On May 3 Colorado the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Colorado Roadless Rule. After years of deliberation in and out of courts, the department of ag has chosen the Colorado Rule over the 2001 "Clinton" Rule which governs all USFS lands except in Idaho.
The final Colorado Roadless Rule will be finalized after a 30-day comment period.
WSERC was actively involved in Roadless Rule negotiations for seven years. The position of WSERC, and now NWCC, has always been that we want the strongest possible protection for all USFS lands that qualify for roadless protection. Rather than strongly support one rule over another, we have supported those elements of each that are best for the roadless areas in Delta County and the North Fork Valley.
The preferred alternative for the Colorado Roadless Rule provides management directives for 4.2 million acres of roadless forest land in Colorado. It includes 1.2 million acres of "upper tier" acres that have fewer exceptions for roads, power lines and development than the 2001 Rule. The preferred alternative also adds 409,500 acres not covered in the 2001 Rule and removes areas (459,100 acres) where roadless characteristics were compromised. It also allows for limited fuel treatment near urban areas.
Alternative 4 is identical to the preferred alternative with many additional "upper tier" restrictions that WSERC advocated for. This alternative includes almost 1.4 million more acres in "upper tier" than the preferred alternative.
NWCC is pleased to see that the preferred alternative for the Colorado Roadless Rule maintains the temporary North Fork coal exemption area. The temporary North Fork coal exemption area allows the three existing mines to continue to explore and develop coal resources beneath roadless areas by permitting them to build "temporary" roads and gob vent boreholes needed to release and eventually capture explosive methane gas. The temporary North Fork coal exemption area does not include the Currant Creek Roadless Area. Currant Creek is a pristine and remote area in the Leroux Creek drainage that WSERC successfully fought to keep out of the coal exclusion zone and that NWCC will continue to defend.
The Colorado Roadless Rule will not affect existing oil and gas leases in roadless areas. Therefore, the issue of gap leases, those gas leases in roadless areas sold after Bush became president, will have to be resolved by the courts. Our legal colleagues think that there will not be an opportunity for group lawsuits concerning gap leases. They think that each gas lease parcel in question may have to be sued over individually. NWCC will evaluate the gap leases in the GMUG National Forest and collaborate with our conservation colleagues on a strategy.
The 30-day comment period gives us the opportunity to comment and petition for additional upper tier lands. We need concerned members to look at the rule to see if your favorite wild places have upper tier status. If you have an interest, please consider joining our Public Lands Committee.
To read the Colorado Rule as well as the official summary go to www.theconservationcenter.org.
If you would like any further information, please call NWCC's Public Land Committee members Andrea Robinsong 872-3952 or Robin Nicholoff 527-3997.
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