Colorado Roadless Petition Could Undermine Protections for National Forests

Changes Sought in Roadless Rule Threaten Critical Wildlife Habitat

DENVER (April 11, 2007) – A proposal submitted today to the U.S. Forest Service by the State of Colorado would allow expanded road building within Colorado’s national forests, potentially undermining protections for critical wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, and pristine forests.
The proposal, supported by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, modifies the petition submitted last year by former Governor Bill Owens and seeks to amend the federal rule governing roadless areas in national forests within Colorado. These areas are currently managed under the guidelines of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (known as the roadless rule), issued in 2001, after years of comprehensive scientific study and public involvement. The Colorado petition would eliminate current protections for approximately 300,000 acres of Colorado wildlands, and greatly weaken protections for the remaining 4.1 million roadless acres in Colorado.
“Only a small percentage of our national forests remain roadless and wild. In Colorado, they are some of the best areas for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. We must preserve them for future generations,” said Amy Mall, campaign director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, with 18,000 members in Colorado alone. “This petition completely removes protection for roadless portions of ski areas – an unjustifiable giveaway since, even under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, ski areas can build new runs and lifts. They just can't build new roads in roadless areas for other development.”
The petition would remove current provisions in the roadless rule that help protect communities from wildfire risk, and could open up more areas to roads used for mining and oil and gas operations.
“Coloradans overwhelmingly support the protections of the 2001 roadless rule. During consideration of the rule, 92 percent of public comments from Colorado supported the complete protection of all roadless areas,” said Jonathan Proctor, regional representative for Defenders of Wildlife, with 35,000 members in Colorado. “Nationwide, more than 95 percent of the public’s comments supported full protection for all national forest roadless areas. We stood behind the roadless rule then, and we stand behind it now, along with the vast majority of Coloradans who commented on the rule. The new petition is a step in the wrong direction.”
The 2001 roadless rule protects all roadless areas in the lower 48 states – 43.5 million acres overall, and 4.4 million acres in Colorado alone – from logging and road building, preserving wildlife habitat, drinking water, and forests used for outdoor recreation.