Colo. roadless rule: Unnecessary and harmful

Roadless. In today’s world, with our lives centered in most aspects on the network of roads, roadless has physical as well as figurative connotations. It can imply aimless, wild, unmapped and even wasted.

For an oil and gas company, roadless implies off-limits, closed, wasted. For a backcountry hunter, they are the best places to find the type of hunt they are looking for.

The building of a road into an area brings more change than any other single action. Whether it is the building of a road into the Brazilian forests, which then leads to legal and illegal logging, mining and homesteading, or the building of a road into the HD Mountains for a gas well, which leads to poaching, stream sedimentation and wildlife habitat fragmentation, the building of the road is the first and biggest change.

Locally, on the San Juan National Forest, there are about 540,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas outside of wilderness. These are places such as the bulk of the Hermosa Creek watershed, the HD Mountains east of Bayfield and the highlands above Rico and Dunton Hot Springs.

Some of them are the least-known parts of the forest; they are the figuratively as well as physically roadless, untrammeled areas.

Back in the Clinton administration, the country went through a massive process to plan for the roadless areas within the National Forest system. It still holds the record for public comments received on a governmental planning process. In 2001, a rule was released that protected most of the nation’s last roadless areas from development.

Upon coming into power, the Bush administration overturned the roadless rule. The reason given was that the decision had not been made in a public-enough manner. It was not long until the whole issue had landed in the courts.

While the court process slowly churned, some states began their own processes, Colorado being one of them.

The stated reason was that the state needed some type of rule in case the 2001 rule was not upheld in the courts.

In 2011 and again in February 2012, the courts finally ruled and in both cases upheld the 2001 rule as legal.

But it is not over.

Colorado is still pressing ahead with a much weaker rule. The proposed Colorado rule would protect only 13 percent of the inventoried roadless areas in the state’s national forests and, locally, only 22 percent of those on the San Juan National Forest.

It would allow oil and gas development in most of the state’s roadless areas, and pipelines, and power lines, and coal mining and the list goes on.

The 2001 roadless rule was the culmination of the most public planning event in the nation’s history. Why change it, just to destroy the incredibly valuable roadless areas that make Colorado the place we choose to live. The Obama and Hickenlooper administrations should stop the unnecessary Colorado roadless process and keep the 2001 rule as the law of the land. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.