Curves ahead in roadless debate

“The state told us they essentially wanted to move forward with a very protective rule that would safeguard roadless area values and character,” said Chris Wood of Trout Unlimited, a member of the Roadless Area Conservation National Committee, which reviews each state’s roadless petition and recommends to the USDA whether to accept or reject the state’s desires for the fate of its roadless areas.

http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/content/news/stories/2007/09/02/090207_1B_Roadless_areas.html

By BOBBY MAGILL The Daily Sentinel

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Another round of wrangling over roadless areas is in store for Colorado.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved how Colorado wants some of its most pristine wildlands to be managed in the event a federal court ruling protecting 58 million acres from development is ever overturned.

Colorado has about 4 million acres of roadless areas in its national forests. The bipartisan Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force has debated the fate of those areas for the past year.

The task force, and later Gov. Bill Ritter, recommended that most of that land be protected from road building and other development, with some exceptions. Those roadless areas include swaths of land on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Battlement Mesa and the Flat Tops and other areas throughout western and central Colorado.

The task force’s final recommendations were accepted with some modifications by the USDA this past week. The next step is for the government to create a rule for managing Colorado’s roadless areas, a planning and public comment process that could take more than a year.

A Colorado roadless rule would turn out to be unnecessary should a federal court decision protecting all the nation’s roadless areas withstand legal challenges and not be overturned by a higher court. The court decision upheld then-President Bill Clinton’s roadless rule for the 58 million acres nationwide.

“The state told us they essentially wanted to move forward with a very protective rule that would safeguard roadless area values and character,” said Chris Wood of Trout Unlimited, a member of the Roadless Area Conservation National Committee, which reviews each state’s roadless petition and recommends to the USDA whether to accept or reject the state’s desires for the fate of its roadless areas.

Trout Unlimited supports the Clinton roadless rule “100 percent,” Wood said.

Former Roadless Task Force member Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, called the USDA’s decision to accept Colorado’s roadless petition “a rare bipartisan win.”

Penry credited former Gov. Bill Owens for allowing Coloradans to speak out about roadless areas when it would have been just as easy to ditch the Clinton rule altogether. Penry also credited Ritter for sticking with the task force’s recommendations despite “strident voices” in the environmental community.

Former task force member Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, said roadless areas should remain protected by the Clinton rule.

But, he said, “I think any effort that leads toward enduring protection for roadless areas is a good thing.”

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