Colorado, Feds Reach Agreement on Roadless Rule

Published June 28, 2012

It took seven years, but Colorado and U.S. Forest Service officials have finally completed work on an environmental impact statement on the state’s roadless rule.

President Bill Clinton in 2001 announced his Roadless Area Conservation Rule setting off limits to logging and road construction on more than 58 million acres of declared National Forests and Grasslands around the nation. President George Bush subsequently relaxed the rule a bit to allow states to formulate their own roadless plans for federal lands in the state. That left Colorado with the question of how to manage its 4.2 million acres of federal lands.

Limited Economic Development

The final proposal crafted between state and federal authorities conserves 4.2 million acres of federal roadless areas while upholding the existing rights of oil and gas leaseholders who wish to continue development on land they currently lease. 

In addition to giving leaseholders the right to continue their activities, the plan allows for limited road-building in areas of energy development and where wildfires might pose problems. Roads may also be built near coal mines and ski areas, to accommodate for expansions.

The exceptions are extremely limited and apply to only a very small portion of federal lands in the state. Under the agreement, approximately 4 million of the 4.2 million acres will remain completely untouched. 

Activists Spar with Democrats

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) expressed his support for the agreement in a statement to the press. 

“Past delays have led to uncertainty for local businesses and communities, and this should help provide some stability going forward,” said Udall in a written statement. “This is a great example of a very thorough process, where thousands of Coloradans and stakeholders came together to work out a framework that makes sense for Colorado.”

Despite the widespread support for the agreement, particularly among Democrat state and federal officials, environmental activists groups were critical of state officials for allowing any economic activity at all on roadless federal lands in the state.

“We have a mixed reaction to it,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “We actually think the 2001 roadless rule was better and the only reason to do one specifically tailored to Colorado is to put in a bunch of loopholes and exceptions that will degrade the property.

“It’s going to be ultimately approved,” Shoemaker conceded. “But we don’t like the overly broad exception that allows for tree cutting and … one of the areas we’re particularly concerned about is there aren’t enough protections for our watershed against oil and gas development.”

Restrictions Too Severe

Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, disagrees. 

“Sixty percent of federal lands are closed to energy production and another 30 percent are so severely restricted as to be effectively off limits,” Lehr observed. “The problem with our federal lands policy is not too few environmental restrictions, but too many.”

“Roadless policies also make it nearly impossible for people to visit places of exceptional beauty,” Lehr added. “Theodore Roosevelt envisioned setting aside places of exceptional beauty for all the people to enjoy. Environmental activists of today seek to set aside places of exceptional beauty for nobody to enjoy.”

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) is a digital editor with The Washington Times’ newest endeavor,