DENVER (AP) – Time is running out for the public to comment on Colorado’s latest proposal for managing roadless forests, with some groups saying former proposals were better.
The latest Colorado proposal carves out exceptions to a federal roadless rule adopted in 2001, just before then-President Bill Clinton left office, that prohibits commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forest in 38 states and Puerto Rico.
Colorado started developing its own rule for managing roughly 4.2 million acres of roadless forest in the state after court challenges left the fate of the federal policy in doubt.
The exceptions in the latest Colorado proposal, developed by state and federal officials, allow for potential ski resort expansions, methane venting near three coal mines, and thinning of forests to reduce wildfire threats. It also proposes offering high protection than what’s offered under the Clinton-era rule for about 560,000 acres, or roughly 875 square miles.
A 90-day public comment period on the proposal ends Thursday. So far, the U.S. Forest Service says it has received about 34,000 comments, with many coming in as form letters.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he would like to make a final decision on the rule this year.
The group Club 20, which lobbies on behalf of western Colorado communities, has urged federal officials to go back to a plan submitted by former Gov. Bill Ritter in 2008 that didn’t suggest higher, “upper tier” protection for as much land as the current proposal. Club 20 contends the current proposal also restricts what can be done to mitigate threats of wildfires on upper tier land.
Some conservation groups say Colorado should just go back to the national roadless rule and add upper tier protection for even more land.
The Colorado Environmental Coalition posted a form letter on its website for supporters to tell the Forest Service that Colorado’s rule should be at least as strong as national roadless policy and not include exceptions.
On Tuesday, 69 sportsmen’s groups and businesses supported by hunters, anglers and rafters signed a letter simply urging Vilsack to support a rule that maximizes the preservation of fish and wildlife habitat.
Meanwhile, the Geos Institute is submitting a study that touts the need to bar development on watersheds in untouched roadless areas that supply drinking water.
“When you turn the drinking water tap on, chances are it’s coming from pristine roadless areas with the highest quality drinking water,” said institute director Dominick DellaSala. “Why mess around with the highest best use of roadless areas by permitting development when we’ve got exploding population throughout the West and increasing consumption levels of water?”
Western Energy Alliance, which promotes natural gas and oil development in the West, planned to submit comments before the deadline.
“We’re supportive of the Colorado rule as an alternative to the 2001 national roadless rule, but there are a number of provisions that will compromise companies’ ability to develop energy from valid existing leases in and around designated roadless areas,” the group’s director of government and public affairs, Kathleen Sgamma, said.
– By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)