Rules proposed for Colorado roadless national forest land

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— Local officials say proposed rules for roadless national forest land in Colorado will help protect homes and potentially human lives from wildfires.

“Our biggest concern is providing emergency services in the wildland fire urban interface area,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The new rules announced Wednesday likely will become official in a month and allow tree thinning and other mitigation work in areas designated as roadless that have homes nearby.

The U.S. Forest Service spent nearly seven years gathering input for the proposed rules in Colorado, which affects 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest land. The result is what many are calling a compromise. While temporary roads for mining operations would be allowed, about 1.2 million acres of the roadless land would receive higher protections.

“The rule enhances all that makes Colorado special while at the same time providing a measure of flexibility that supports local economies and ensures communities can take steps to protect themselves from threats of wildfire,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told the Associated Press.

There are about 430,000 acres of public lands designated as roadless in Routt National Forest.

Roadless areas generally are tracts of national forest that exceed 5,000 acres and are without roads. They are separate from wilderness areas.

Among the 19 roadless areas in Routt National Forest are 22,800 acres at Black Mountain, 36,700 acres at Dome Peak, 34,300 acres near Mad Creek and 57,800 acres 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.

Many of the areas in Routt National Forest are included in the 1.2 million acres of land receiving higher protections.

North Routt Fire Protection Chief Bob Reilley said that previous restrictions placed on roadless areas caused delays at wildland fire mitigation projects in North Routt County and that fire officials have been advocating for changes to the rules.

Former Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said that in some cases the backyards of homes were touching areas designated as roadless.

“We were like, ‘What do you mean? We can’t go across the fence and cut out trees?’” Vale said.

As with any compromise, not all groups are completely satisfied with the proposed rules.

In a written statement, the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association stressed the importance of roadless areas, noting outdoor recreation supports more than 100,000 jobs in Colorado and brings in $500 million in annual state sales tax revenue.

The organization urged the Obama administration to extend the higher protection to all of Colorado’s roadless areas.

“While the Colorado final revision delineates new ‘upper-tier’ protections for 1.2 million acres, it leaves 3 million acres of the state’s roadless lands and waters subject to development and encroachment from utility corridors, energy development and mining,” trade association officials said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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