Mining exception is back on the table

By Pat Sunderland


The U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources are evaluating three alternatives for reinstating the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception as written in the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule.

The Colorado Roadless Rule was finalized by the Forest Service in 2012 after seven years of collaboration with three governors and diverse stakeholders across Colorado. Hundreds of thousands of public comments were received and reviewed.

Three alternatives were examined in detail in the Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement published in the Federal Register Nov. 18. Alternative B was selected as the preferred alternative, which reinstates the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception, which applies to about 19,700 acres. In addition, boundaries associated with the Colorado Roadless Area and the North Fork Coal Mining Area were corrected and aligned based on more accurate road inventories.

Stan Dempsey Jr., president of the Colorado Mining Association, said the USFS decision reaffirms the bi-partisan process that developed the Colorado Roadless Plan, and its commitment to responsible development of Colorado's natural resources.

Dempsey said the exception applies to about 19,700 acres out of the approximately 4.2 million acres protected by the roadless rule. The exception allows construction of temporary roads and will allow for possible development of Colorado's coal resources.

The North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception would not authorize any new leases; it would simply allow for the construction of temporary roads so the option for coal mining is not foreclosed, Dempsey said.

He added, "The reinstatement of the North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception is an important step in strengthening Colorado's rural energy economies many whom support the extraction of Colorado's natural resources including affordable, clean burning coal that helps power America.

According to the USFS, the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule:

• Conserves 4.2 million acres of pristine backcountry in Colorado's eight national forests, nearly 400,000 more acres than the rule it replaced.

• Provides increased protection for 1.2 million acres of high-quality roadless areas. Protecting these vital natural areas are an important climate adaptation strategy as roadless areas provide critical refuges for wildlife in a warming climate and protect headwaters that provide Coloradans drinking water.

• Provides flexibility for potential expansion of ski areas on about 8,000 acres

• Provides flexibility for temporary road construction and placement of methane vents associated with underground coal mining on about 19,000 acres in the North Fork Coal Mining Area.

The USFS will hold a 30-day internal review period, and the Office and Management and Budget will issue a 60-day stay on the reinstatement before it is implemented.

According to the USFS, the SFEIS addresses the deficiencies identified by the District Court of Colorado in High Country Conservation Advocates v. United States Forest Service. The coal lease modification decisions vacated by the court will be addressed by subject matter experts in a separate environmental analysis.

"I am pleased that the Forest Service has issued its supplemental environmental analysis and determined that the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception should be reinstated," Congressman Scott Tipton said in a press release issued after the release of the SFEIS. "Serial litigation tactics implemented by extreme special interests have put the livelihoods of families in Delta and Gunnison counties at risk, and I am glad to see action from the Forest Service even if it is long overdue."

The SFEIS is available for review online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/roadmain/roadless/coloradoroadlessrules.