How to Protect Roadless Areas? Wilderness Society tells advisory committee that 2001 rule is key

Dome Peak Roadless Area, White River National Forest, Colorado. Photo by Harlan Savage.

WASHINGTON – An advisory committee meeting Nov. 18-19, agreed to make two key recommendations to Colorado and federal government agencies regarding Colorado’s attempts to establish its own roadless rule, which would weaken the 2001 national rule that currently protects roadless forests in most of the rest of the country.

At the Nov. 18-19 meeting, under the watchful eye of The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Pew Environment Group and many other conservation organizations, the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Council, or RACNAC, decided it would recommend that Colorado and Forest Service officials:

  • Set up a process for reconsidering 500,000 acres erased from the inventory of roadless areas in the state.
  • Consider a special category for 1.26 million acres of roadless forests that would make them immune to future exceptions for development.

“I was glad to see these two recommendations but our position at The Wilderness Society is that we stand by the national 2001 rule that protects our roadless forests,” said Steve Smith, TWS’s assistant regional director for Colorado.

“The American public simply does not want to see the roadless rule weakened,” he said.

The RACNAC is an advisory committee for the U.S Forest Service on management and conservation of roadless areas. Formed by 15 members who represent diverse national organizations, they provide insight on issues regarding the management of inventoried roadless areas.

November’s gathering focused on the state of Colorado’s attempts to replace the 2001 national roadless rule with its own version – one that many in the conservation community contend would alter the management of the state’s 4.4 million acres of roadless lands to allow more logging and oil and gas drilling.

Colorado Trout Unlimited Executive Director David Nickum politely characterized the Colorado rule making process as “a little backwards.” Instead of focusing on what’s best for the land, he said the process has focused on identifying what kinds of management plans the state has wanted in various areas and then crafting the Colorado rule toward them.

The Outdoor Alliance also expressed its displeasure with efforts to weaken the roadless rule in Colorado, noting that the state is famous for the bounty of recreational opportunities it contains.

“The proposed Colorado rule does not take into consideration the identity of Colorado,” said Deanne Buck, a representative for the Outdoor Alliance – an organization representing six human-powered recreational groups from biking to hiking.

Joel Webster — policy initiative manager at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership saw the overall direction of changes to the national rule as a bad deal for Colorado.

“This is not a compromise from our point of view,” he said. “This is a loss.”

What’s next: RACNAC will soon submit a letter to the U.S Forest Service summarizing the agreements and recommendations that they discussed at the meeting. Meanwhile, the state of Colorado and the Forest Service will continue negotiations about Colorado’s final roadless rule.