Background      The Roadless Rule, Colorado Roadless Petition & Obama Administration Proposed Rule     Colorado Roadless Petition
     
    Background Main

Hiking into the narrow and rugged Beaver Creek Canyon.    Antony Noble

2001 Roadless Rule
For over ten years, a fight has been going on to protect the remaining roadless areas on public land in the United States. Colorado is in the center of this process because of the high quality roadless lands found in our state and because of certain coincidences of the political process.

The 2001 Roadless Rule has been under attack almost as soon as it was put in place. Currently, managing under competing US District Court rulings that both uphold and overturn the 2001 Rule, National Forest roadless areas are protected by a Secretarial Directive that requires review by the office of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for any projects that impact a roadless area. The US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a challenge to the lower court’s ruling overturning the rule, and could rule any time.  The Obama administration defended the 2001 Rule in this challenge, which was opposed by the Colorado Mining Association and the State of Wyoming.  A judge in the 9th Circuit has upheld the 2001 Rule. 

Colorado Roadless Task Force
In 2004, the administration formally repealed the 2001 Roadless Rule, and replaced it with a process requiring governors to petition the Department of Agriculture in order to seek protections for roadless areas. Colorado was one of a small number of the only two states that proceeded to undergo the lengthy and expensive petition process. Then Governor Bill Owens and the legislature appointed a Task Force that studied the issues, held public hearings and presented a recommendation to the Governor for protection of roadless areas in Colorado.

Roadless Rule Reinstated
Almost immediately after the task force reported to the Governor in fall 2006,  federal court reinstated the 2001 Roadless Rule and set aside the State Petition Process. Governor Owens at the request of the administration went ahead and submitted a petition under a different set of federal laws (the Administrative Procedures Act) for Colorado based on the Task Force recommendation. In the spring of 2007, Governor Ritter resubmitted the petition under the APA as an "insurance policy" in case the 2001 Roadless Rule was permanently revoked.

In 2009, the same federal judge in Wyoming that previously blocked the 2001 Rule blocked it again, resulting in two competing rules in two different federal districts. The U.S. 10th Circuit of Appeals is currently hearing a challenge to the Wyoming ruling.

Colorado Petition Process
But because Colorado followed the rules of the APA petition process, the United States Forest Service is going forward with its evaluation of a Colorado specific rule for the state's roadless National Forests. Once finalized, the 2001 Roadless Rule -- even if finally upheld -- would no longer apply to Colorado. On December 26, 2007 the Forest Service published a Notice of Intent to publish a draft Environmental Impact Statement for roadless rulemaking in Colorado based on the Colorado Roadless Petition. The Forest Service solicited public input based on this notice until February 25, 2008. In the summer of 2009, the state issued a modified proposed rule for the USFS to consider, now working under the Obama administration. The state solicited public comment on that draft through October 2009.

However, so far no information on either the DEIS comment period or the state comment period has been released.

Obama Administration Proposed Rule

"The Obama Administration is committed to the protection of roadless areas on our National Forests as these areas are vital for conservation of water resources, for wildlife and for outdoor recreation -- an important driver of economic opportunity and jobs in rural communities.

“…As the Forest Service prepares a draft environmental impact statement for this petition, I have asked that the agency analyze the potential of adding significantly to the number of acres receiving a higher level of protection than the 2001 rule.

I'm confident that working with the Governor and with the public, we will craft a final rule that is, on balance, at least as protective of roadless areas -- and preferably more protective -- than the 2001 Roadless Rule."

-              Sect. Tom Vilsack, US Dept of Agriculture

In April 2011 the USFS reissued a proposed rule and draft Environmental Impact Statement for a Colorado specific rule. 

Although this most recent iteration has taken steps in the right direction, as proposed it still falls short of the administration’s commitment to craft a rule that is “at least as protective of roadless areas -- and preferably more protective -- than the 2001 Roadless Rule."

The proposed rule and accompanying DEIS is out for public review and comment until July 14, 2011. To comment go here. The USFS is hosting a series of open houses starting the week of May 16.  For a schedule go here.