janelle Smith, U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist for the Rocky Mountain Region, said people should keep in mind the proposed roadless rule could look different from the final rule which will include input received during public comment.

The 90-day public comment time for the environmental impact statement and the proposed rule ends July 14.

May 25, 2011:

Colorado Independent

Roadless rule campaign targets exemptions for logging, drilling, mining

Colorado Deserves More, launched last week by a cadre of Colorado conservation groups, is aimed at getting the Obama administration to dramatically increase the amount of U.S. Forest Service land in Colorado that would receive “top-tier” roadless protection under the proposed Colorado rule, which would replace the Clinton administration’s 2001 Roadless Rule.

An analysis (pdf) by Colorado Deserves More – spearheaded by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Wildlife Federation and Colorado Mountain Club – found that less than 13 percent (560,000 acres) of the state’s inventoried roadless Forest Service acreage would receive so-called “top-tier” protection. That’s compared to about 30 percent under a new roadless plan in Idaho.

The groups are worried there are too many road building exemptions for logging, energy infrastructure such as pipelines and power lines, ski area expansion and coal mining. They fear Colorado’s roadless federal lands will be less protected under the new Colorado rule than they would be under the old Clinton rule from 2001 and that the state’s $10 billion outdoor recreation, hunting, fishing and tourism industries will suffer as a result.

“Many of Colorado’s roadless areas contain world class climbing routes, hiking and biking trails, rivers, and backcountry ski and snowshoe destinations,” Bryan Martin of the Colorado Mountain Club said in a release. “The availability of high quality outdoor recreation opportunities is a major contributing factor to the quality of life in our state. Simply put, many of our members live and work in Colorado because of these recreational opportunities.”

Colorado Deserves More is hosting several events around the state even as the Forest Service is conducting open houses on the Colorado Roadless Rule. Tonight from 6-8 p.m. there will be a Denver Gallery Show photo exhibit at the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden.

Also tonight is a U.S. Forest Service open house from 6 to 8 p.m. in Steamboat Springs, followed by another Forest Service open house in Fort Collins from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The Forest Service is accepting public comments on the new draft of the Colorado Roadless Rule until July 14.

May 19, 2011:

Aspen Dailiy News

State group wants stricter roadless rules, protection for Thompson area

The controversial Thompson Divide area, outside of Carbondale, was among the places the conservation campaign highlighted as needing stronger protection than afforded in the new roadless plan. Neighbors and environmentalists have been trying to block gas drilling in the area, where the feds have granted leases (see related story, page 1).

The Thompson area should be included in the “upper tier” category, the campaign claims. That designation would ban drilling and the construction of temporary roads to access gas pads.

Areas categorized below the upper tier are subject to exemptions, which could allow road building for purposes like logging and oil and gas extraction.

“Currently the proposal leaves too many areas at risk to activity that would harm or ruin an area’s roadless character,” Elise Jones, director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said in a conference call with reporters. “Many roadless lands under the proposal would remain at risk to oil and gas drilling and expanded coal mining.”

The roadless plan puts roughly 13 percent of forest roadless areas in the upper tier of protection. The campaign is aiming to get at least 50 percent of roadless areas into the upper tier. They claim that 64 percent qualify for that level under the Forest Service’s criteria.

Among the 560,000 acres of forest land included in the upper tier protections of the current proposal are local areas like Red Table Mountain, Assignation Ridge and an upper portion of Hunter Creek.

Colorado State University biology professor Barry Noon argued that the upper tier of protections is necessary to preserve Colorado wildlife populations and watershed quality. Even temporary roads, he argued, cause “permanent transformations of the landscape.”

Jones criticized the Obama administration and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for falling short of their promise to significantly strengthen roadless area protections.

Members of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club and Colorado Wildlife Federation are leading the statewide campaign to strengthen the roadless rule. They’re calling it the “Colorado Deserves More Campaign.”

May 18, 2011:

Public News Service

Public Input Sought on CO Roadless Rule Policy

A coalition of environmental and recreation groups is calling on the Obama administration to rethink the Colorado roadless rule proposal for Forest Service land.

Under the current proposal, more than 500,000 acres of Colorado’s roadless public forest land – about 13 percent of the total – would qualify for top-tier protections. Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, says that’s not enough.

“Both watershed values and recreational values are still at risk under this proposed rule, and we believe it has too many exemptions to roadless protections that would affect too many high-quality roadless lands.”

The Forest Service identified more than 2.5 million acres of land that should meet the highest protections, Jones says. Some industries – including oil, natural gas and mining – are advocating for fewer roadless areas for either development or to allow for temporary roads for drilling operations.

Bryan Martin, the Colorado Mountain Club’s director of conservation, says wilderness is big business for the state, contributing $10 billion to the economy every year, providing 107,000 jobs and $500 million in tax revenue.

“We need public lands in our topography to do what we do. Climbers need escarpments, and hikers, mountain bikers, skiers and snowshoers need trails.”

Wildlife biologist Dr. Barry Noon agrees that roadless areas are crucial to Colorado’s current and future economic well-being. Noon, a Colorado State University professor, says roads change both the landscape and the way animals behave.

“For wildlife, roads represent an immediate loss of habitat but, more importantly, fragment habitat and create areas that animals avoid because of the increased risk of death from both legal and illegal hunting.”

Roadless areas provide animals a refuge, Noon says, which ultimately helps to increase their populations. Roadless areas offer other ecological benefits, he adds, including less sediment in rivers and a decreased chance of flooding when compared with areas with roads.

Associated Press

Feds Hold Meetings on Colorado Roadless Plan

Elise Jones, executive director at the Colorado Environmental Coalition said the Obama administration has defended the 2001 roadless rules in federal court and repeatedly expressed support for protecting undeveloped areas.

“It’s also important to recognize that the adverse effects of roads extend far beyond their immediate footprint,” said Barry Noon, a biology professor at Colorado State University.

Road construction would impact Colorado’s watersheds and fragment wildlife habitats, Noon said.

May 17, 2011:

Grand Junction Sentinel

 Roadless area routes for utilities concern environmental groups

 An attempt to shrink a loophoole for gas pipelines will backfire on the writers of proposed roadless rules for Colorado, conservation groups say.

The result will be opening the door to electric, water and telecommunication corridors in roadless areas, the groups say.

The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club and Colorado Wildlife Federation raised the issue during a teleconference Tuesday. They said the roadless proposal should provide the highest level of protections to at least half of Colorado’s roadless acres rather than the 13 percent proposed. They also say oil and gas companies should be barred from surface occupancy on lands receiving the highest protections.

The U.S. Forest Service this week launched a series of public meetings on the roadless proposal. The two closest meetings will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. June 15 at the Montrose Pavilion and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 16 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

Fort Collins Coloradoan

Environmentalists asking for greater roadless protections in Larimer County, statewide

Colorado State University biology professor Barry Noon and three environmental groups are urging the U.S. Forest Service to provide more wildlife habitat protections in Colorado’s roadless areas.

The Forest Service is proposing a new rule governing how more than 4 million acres of undeveloped roadless land in the state’s national forests will be managed. There are about 154,000 acres of roadless areas in Larimer County, including Grayrock northwest of Fort Collins.

The proposed rule, called the Colorado Roadless Rule, would allow Colorado’s roadless areas to be managed differently from the 54 million other acres of roadless land scattered across the country. The Colorado rule would allow some logging, pipeline construction and other development to occur in national forest roadless areas.

April 15, 2011:

Colorado News Connection

CO Roadless Rule: “Not Enough”

The current proposal gives the highest level of protection to about 13 percent of that land, which is less than the national standard. So, Elise Jones with the Colorado Environmental Coalition would like to see the policy strengthened. She cites benefits even to those who live far from the roadless areas – by preserving a major source of clean drinking water for the state.

“If we can protect the areas that are the source of our drinking water, keep them pristine, keep them road-free so we don’t have sediment eroding into those waterways, we also end up saving a lot of money because we don’t have to clean up our drinking water.”

Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice, agrees that the Colorado rule should meet the federal standard, which means keeping one-third of undeveloped forestland in the state roadless.

“The chief of the Forest Service promised that the Colorado rule would be as protective, or more protective, than the national rule adopted in 2001 – and it fails that test.”

The Colorado Roadless Rule would also allow for road development in some areas with coal or gas potential. Jones says she worries about the economic impact on Colorado’s multi-billion-dollar outdoor tourism industry.

“A lot of the places people want to visit are the pristine places in our National Forests that have no roads. And so, we don’t want to kill our golden goose – we want to take very good care of it.”

Denver Post

Environmental groups, sportsmen blast plan that weakens forest protections

Environmental and sportsmen’s groups are mobilizing to toughen the government’s latest plan to protect remaining roadless national forest land in Colorado. … Nine Colorado environmental groups rejected the updated policy.

“The plan offers no solution to imminent development of existing oil and gas leases within Colorado roadless areas. And it would allow new coal mining, utility corridors, and other development activity inside the forest backcountry,” the groups said in a coalition statement.

“A Colorado-specific rule is not needed because there’s already a carefully-crafted, strongly supported national rule in place,” the group wrote. “Any rule that is finalized should provide at least the level of protection found in the (current) national roadless rule.”

Grand Junction Sentinel

Coal Mining is Flash Point in Roadless Proposal

Accommodations for coal mining in the North Fork Valley are a point of contention in a newly proposed U.S. Forest Service roadless rule for Colorado.

Attorney Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice said the exemption “will allow 20,000 acres of our state’s remaining wild forests to be scarred with bulldozers for coal mining, a dirty energy source.”

Glenwood Post Independent

Feds unveil proposal to manage roadless lands

Conservation groups say rule doesn’t go far enough to protect 640,000 acres in White River National Forest

The proposal assigns the highest possible protection to about 562,000 acres in the state. Some of the roadless areas surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley would get that highest protection, including part of Red Table Mountain, Assignation Ridge, a section of land east of Aspen and an upper portion of Hunter Creek, according to Peter Hart, an attorney with Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop. But a greater number of roadless areas in the area wouldn’t receive that highest protection, including Hay Park and the Thompson Divide area, which is feeling pressure from natural gas development, he said.

“There are a number of roadless areas in the Roaring Fork which we feel deserve equal protection,” Hart said.

Wilderness Workshop and eight other conservation groups released a statement Thursday that said Colorado should receive the same level of protection granted by the 2001 National Roadless Rule. “Colorado’s roadless areas don’t deserve anything less,” Hart said.

However, the 2001 National Roadless Rule’s legality is still being weighed by a federal court. The coalition sees the Colorado roadless proposal unveiled Thursday as inferior to the national rule, but better than what Colorado had proposed for its own roadless management policy, Hart said.

“The current proposal still falls short of the Obama administration’s roadless commitment,” the conservation coalition said.

One of the biggest concerns is it doesn’t protect roadless areas from oil and gas development, Hart said, and it doesn’t clarify a confusing situation in the Thompson Divide, which includes land southwest of Carbondale.

After the 2001 National Roadless Rule was gutted, gas leases were awarded on public lands in the Thompson Divide area. The conservation groups say those leases were “illegally let,” Hart said. They hope that is established as part of the on-going litigation over the 2001 National Roadless Rule.

April 14, 2011:

KUNC (NPR)

Colorado Roadless Plan Scrutinized

A five year saga over how to manage roadless National Forest lands in Colorado has taken its latest turn, now that state and federal forest officials have unveiled Colorado’s draft roadless rule.  The proposal calls for “upper tier” protections for a half million acres of roadless forests in the state, and less-strong road-building bans on the remaining three and a half million acres.  But KUNC’s Kirk Siegler reports the draft rule is not without controversy.

Denver Post

Revised federal roadless plan compromises for coal mining, restricts tree cutting

Local and national environmental groups swiftly rejected it, saying the plan would significantly weaken current protections.

“The plan offers no solution to imminent development of existing oil and gas leases within Colorado roadless areas. And it would allow new coal mining, utility corridors, and other development activity inside the forest backcountry,” a joint statement from nine Colorado-based groups said.

“While we maintain that a Colorado-specific rule is not needed because there is already a carefully crafted, strongly supported national rule in place, any rule that is finalized should provide at least the level of protection found in the (current) national roadless rule. Colorado’s roadless forests are a state treasure and a national asset-they merit greater protection than what is currently provided in the Obama proposal and they deserve the same level of protection as those in other states.”

“We think it is significantly improved and we commend the forward direction, but we still see some need for refinement,” said Joel Webster, director of public lands programs for the Montana-based Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We believe a third, about 1.4 million acres, should be included in the upper tier to provide certainty that that they will be conserved for future generations.”

Environment law experts were scrutinizing the new documents.

“It’s disappointing that this rule is not going to be as protective as the national rule,” said Ted Zukoski, a Denver-based staff attorney for Earthjustice, which has defended roadless forest protection in courts around the West for a decade.

The plan “appears to permit oil and gas drilling in some places. It’s going to allow bull-dozing for roads and well pads for coal mines on tens and thousands of acres.”

Colorado Independent

New draft Colorado Roadless Rule draws immediate heat from conservation groups

Critics say new draft rule is better but still allows too many road-building exemptions for coal mining, logging, oil and gas

The State of Colorado and the U.S. Forest Service today announced yet another draft version of the controversial Colorado Roadless Rule (pdf) that has been hotly debated for nearly six years. Already environmental groups indicated the new draft rule falls short of protecting some of the state’s 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest land.

Conservation groups argue the Clinton Rule provides a higher level of protection and that pending litigation should be decided before the Obama administration moves forward with the Colorado Rule.

“The 2001 national roadless rule is the gold standard, and protects Colorado roadless areas now,” said Ted Zukoski, a Denver-based attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice.”The Obama administration promised the Colorado Rule would protect our remaining roadless forests as well as or better than the national rule. It doesn’t.”

The road building exemption to vent methane from expanded coal mines in the North Fork of the Gunnison area was defended by Cables as an important economic use that will sustain approximately 2,200 mining jobs in the state. Zukoski blasted that decision.

“The proposed Colorado Roadless Rule has damaging loopholes,” Zukoski said. “It will allow 20,000 acres of our state’s remaining wild forests to be scarred with bulldozers for coal mining, a dirty energy source. And it doesn’t end the threat of oil and gas leasing on leases pushed through by the Forest Service after 2001.”

“The Obama administration should not put forward a watered-down roadless rule for Colorado when the 10th Circuit could uphold the national rule here any day. We shouldn’t have to accept weaker protections for our roadless areas.”

“Colorado’s national forest lands support some of the largest mule deer and elk herds in the nation, and we can’t afford to sell these backcountry areas short,” Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership field representative Nick Payne said in a release.

“Hunters and anglers urge the administration to carefully review the successful conservation outcome attained in the Idaho Roadless Rule, including the expansion of upper-tier roadless acreages valuable to big-game populations and fisheries, with the goal of reaching a similar conclusion in Colorado.”

Idaho designated about 30 percent of its roadless areas as upper tier, or upper theme, meaning they have higher levels of protections from future exemptions written into the rule. Colorado is proposing about 11 percent as upper tier.

Jane Danowitz, director of the U.S. public lands program for the Pew Environment Group said her organization will work hard to make the current draft much better ahead of a final decision.

“The Obama administration has made some important improvements to the state’s initial plan but falls short in carrying out its commitment to protect all of Colorado’s national forests with a policy as strong as the 2001 Roadless Rule,” Danowitz said in a release. “The plan protects a fraction of the forests in Colorado, leaving some of the state’s best backcountry vulnerable to increased road-building, expanded coal mining and new oil and gas development.”

E&E News

Revamped Colo. roadless rule draws mixed reviews

“The message is we see some improvements, but we also see some additional room for refinement,” said Joel Webster, who is based in Missoula, Mont., as director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands.

In particular, provisions to allow road building for coal mines and ski areas should be offset by giving more lands maximum protections from human influence, Webster said.

He drew a comparison to Idaho, where exceptions to allow phosphate mining and easier wildfire management near residential areas were balanced by giving maximum protections to roughly a third of the state’s roadless lands. In Colorado, about 11 percent of lands would be placed in the upper tier, he said.

Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice, which has defended the Clinton rule in court, said the Obama administration has broken a pledge to establish protections that are equal to the Clinton rule.

“The 2001 national roadless rule is the gold standard, and protects Colorado roadless areas now,” Zukoski said in a statement. “The Obama administration promised the Colorado rule would protect our remaining roadless forests as well as or better than the national rule. It doesn’t.”

Zukoski warned that the plan contains “damaging loopholes” that allow wild lands to be bulldozed for coal mining and does not eliminate the threat of oil and gas development on leases pushed through by the Forest Service after 2001.

“The Obama administration should not put forward a watered-down roadless rule for Colorado when the Tenth Circuit could uphold the national rule here any day,” he added. “We shouldn’t have to accept weaker protections for our roadless areas.”

Durango Herald

The time to review roadless plan is now

“The 2001 national Roadless Rule is the gold standard, and protects Colorado roadless areas now. The Obama administration promised the Colorado Rule would protect our remaining roadless forests as well as or better than the national rule. It doesn’t,” said Ted Zukoski, a lawyer for Earthjustice, in a written statement.

A coalition of environmental groups, including Colorado Wild and San Juan Citizens Alliance, also criticized the plan for stopping short of the 2001 protections.

Fort Collins Coloradoan

Comment period opens on draft of roadless rules

Despite multiple drafts and more than 200,000 public comments from Colorado residents, the draft of the Colorado roadless rule met harsh criticism from environmentalists on Thursday because it offers fewer environmental protections than the Clinton rule did.

The groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Colorado Mountain Club and others, said roadless protections granted under the Clinton rule should be reinstated because the proposed Colorado rule gives only a fraction of the state’s 4 million acres of roadless land the highest level of protection.

“The plan offers no solution to imminent development of existing oil and gas leases within Colorado roadless areas,” the groups said in a joint statement. “And, it would allow new coal mining, utility corridors and other development activity inside forest backcountry.”

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One comment on “Newsroom

  1. Protect Our Forests
    May 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    TO SUBMIT YOUR OFFICIAL PUBLIC COMMENT TO THE FOREST SERVICE PLEASE CLICK THE “GET INVOLVED” TAB. Information posted to this comment section cannot be officially reviewed by the Forest Service. Thank you for your support.

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