A shift in the HD Mountains Roadless Area

Last week’s reinstatement of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule could have bearing on one of Durango’s current controversies. If the ruling passes legal muster, some natural gas drilling could again be off limits in a section of the HD Mountains Roadless Area.

Early this week, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth issued a new directive to regional foresters throughout the nation. Referencing the recent District Court ruling, he ordered foresters to not approve

any new development in designated roadless areas, writing, “Do not approve any further management activities in inventoried roadless areas that would be prohibited by the 2001 Roadless Rule.”

The letter comes at a curious time for the HD Mountains Roadless Area. The San Juan Public Lands Center recently released its preferred alternative for natural gas exploration in southeastern La Plata County, an area including the 28,000-acre HD Mountains Roadless

Area. The alternative would open up 20,000 acres of the HD Mountains Roadless Area to natural gas development, including 57 well pads and 38 miles of new roads.

The Forest Service had also proposed waiving rules prohibiting new road building and allowing 2 miles of new road inside the HDs. The affected leases would include three new wells and a new compressor station inside the roadless area. Should the Sept. 20 District Court ruling

survive challenges, that new road and the new wells would effectively be illegal, according to Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

“There are a few leases where the Forest Service had proposed waiving the road-building prohibition and allowing them to be developed,” he said. “That would now be contrary to the reinstated roadless rule and contrary to the recent order from Forest Chief Bosworth.”

– Will Sands