Roadless Areas have a long, divisive history in Colorado.
In an October 2011 decision hailed as a major victory for conservatiion, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to uphold the 2001 rule, bringing to an end a decade of uncertainty, advocacy and litigation on the legitimacy of the rule. The national rule became the law of the land, protecting 49 million acres of roadless forest. This puts the Colorado Rule back into question. If it truly was created as “an insurance policy” for the national rule, then there is no longer a need for it. But to further complicate the matter, in May, 2012 the Forest Service released its final EIS on the Colorado Rule. While some claim the Colorado rule has better protections from oil and gas, the rule contains exceptions, and removes 459,100 acres from protection in Colorado.
At the end of its term in 2001, the Clinton Administration passed the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to protect the nation’s last remaining inventoried un-roaded areas from logging, mining and energy development, including 4.4 million acres in Colorado. The rule protects areas for their wildlife habitat, and preserves natural settings for most forms of recreation including biking and most motorized sports.
Immediately after taking office, the Bush administration suspended the rule with a U.S. District Court overturning the rule. Individual states were then required to petition for protections of these roadless areas through a lengthy review process. In 2006, another ruling reinstated the 2001 rule, with another court ruling on the matter still pending. In 2007, even with the 2001 national rule dictating the management of roadless areas, Governor Ritter went ahead and submitted a petition to protect them as an “insurance policy” should the 2001 rule be repealed.
In April of 2011, the Forest Service re-issued its proposed roadless rule for Colorado, with the intent of if being “at least as protective…and preferably more protective…than the 2001 rule”. Local groups argue that the plan falls short of this message, as it only offers top-tier protection to about 13 percent of the land protected under the Clinton-era rule.
Groups pressed the Forest Service to ensure that areas in Colorado like Kannah Creek, Currant Creek, Mamm Creek, Flattops Elk Park and other economic and ecologically important areas are included in upper-tier protections under the new rule. These areas are important for lynx and other wildlife for movement corridors. While they were protected under the 2001 rule, the proposed Colorado rule leaves them vulnerable to energy extraction and road building. Industry groups pressed for a less restrictive plan and leasing has already begun in some of these roadless areas.
Roadless areas depicted in blue.
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