Roadless rules reviewed | SteamboatToday.com

Roadless rules reviewed

Environmental impact statement in the works

Brandon Gee

Scott Bernstein checks out the view from an overlook during a snowmobile tour on Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat Springs on Friday afternoon.

Steamboat Springs — A controversial federal law governing Colorado's 4.1 million acres of roadless areas could be replaced by a state-specific rule that would allow more development exceptions. — A controversial federal law governing Colorado's 4.1 million acres of roadless areas could be replaced by a state-specific rule that would allow more development exceptions.

— A controversial federal law governing Colorado’s 4.1 million acres of roadless areas could be replaced by a state-specific rule that would allow more development exceptions.

The U.S. Forest Service announced last week that it will draft an environmental impact statement based on recommendations made by a state task force. Gov. Bill Ritter submitted the recommendations to the federal Department of Agriculture earlier this year. The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the scope of the study until Feb. 25.

“This is just part of a really long process we’ve been involved in with the state,” said Janelle Smith, a Forest Service spokeswoman. “What is probably going to be more substantial for people to comment on is going to be the EIS (environmental impact statement). What we’re looking for now is just to be able to identify environmental, social and economic issues that people have.”

The federal law, adopted under the Clinton Administration, strictly protects more than 58 million roadless acres nationwide. The proposed Colorado rule would create some exceptions to that law, such as exempting ski areas from the roadless designation and allowing some oil and gas exploration in roadless areas under specific circumstances.

Deb Frazier, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, acknowledged the exceptions but said the state mainly wants to “maintain the status quo.”

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Frazier said that a federal judge in Wyoming threw out Clinton’s 2001 rule, and in 2005, the Bush Administration opened up some of the previously protected areas to potential development. States were told they could petition for their own set of rules for roadless areas.

Last year, the Clinton rule was reinstated in a San Francisco court case, but it continues to be challenged. Frazier said Colorado’s efforts to form their own rules are an “insurance policy” in case the Clinton rule is thrown out once more.

“The Colorado rules would pretty much go along with that rule,” Frazier said.

Idaho is the only other state pursuing a state-specific rule. That state is a little further down the road and has already released an environmental impact statement. Environmental groups reacted with fear to the study, which they believe could open up over half of the state’s 9.3 million roadless acres to development.

“Roadless area management has been an area of great interest and varying opinions for decades,” Smith said.

According to the Clinton rule, which is currently in place in Colorado and nationwide, “an inventoried roadless area must be at least 5,000 acres or be adjacent to a wilderness area, and does not have any roads present.” This is the general rule. There are exceptions.

“Roadless areas are usually gems of the forest,” Smith said. “They provide wonderful recreation.”