DeGette dubs Colorado Roadless Rule inadequate, pushes for 2001 Clinton rule

Denver congresswoman also touts sweeping new wilderness bill

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJuly 19, 2011
Just under the wire, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., got her official comments in on the controversial Colorado Roadless Rule late last week, sending them to the U.S. Forest Service in a letter copied to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell.

“The Forest Service is considering a state-specific rule to manage inventoried roadless areas on national forest lands in Colorado, rather than complying with the national rule,” a DeGette press release stated on Friday. “Despite having slightly stronger protections than an earlier state-specific version, the proposed rule falls short of the standard existing under the national rule and lacks critical safeguards for Colorado's national forests.”

The Colorado Roadless Rule process, which began during the administration of Republican Gov. Bill Owens and the presidential administration of George Bush, has taken nearly six years. It's meant as a state-specific alternative to the 2001 Clinton administration national roadless rule, which Bush set aside soon after taking office. The national rule has been tied up in various federal courts ever since.

The Colorado Roadless Rules dictates the management of approximately 4.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas of federal land throughout Colorado. The latest draft, released in April, was immediately blasted by conservation groups for still containing too many road building exemptions for oil and gas drilling, coal mining, logging and ski area expansion. The 90-day comment window on the latest draft (pdf) is now closing.

The Colorado Deserves More campaign studied the latest draft and found that only 13 percent of Colorado's roadless areas would receive “top-tier” protection compared to 30 percent in Idaho, the only other state to engage in the Bush administration's state-specific roadless rule process for its federal lands.

Earlier this month, DeGette introduced the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2011, which includes 28 proposed wilderness areas as well as three smaller additions to existing wilderness areas. Nearly 700,000 acres of federal land in Colorado would be protected by the proposal. However, it faces a tough road to passage in the Republican-controlled House.

Vail-area U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, has introduced the much smaller Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act, which would protect more than 160,000 acres of federal land in Eagle and Summit counties as wilderness.

Here's DeGette's entire comment letter regarding the Colorado Roadless Rule:

July 14, 2011

Colorado Roadless Area Review Team

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service

Re: Submission of Comments on Proposed Colorado Roadless Rule and Revised Draft

Dear Colorado Roadless Area Review Team:

As a Member of the Colorado Congressional delegation with a particular interest in natural resources, I write to submit my comments on the proposed Colorado Roadless Rule. The Rule would impact 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest land in Colorado. These are our last remaining undeveloped forest lands which we depend on for critical wildlife habitat, clean air and recreational opportunities. Wildlife viewing and hunting and fishing are vital for Colorado's tourism, one of our strongest economic engines.

As has consistently been my position, I do not believe Colorado needs a separate state-specific roadless rule since the 2001 Roadless Rule received unprecedented public comment and great support, here in Colorado and across the country. Since these are federal lands, they should be managed as other federal lands, with a consistency that gives certainty to all who use and enjoy them. Our Colorado forest lands also deserve the same level of protection as those across the country. Additionally, since there are local protections and flexibility built into the 2001 Roadless Rule, the Colorado plan is unnecessary.

The proposed alternative of the Colorado Roadless Rule falls short in several ways. It provides ‘upper tier' protection to only 13% of Inventoried Roadless Areas even though over 65% of these areas are identified in the various alternatives for the ‘upper tier' category. Also, the 13% of roadless lands in Alternative 2 are those that generally already enjoy the same protection under their current forest plan. It seems disingenuous to declare them ‘upper tier' which does not add additional protection but only changes the administrative mechanism by which those protections can be changed. The ‘upper tier' protections should be afforded to all the 2.8 million acres identified in the various alternatives.

In addition, it would allow oil and gas surface occupancy and linear construction zones even in the ‘upper tier' lands. I urge you to prohibit both surface occupancy and linear construction zones in these critical areas. The majority of the Inventoried Roadless Areas (87%) face these threats as well as many other exceptions for special interests, such as oil and gas leasing and coal mining. These lands are vulnerable to development, road building and extraction.

Lastly, I am concerned about some of the proposed regulations that permit road building far from the nearest community for fuel reduction. We have limited dollars to deal with the threats of forest fire around these areas. Those limited dollars should be targeted to the areas closest to those communities rather than far into the backcountry.

I strongly urge you to provide Colorado roadless areas with the highest level of protection possible. Without strong rules to protect our fragile forest ecosystem it will be more vulnerable to threats such as climate change and insect and disease outbreaks. In 2010, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged that the Colorado rule would be as protective or more protective than the 2001 Roadless Rule, the current proposal does not offer that level of protection.

Sincerely,

Diana DeGette

Member of Congress

Cc: USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack

USFS Chief Tom Tidwell


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