The United States Forest Service (USFS) is considering granting an exception to the regulation designed to prevent development in federally designated roadless areas. USFS officials have proposed granting an exception for road development to allow expansion of coal mining in western Colorado.
Regional forester Dan Jirón says the proposal is an attempt to account for state concerns roadless areas ought to be managed in a way to provide economic opportunities. If approved, the exception would let Arch Coal clear roads and build industrial pads on about 20,000 acres of national forest land in the North Fork Valley.
In 2012, federal officials announced a state-specific Colorado Roadless Rule for managing 4.2 million acres of relatively roadless land in the state. This rule prioritized the protection of 1.2 million acres making an exception for North Fork Valley coal mining. In 2014, a U.S. District Court rejected the plan ruling the Forest Service failed to consider the climate change impacts of the mining plan which would have resulted in the extraction of an estimated 350 million tons of additional coal in the area to be mined. The new proposal reduces the estimated amount of coal available from use of roads and pads to 173 million tons.
In a prepared statement, Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Mike King announced “we support the Forest Service’s actions.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.