A Forest Service road approaches
the HD Mountains Roadless Area east of Bayfield. Last
Monday, the Bush Adminstration announced a roadless area
rule change. Conservationists say the proposal will open
roadless to unprecedented logging, mining and drilling.
/Photo by Todd Newcomer.
New national policy is expected to hit hard locally. Conservationists
are bemoaning a recent move that they say eliminates protection for designated
roadless areas. The announcement by the Bush Administration could have
major impacts locally in places like the HD Mountains, Missionary Ridge
and in the Hermosa Creek drainage.
On Monday, the Bush Administration announced that it would be modifying
the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Conservationists charge that under
the "modification," none of the 60 million acres of designated roadless
areas would be protected from new roads and natural resource extraction.
They also say that the announcement is an attempt to "short-circuit" legal
appeals advocating the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that are pending
|A view of things to come? A gas
pump east of Durango works endlessly early on
Tuesday morning./Photo by Todd Newcomer
During a Monday press conference, Phil Clapp, president of the National
Environmental Trust, stated, "This is the biggest single giveaway to
the timber industry in the history of the national forests. The day the
administration's proposal takes effect, every acre of the remaining untouched
30 percent of the national forests will lose protection from logging,
mining and oil drilling."
In the Durango region, the announcement affects approximately 600,000
acres including in the HD Mountains, the Florida and the Hermosa Roadless
Areas. According to Jeff Berman, executive director of the Durango-based
Colorado Wild, all of these pristine areas are now effectively open to
"There's no longer any protection for roadless," he said. "Any gas and
oil company or timber company can propose to go into those areas and
there will be nothing to prevent them."
Drilling for natural gas is currently proposed for a portion of the
HD Mountains Roadless Area. Of the 300 new coalbed methane wells proposed
for the region, more than 100 have been pitched for the HD Mountains.
As part of the proposal, 60 miles of new roads would be built inside
the designated roadless area.
A different take on the new roadless rule
The U.S. Forest Service sees flip-side of announcement
Forest Service takes a less emotional view of
last Monday's announcement and views it more
as a procedural change. In fact, the agency says
that the move is actually an attempt to end legal
deadlock and encourage conservation of roadless
On Monday, Agriculture
Secretary Ann Veneman announced the rule change
at the Idaho State Capitol. She stated,A0"Our
actions today advance President Bush's commitment
to cooperatively conserving roadless areas
on national forests. The prospect of endless
lawsuits represents neither progress, nor certainty
After the Roadless Area Conservation Rule was
finalized in 2001, it was litigated in Alaska,
Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Wyoming and the District
of Columbia. In June 2003, a federal court struck
down the 2001 roadless rule, concluding that
it violated the National Environmental Policy
Act and the Wilderness Act. However, appeals
of this decision have yet to make their ways
Thurman Wilson, assistant manager of the San
Juan Public Lands Center in Durango, said that
the decision essentially changes who is responsible
for regulating roadless areas.
"It changes the level of who can make a decision
from a local level to a national one," he said.
Wilson added that he does not expect many impacts
on the local forest because there are currently
not proposals outside the HD Mountains for projects
within roadless areas.
"Here on the San Juan National Forest, we hadn't
been proposing anything or had any proposals
forwarded to us," he said.
There is currently a 60-day public comment period
on the proposed rule and details and guidelines
for filing comments are available at www.roadless.fs.fed.us.
The Forest Service will issue a final decision
after it evaluates public comments.
Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens' Alliance,
commented, "It certainly could affect some of the HDs plan, where they've
proposed wells and compressors within the roadless area. This would effectively
pave the way for the oil and gas companies."
On another section of the San Juan National Forest, the announcement
could also have an impact. Though it currently in legal limbo, the Missionary
Ridge Timber Sale had proposed logging dead and dying trees on thousands
of burned acres just northwest of Durango. One alternative for the proposed
timber sale called for logging and road building within the Florida Roadless
Area. Berman and Pearson charged that the area could now be fair game
In addition, there is now potential that the Hermosa Creek drainage
could be opened up for natural resource extraction. While there are no
currently plans for new roads or logging in the area, they are now in
the realm of possibility, according to Pearson.
"They could come into the picture, and the Forest Service wouldn't be
prohibited from authorizing them now," he said.
Conservationists said that the most destructive piece of Monday's announcement
deals with future administrative control over roadless
areas. The Bush administration's new plan would give
state governors the option to petition the Forest Service
to recommend how they would manage these roadless areas.
"That means extraordinarily little in terms of any continued protection
for roadless areas and the critical environmental resources they hold," Berman
Pearson added, "These are national lands that belong to all Americans,
and they're essentially turning them over to state governors to control."
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson agreed with this sentiment. On Monday,
he announced that he would do his best to defeat the measure. "This is
a very bad decision for the environment," Richardson said. "The Federal
Government and the Forest Service are basically taking a hike and not
a healthy hike. The Forest Service is basically walking away from environmental
Richardson added that he would be digging in his heels on the issue. "I'm
going to be very difficult with the Forest Service," he said. "I will
support the environmental groups if they go to the courts and try to
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was originally adopted in 2001.
Berman and Pearson concluded by saying that at that time the Forest Service
received 1.7 million official comments, five times more than in any other
federal proposal. More than 95 percent of the comments were in favor
of protection of roadless areas.
Berman noted, "It's surprising that given its popularity, the Bush administration
brazenly decided to throw it out."
Pearson added, "I don't know why they think having this huge anti-environment
agenda makes sense politically."