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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

Roadless Area in Colorado

View from Tanner Peak trail, Pike-San Isabel National Forest west of Florence, Colo. Credit: Photo by Penelope Purdy © 2007 by Penelope Purdy. All Rights Reserved. From: Hiking Colorado's Roadless Trails by Penelope Purdy. Colorado Mountain Club Press, 2007

Colorado's Roadless National Forests

Updated February 26, 2008

On December 26, 2007, the Bush administration published its Notice of Intent to begin a federal roadless rulemaking to weaken regulations currently protecting 4.1 million acres of national forest land in Colorado. This rulemaking could open the door to the mining industry, the oil and gas industry, the logging industry, and the skiing industry for new development in the most peaceful, unspoiled areas of Colorado's National Forests.

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In 2001, President Bill Clinton issued the federal Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which largely protects all of the country's roadless areas in National Forests from commercial logging or from new roads being built for logging, coal, gas and other mineral or energy purposes. The rule was created after 600 local hearings in communities near National Forests and over 1 million public comments were submitted. The 2001 rule does not close any existing roads or trails for individual recreation activities, does not restrict access for private property owners, it does not interfere with existing leases or permits for ski areas, mineral development, or oil and gas operations, and it allows for new roads to be built to fight fires and other natural disasters.

Grizzly Gulch Creek, White River National Forest, east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Credit: Photo by Penelope Purdy Copyright 2007 by Penelope Purdy. All Rights Reserved. From: Hiking Colorado's Roadless Trails by Penelope Purdy. Colorado Mountain Club Press, 2007

President George W. Bush suspended this rule and implemented a new policy where states can create their own rules for the roadless areas in National Forests in their states. The state of Colorado, under the leadership of former Governor Owens submitted a petition to reduce protection for National Forest roadless areas in Colorado.

Under Governor Owens' plan, existing roadless areas in Colorado National Forests would be accessible for recreation, including hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and off-road vehicle recreation. The plan would also protect current roadless areas from new development with the following exceptions. The plan will:

  • Open some roadless areas to be leased for ski slopes, coal mining, and in specific areas where the state already owns mineral rights in order to mine these areas.
  • Allow new roads to be built for ranchers to access their grazing livestock.
  • Loosen restrictions on the types of logging that can be done in roadless areas.

In 2006, a federal court overturned Bush's policy and reinstated the 2001 national Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

The Bush administration immediately appealed that decision and then went back to the states and asked them to resubmit their petitions and re-start the entire rulemaking process.

Colorado's newly elected Gov. Ritter said that he supports the 2001 nationwide rule, but chose to resubmit Governor Owens' petition as "an insurance policy" in the event that new legal rulings void the 2001 Roadless Rule.

We are asking that the Bush administration not move forward with any rulemaking for Colorado that would create less protection for Colorado's roadless areas than currently enjoyed by roadless areas in the rest of the nation.

Importance of Colorado Roadless Areas

"Colorado's Inventoried Roadless Areas should be protected, managed and maintained to provide the maximum benefit for wildlife and wildlife habitat.... Maintaining the provisions of the 2001 Roadless Conservation Rule would allow us to conserve the values and characteristics of roadless areas that are critical to the Division's mission, and which provide multiple public benefits, without prohibiting such uses as grazing, mineral exploration and extraction, forest health and fire management.... [R]epealing the protections currently afforded these lands could result in irreversible changes." Colorado Division of Wildlife [Executive Summary of the Analysis of the Public Comments Submitted to the Roadless Areas Review Task Force July 18, 2006. Prepared by Mondo Business Group, Ltd., Page i]

Colorado's economy, quality of life, and environmental health all depend on the existence of protected roadless areas. Places like Thompson Creek in the White River National Forest and the HD Mountains of the San Juan National Forest have supported Colorado traditions of backcountry recreation for generations; these special places have safeguarded the purity of watersheds and the functioning of healthy ecosystems for far longer. As these areas are increasingly under threat of being overrun by unnecessary roads, it is important to understand the wealth of diverse values contained in this ever dwindling reserve.

As the rest of the landscape is increasingly developed and as use pressures continue to mount on our public lands, the importance of preserving our remaining roadless areas becomes more and more important ... Because Once They're Gone, They're Gone Forever.

Colorado's National Forests

Colorado contains a total of 14.5 million acres of national forest land, about 21.8 percent of Colorado's landmass. Colorado's national forests contain 4.4 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, about 30.5% of all national forest land in the state. Download a map of Colorado's roadless national forests [PDF]. Find our more about Colorado's National Forests: www.roadless.net

Coloradoans Support for Roadless Areas

Colorado citizens overwhelmingly support the protections of the 2001 Roadless Rule. During public comment on this rule, over 28,000 Coloradoans submitted comments to the U.S. Forest Service and 26,000 of them, or 92 percent, supported the complete protection of all roadless areas in Colorado. In 2004, over 60,000 Coloradoans wrote to the agency asking that the 2001 rule not be reversed and substituted with a state petition process.

During the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force process, Colorado citizens, local governments, businesses, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife again expressed overwhelming support for the continued protection of all the state's roadless areas. More than 19,000 of the 22,000 comments received by the task force confirmed support for protecting roadless areas, as described in the 2001 Roadless Rule.

Colorado's Recreation Businesses Support Roadless Area Protection

"The fate of this country's last wild forests is an issue of great importance for all Americans and has great ramifications for the nation's economy, scenery, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and quality of life. By keeping the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in place in Colorado, we will ensure the economic and ecological health of some of our state's most valuable recreational treasures and the communities and businesses that depend on them." (Download the full letter [PDF]). Excerpt from a letter to Gov. Ritter from 30 Colorado outdoor recreation businesses, February 16, 2007

Background: Status of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule

On September 20, 2006, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it repealed the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Furthermore, the court ruled that adoption of the state-by-state petition process as a substitute for the national rule was illegal.

Following the ruling, Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey asked states to submit petitions seeking state-specific rules under preexisting provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). In addition, the administration appealed the decision which reaffirmed the rule. See a complete chronology.

Photos of Forests