October 2011 - Colorado Roadless Areas

Oct 21, 2011

Captain's Log, 1XE, Day 9 of the month of September in the Earth calendar year 2011.

Roadless.... a place without roads. Last seen in abundance in the 20th century. Reduced to a myriad of conversations and confusing rule changes. A concept strongly felt by a multitude of stakeholders all looking after good ole number one - themselves.

Flying machine 1XE lately flew members of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership over the Currant Creek Roadless Area, located in the Grand Mesa National Forest, high above the North Fork of the Gunnison River. The area is close to the Clear Fork Divide, the largest tract of intact roadless backcountry in Colorado. The remote and unaltered landscape of Currant Creek offers highly diverse vegetation and forage for elk, black bear and other wildlife species. The area is a key migration corridor for lynx and provides essential elk and mule deer calving habitat.

Now what makes this landscape so special? You guessed it. No roads. No logging, mining or oil and gas roads leading to open pits, clear cuts or well pads. Untrammelled landscapes for the wildlife of Colorado to roam freely and be relatively undisturbed to procreate and to grow into trophy species.

I remember flying in Central America almost 30 years ago and looking down on the forests and realizing something was catching my eye. Already this area was heavily deforested and cut with roads. Then, as I passed over southern Belize at 150mph it dawned on me that this was a land of pristine nature with no roads. We later located this place on a map and worked diligently for years with the Belizean authorities to make it the first national park of Belize, Bladen Nature Reserve.

Now here in the good ole U.S. it again catches my eye when I zoom or float over a section of land that is pristine in nature and roadless either by design or some other intangible.

The roughly 4.2 million acres of roadless lands in Colorado are currently protected by the National Forest Roadless Rule adopted by President Clinton in 2001, which bars commercial logging, road construction and most mining. The Bush Administration attempted to undermine the national rule by encouraging each state to pursue its own rule, and two states, Idaho and Colorado, took that path.

Though a Federal court had reinstated the 2001 Roadless Rule, in April 2011 the Forest Service issued a proposed Colorado Rule with the intent of it being "at least as protective...and preferably more protective.... than the 2001 rule". Local groups argue that the proposal falls far short of this message, as it only offered top-tier protection to about thirteen percent of the land protected under the Clinton-era rule.

Groups are pressuring the Forest Service to ensure that areas in Colorado like Currant Creek, Kannah Creek, Mamm Creek, Flattops Elk Park and other ecologically important areas are included in upper-tier protections under the new rule.

 

The comment period for the proposal ended July 14, 2011.

Breaking news today (21st October): a federal appeals court upheld the 2001 Roadless Rule, reversing the lower court's decision and prohibiting roads on nearly 50 million acres of land in national forests across the United States, including Colorado; a very significant ruling and victory. Thank you to all our partners in the conservation movement who have valiantly stayed the course and fought the good fight.

 

Bruce Gordon.

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