9 Apr 2010, 10:54pm
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Ritter submits roadless-area protection plan to White House

By Bruce Finley, The Denver Post, 04/07/2010 [here]

The haggling over how to protect roadless national-forest land in Colorado intensified Tuesday as Gov. Bill Ritter submitted a newly sweetened plan to the Obama administration for approval.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement praising the plan for providing “strong protections” — then announced that the Forest Service will look into “adding significantly to the number of acres receiving a higher level of protection.”

At stake is how much recreation, mining, logging and other activities the government will allow on 4.19 million acres of Colorado’s 14.4 million national-forest acres.

Colorado’s plan would:

• Close a loophole in the current federal rule that allows construction of pipelines, power lines and telecom lines across forests.

• Update a federal forest inventory based on Clinton-era maps.

• Allow logging as deep as 1.5 miles into roadless areas to remove beetle-killed pines.

• Make exceptions for expansion of existing ski resorts and coal mines.

“This is simply a better rule for Colorado,” Ritter said.

Environment-advocacy groups pressing for rigorous, consistent protection raised concerns that Colorado’s plan would weaken a contested 2001 national rule covering 58 million acres nationwide.

“Gov. Ritter’s proposal would allow major new mining and drilling activity in Colorado’s backcountry, threatening water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and sustainable economic growth. We hope the administration will reconsider this direction,” said Jane Danowitz, director the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. public lands program.

Other groups praised the proposed Colorado rules.

“This is a balanced, measured approach that, at the end of the day, ensures our forests are protected,” Environment Colorado organizer Matt Garrington said.

Colorado Ski Country president Melanie Mills applauded the plan. Mining leaders are reviewing it, Colorado Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson said.

Forest Service regional chief Rick Cables said federal officials will feed Colorado’s plan into “the federal process, to do the analysis with public input.”

Courts still must decide whether the 2001 federal rule applies. A ruling expected from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will resolve the Obama administration’s and environmental groups’ challenge of a 2008 Wyoming federal judge’s injunction blocking roadless protection nationwide. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of national roadless protection, rejecting a Bush administration bid to open some forests to development.

Either way, federal officials say Vilsack favors stricter protection.

But foresters in Colorado “need to be able to do things” such as deal with beetle-killed forests near towns, said Mike King, deputy director of natural resources for the state.

“When you’re on the outside, it’s not your family — your uncle or dad — who might get laid off in the North Fork,” King said. “It’s not your place in Granby that’s going to be engulfed in flames if you are denied the ability to treat forests. It’s more of an academic discussion when you’re sitting on the banks of the Potomac.”



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