Forest Service reconsiders roadless rules

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Review the proposed rule, a related draft environmental impacts statement, briefing papers and maps at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/coroadlessrule

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■ Visit www.regulations.gov, enter “Colorado roadless” in the search window

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— The U.S. Forest Service and its stakeholders have been debating and seeking consensus about how best to manage roadless areas in the National Forest since the 1960s. The 2001 version of the Colorado Roadless Rule has been the subject of lawsuits since it was adopted. But hope springs eternal, and a new 2011 Roadless Rule, updating a 2008 version, could be completed by the end of the year.

“We’re hoping we’ve crafted a rule that has broad enough support for balancing economic activity with qualities that are important all over the state,” Forest Service official Ken Tu said last week.

Tu is the regional environmental coordinator with the USFS Rocky Mountain Region planning staff in Golden. He spoke to about 30 people in Steamboat Springs on May 25 and introduced the latest changes to proposed rules applying to the 2001 Roadless Rule, which would address more than 4 million acres in Colorado. Interested people have until July 14 to submit written comments on the proposed changes to the Forest Service.

Steamboat resident Bob McConnell, a president of the American Alpine Club in the mid-1990s, handed Forest Service officials a written statement contending that the proposed rules would go too far in constraining development of natural resources, including millions of acres of beetle-killed pine trees.

Aaron Kindle, Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, said after the meeting that his organization thinks the rules don’t go far enough to protect streams that harbor relatively pure strains of native Colorado cutthroat trout. The trout habitat also coincides with prime elk summering range, he added.

Tu was among local and regional forest staff, along with representatives of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, who are conducting such meetings around the state.

A big change in the roadless discussion occurred in 2005, during President George W. Bush’s administration, when instead of addressing roadless rules on a forest-by-forest basis, the government invited states to make their own proposal for consideration by the Forest Service. Colorado, under former Gov. Bill Owens, accepted the invitation, and former Gov. Bill Ritter, and now Hickenlooper have continued the process.

Tu said it’s important for people to understand that the roadless areas of the forest being discussed are distinct from established wilderness areas. In addition, the roadless rules are different from the travel management plans of national forests that govern where motorized vehicles can and cannot travel.

Roadless areas are generally tracts of National Forest that exceed 5,000 acres and are without roads.

Among the 19 roadless areas in the Routt National Forest that are contained in the Colorado proposal being considered by the Forest Service are 22,800 acres at Black Mountain, 36,700 acres at Dome Peak, 34,300 acres near Mad Creek and 57,800 near Pagoda Peak. Another almost 80,000 acres are in Troublesome North and South areas bracketing the Continental Divide in the Rabbit Ears Range south of North Park near Muddy Pass.

Altogether, there are more than 430,000 acres of public lands in the Routt National Forest being considered in the new rules.

“Roadless areas are not wilderness areas,” Tu said. “They are two different things. The inventory of roadless areas came from the Forest Plans (for individual National Forests like the Medicine Bow-Routt, which straddles Northwest Colorado and parts of Wyoming). From that basis, we made modifications and tried to include some un-roaded areas that weren’t inventoried and exclude some others that were already roaded.”

A key change in the proposed rules from 2008 to 2011, Tu said, is the creation of upper-tier roadless areas where the exceptions to the rules allowed for tree removal, especially to create defensible fire breaks around communities, are much more tightly controlled. The same applies to a form of intrusion on roadless areas the Forest Service describes as linear construction zones.

Those zones allow for limited construction of power lines, underground utilities and water lines, where native vegetation would be encouraged to grow back, but regrowth of timber could be discouraged.

Again, the exceptions for linear construction zones would be much more restrictive in upper-tier roadless areas.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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