Steamboat Springs The effects on the Routt National Forest of a Bush administration proposal that could open remote forest areas to timber and other industries probably won't be known for at least a year, if not longer.
The proposed rule, announced Monday, would replace a Clinton-era rule that protected nearly 60 million acres of national forest lands from road construction. There are 191 million acres of national forest nationwide.
Under the Bush proposal, areas of national forests previously designated as roadless can be opened for road construction. State governors can petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revise forest management plans within their states. Those petitions could include calls for increased road-building in certain areas or requests that forest lands remain protected from construction and industry. Final decisions will be made by federal officials.
Diann Ritschard, public affairs specialist with the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest, said the Bush administration proposal emphasizes sound management of roadless forest areas.
"What this is about is the Forest Service working with states to come up with a plan to manage the roadless areas," Ritschard said.
Because of an 18-month period for governors to submit management plan petitions and the possibility that the proposed rule will change, she said it's impossible to know how the 502,000 acres of Routt National Forest land designated as roadless will be affected. Not all of the Routt National Forest is roadless, and forest lands designated as wilderness are not subject to the rule.
"It's just a proposal," Ritschard said. "It will probably be at least a year or more before there's anything definitive."
Ritschard said the Forest Service is encouraging public comment and input on the proposal and forest uses.
Gov. Bill Owens supports the proposal and will instruct the state Department of Natural Resources to gather input with local stakeholders in areas of the state with roadless forest areas, said Dan Hopkins, Owens' press secretary.
Owens is expected to submit a petition to the USDA before the 18-month time limit expires.
"The governor certainly will recommend what he feels is best for the state of Colorado," Hopkins said Wednesday.
The Clinton rule, which was implemented just before he left office in 2001, has been applauded by environmental groups. But the rule also has been the subject of numerous legal challenges. A Wyoming court struck down the rule in July 2003, and the ruling is under appeal.
According to documents from the USDA, the new proposal is a "proactive policy that is not clouded by legal uncertainty and that engages states, local governments, tribes and interested parties in determining measures to conserve and manage roadless areas."
Since the rule was proposed earlier this week, timber industry officials have hailed it as a sound and fair management policy that invites local input, while many conservationists label it as the next step in decreased environmental protection.