Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Steamboat Springs The future management guidelines for many thousands of acres of roadless timbered hillsides, mountains and meadows in the Routt National Forest are due to change next month pending a decision by the Obama administration.
Janelle Smith, a spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service in Denver, said Wednesday that the decision about how to apply the 2011 Roadless Rule now rests in the office of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Forest Service officials in Colorado have become guarded in their comments until the decision is known.
Throughout 2011, Forest Service officials in Colorado were collaborating with the Department of Natural Resources to craft a Colorado version of the rules that would be more tailored to regional issues — building roads to facilitate removing beetle-killed pine trees near communities to improve fire safety, for example.
The discussion came to Steamboat Springs in May when Forest Service Regional Environmental Coordinator Ken Tu discussed the Colorado plan in a public hearing attended by about 30 people.
The national version of the roadless rule would place an outright ban on roads in more than 4 million acres of national forest land in the state, and the draft plan being crafted in Colorado would protect a comparable number of acres while allowing some roads to be built for the expansion of coal mining and ski resorts, for example.
The new rules have undergone lengthy discussion, and Tu told his Steamboat audience that a key change between the 2008 version and the new version would create lands identified for upper-tier protection, where exceptions allowed for tree removal — as well as for narrow construction zones intended for power lines, water lines and underground utilities — would be much stricter. The water lines would be replanted with native grasses and shrubs.
Among the roadless areas in the Routt National Forest contained in the Colorado proposal are 22,800 acres at Black Mountain, 36,700 acres at Dome Peak, 334,300 acres bracketing Mad Creek not far from Steamboat Springs and 57,800 acres on the edge of the Flat Tops near Pagoda Peak. Another 80,000 acres on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass are contained in the Troublesome Area bracketing the Continental Divide where it runs east-west in the Rabbit Ears Range near Muddy Pass.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com