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Roadless Area Conservation

Roadless Area conservation is designed to prevent the construction of new roads in areas of US Forest Service and Grasslands holdings that have shown to be currently roadless. Roadless areas offer protection to many of the resources we hold dear:

Wildlife:  Roadless areas offer protection for fish and other wildlife, including more than 1,600 threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species.

Habitat:  Roadless areas offer wildlife the unfragmented habitat that they need in order to thrive.

Water: Roadless areas protect water and watersheds from pollution— sedimentation and contaminants from the building, maintenance, and use of roads not to mention erosional impacts from accessed areas.

Refuge:  Roadless areas offer quiet, pristine landscapes that allow visitors to experience the world of nature, unmarred by the noise and bustle of civilization.

Alpine Tundra: Tundra areas, both alpine and arctic, are particularly susceptible to damage.  Some areas along the Trail Ridge Road, in Rocky Mountain National Park, have sustained damage from people walking off-trail.  Damaged areas can take centuries to recover.



July 17, 2012

On July 1, 2012, the Obama administration and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack officially adopted the Colorado Roadless Rule as the guideline for managing roadless areas in Colorado National Forests.

From the Durango Herald Tribune , July 2 2012

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed the Colorado Roadless Rule on Monday, seemingly bringing to a close more than a decade of debate about the state’s backcountry forests.

The rule puts 4.19 million acres of remote forests off limits to development and road-building in 363 separate roadless areas, the largest of which is north of Durango in the Hermosa area.

It has been a long time in the making, spanning the terms of three governors and three presidents.

The rule makes Colorado only the second state, along with Idaho, to complete a separate roadless rule. The rest of the country is working under a 2001 rule adopted by former President Bill Clinton.

President George W. Bush threw out Clinton’s rule and encouraged states to write their own.

But courts later reinstated the Clinton rule. Last October, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it against a challenge by the state of Wyoming, making the 2001 rule the law of the land in most of the other states.

Conservation groups fought hard against the Colorado rule, which originally included exemptions for ranching, natural gas and oil, coal mines, ski areas and logging. The rule went through several rewrites during the years, and conservation groups now support it.

“We recognize the need for flexibility to deal with issues like fuel reduction around communities,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, in a news release. “But the new rule pairs that flexibility with stronger protections for Colorado’s native trout heritage and its best backcountry lands. It strikes the right balance for Colorado.”

The rule still includes exceptions for a few coal mines and ski areas, plus fire safety. But supporters point to several improvements on the 2001 rule, including an updated map that adds 400,000 new acres and throws out 460,000 acres that no longer had roadless characteristics.

The rule also designates 1.22 million acres as “upper tier,” where protections against development are even more stringent than the 2001 rule.


Click here to go to the National Forest Roadless Area Web Site

Some Colorado Conservationists are not very supportive of the Colorado Roadless Rule as in the following article: Click here for commentary    


Below is a statement from Mike King, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, regarding the Roadless Rule ruling from the 10th Circuit on October 10, 2011.


"The Colorado Roadless Rule is based on the essential elements and structure of the 2001 Roadless Rule that the 10th Circuit Court has today reaffirmed. Starting in 2005, Colorado has been engaged in an extensive public involvement process to develop consensus on a rule that makes sense for the various needs and uses of our forests while also finding ways to provide strong protection of these lands. That process has benefitted from updated backcountry inventories for true roadless characteristics, the identification of high-value fish and wildlife habitat, and developing narrowly-tailored accommodation of activities critical to local economies that also includes wildfire
protection for mountain communities. In addition, this ruling does not preclude further litigation, which could continue to create uncertainty. As a result, we will continue working to finalize the Colorado rule so we can provide clear and appropriate direction on the management and protection of national forest roadless areas in Colorado."



Federal Court Reinstates Roadless Rule

Landmark Ruling on wild National Forest protections
Denver, CO – The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long-awaited, landmark decision today, October 21, 2011, securing critical legal protections for nearly 50 million acres of pristine National Forest lands. These forests offer outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, and hiking, produce clean water for thousands of communities nationwide, and provide irreplaceable habitat for imperiled wildlife species including grizzly bears, lynx, and Pacific salmon. The appellate court reversed a lower court decision and affirmed the validity of the Roadless Rule – a 2001 federal rule that protects wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development.
The appellate court ruled against the State of Wyoming and industry intervenors and in favor of conservation groups, the Forest Service, and the States of California, Oregon, and Washington. This decision formally ends an injunction against the Rule’s enforcement imposed by a Wyoming federal district court in 2008.
“The native forests we’ve fought so hard to protect, are now safe,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “All Americans can now know that a key part of our nation’s natural heritage won’t be destroyed.”
The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the product of the most comprehensive rulemaking process in the nation’s history, including more than 2 million comments from members of the public, hundreds of public hearings and open houses, and a detailed environmental review. The rule came under relentless attack by logging and resource extraction interests, certain states, and the Bush administration.
“This is a great victory for the American people who have spoken out, time and again and in record numbers, for protection of these wild public lands,” said Mike Francis with The Wilderness Society.
“Roadless areas protect our rivers and streams – protect our salmon, trout, drinking water,” said Mary Scurlock of Pacific Rivers Council. “The Roadless Rule is common-sense, and finally the question of its legality is settled.”
“Roadless areas are valuable and irreplaceable places for hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, and families; they protect our water supplies; they provide room for wildlife to live and raise their young; and they will be increasingly important as safe havens for plants and animals in the face of rising temperatures and other impacts of climate change,” said Frances Hunt, Director of the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats Campaign.

“Roadless Areas represent the last of our wild and natural National Forest lands, providing multiple benefits including outstanding wildlife habitat, important supplies of clean water, and some of the best recreation lands in the country," said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie, Wyoming.
Lisa McGee of Wyoming Outdoor Council stressed the importance of this decision to her state. “The people of Wyoming love the outdoors – we’re hunters, fishermen, hikers, and campers -- and roadless areas give us the best recreation anywhere. This decision ensures that our outdoor heritage will be safeguarded.”
Earthjustice has led the legal defense of the Roadless Rule since the first attacks under the Bush/Cheney administration. Against all odds, this critical legal work has kept the Roadless Rule alive and prevented destruction of our national forests’ last great wild places.
Now, conservation, faith, and recreation groups trust that the Obama administration will support and enforce the 2001 Roadless Rule as the law of the land, including defending its protections for all 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the country. That includes national forests in Alaska, currently subject to a separate legal challenge and national forests in Idaho, whose roadless area protections were weakened in 2008.
As a candidate, President Obama said:
“Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule—which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input—protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it.”
- Sen. Barack Obama, LCV questionnaire
Background on this decision
In 2008, the State of Wyoming sued the Forest Service for a second time to invalidate the Roadless Rule (the rule had been reinstated by a federal court in California in 2006). A Wyoming federal district court enjoined the Rule; Earthjustice and the Forest Service appealed that injunction to the 10th Circuit. The 10th Circuit today joins the 9th Circuit in finding the Roadless Rule legal.
In this appeal to the 10th Circuit, Earthjustice represented Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife. The States of California, Oregon, and Washington submitted legal papers in support of the Roadless Rule and the conservation groups’ appeal.
Two other legal actions to protect roadless areas remain pending: (1) a lawsuit challenging application of the Roadless Rule to national forests in Alaska, and (2) a lawsuit challenging a separate, less protective rule that applies only to federal roadless areas in Idaho.




Previously.........In 2001, after three years of analysis, the Forest Service adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protected 58.5 million acres of national forest nationwide from most logging and road construction.  When George Bush entered office, he modified this rule to allow states to pass their own roadless area designation rules.  Colorado’s roadless area protections can be found here.

SLVEC, along with other environmental organizations such as the Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance, has worked diligently to help preserve roadless areas in the Rio Grande National Forest.  We were instrumental in taking photos and obtaining data for several wilderness and roadless areas in the forest.  Pictures and other information from the Roadless Inventory Project can be seen at Colorado’s Forest Legacy.

SLVEC continues to be involved in planning on the Rio Grande National Forest, and will continue to work to protect these important landscapes.


Roadless protections better later than never

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Roadless Area Decision