Under Threat Again: Will the Obama Administration protect roadless forests?

Waterfall in San Miguel Peak Roadless Area, Colorado. Photo by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam, Flickr.

The state of Colorado is attempting to institute a roadless forest management rule that could set a dangerous precedent for the nation’s roadless forests, potentially paving the way for fewer forest protections nationwide.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a revised rule that would exempt the state’s 4.2 million acres of roadless forests from the 2001 national Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects 58 million acres of the nation’s most pristine forests.

Such a move would set a precedent that invites other states to ask for exemptions. It would drastically lower the standard for forest protection not only in Colorado, but in states where timber, mining and other industries would welcome access to currently protected forests.

Now it is up to the Obama administration to decide whether it will enforce the national rule or give into the special interests of Colorado’s mining and skiing industry.

At stake are some of our nation’s most ecologically rich forests. These unpaved forests serve as extremely high-quality havens for wildlife and provide irreplaceable services for humans, such as providing clean water for millions of Americans and filtering our air.

While the Colorado Roadless Petition would protect more than 400,000 acres of roadless areas currently unaccounted in the Forest Service’s roadless inventory, it would also remove protections from other currently protected acres. The petition would also create a new set of explicit road-building exceptions, for activities like mining, construction of power lines, and waterworks.

“Rather than accept a state-specific rule that we don’t need, we encourage the Obama administration to implement the national rule protecting some 58 million acres of national forests, including over four million acres in Colorado,” said Steve Smith, assistant regional director for the Colorado office of The Wilderness Society. “We believe the administration can do so in a way that accounts for the unique characteristics that make national forests in Colorado special.”

Brushy Creek Roadless Area in Routt National Forest, Colorado. Photo by Rocky Smith.Over the past decade, the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule has successfully protected 58 million acres of roadless wildlands throughout the country. After the most extensive public involvement in the history of federal rulemaking, the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted on Jan.12, 2001, and has since triumphed over many legal attacks.

If the Obama administration allows each state to create their own individual roadless rule, thousands of acres of roadless forests will no longer be protected.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a statement April 6 praising Gov. Ritter’s efforts. The Wilderness Society is disappointed that Secretary Vilsack is prejudging the Colorado proposal before he starts the environmental review process required by law.

 

photos:
Waterfall in San Miguel Peak Roadless Area, Colorado. Photo by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam, Flickr.
Brushy Creek Roadless Area in Routt National Forest, Colorado. Photo by Rocky Smith.

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