Roadless debate lands in Durango

Protection of Colorado’s roadless areas goes into the local spotlight next week. An open house on the proposed Colorado Roadless Rule is set for Wednesday, Aug. 20 and the event promises to heat up the Fort Lewis College Ballroom.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was originally adopted in 2001 and provided protection for the nation’s 60 million acres of designated roadless areas. Under the rule, the areas were strictly off-limits to new roads and natural resource extraction. In La Plata County, it created safe havens on more than 600,000 acres in the HD Mountains, along Missionary Ridge and in the Hermosa Creek drainage.

The tides shifted in the summer of 2004, however, when the Bush Administration announced that it would be “modifying” the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Disregarding public sentiment, the modification shifted responsibility for roadless area protection to state’s governors. In response, then Colorado Gov. Bill Owens convened a roadless area protection task force. However, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte rendered the task force moot when she overturned the Bush modification and reinstated the roadless rule in 2006.

However, the Colorado task force forged ahead, and in 2007 and current Gov. Bill Ritter presented a petition to the Forest Service requesting protection for roadless areas in Colorado as an “insurance policy” in case the original rule is permanently repealed.

Now, environmental and sporting groups are calling on Ritter to withdraw Colorado’s roadless rule, citing LaPorte’s reinstatement and holes in the plan.

“Right now, the future of the outdoor activities and sporting heritage that Coloradoans treasure is in jeopardy,” said Dave Petersen, Colorado field director for Trout Unlimited’s Durango-based public lands initiative.

The Colorado roadless rule could enable oil and gas development in areas of national forest that currently are protected, according to Peterson. The rule also exempts some ski area terrain from roadless area inventories. It would also allow temporary roads for livestock grazing, wildfire prevention, expansion of existing mines and for some utilities.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory panel also has strong concerns about some of the exemptions in the Colorado Roadless Rule. Pam Kiely, acting director of Environment Colorado, attended the panel’s recent hearings and echoed Peterson’s sentiments.

“We strongly support the 2001 Roadless Rule as the best option for Colorado, and we would like others to have the opportunity to express their comments and opinions in the same way,” she said.

Area residents can express their opinions next Wednesday at one of only 8 hearings being held throughout Colorado. The Aug. 20 open house will run from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Fort Lewis College Ballroom. Comments can also be submitted online at:

FLC Cycling begins to restructure

The Fort Lewis College Cycling Team has started to reorganize. This week, the team named an interim Team Director – Michael Engleman.

Engleman excelled in his decade-long professional cycling career, which included riding with pro teams Coors Lite and U.S. Postal Service. He was also a member of eight Road World Championship teams. After stepping off a bike professionally, he turned his attention to promoting women’s cycling. For two years, he served as assistant director of the Women’s T-Mobile Cycling Team before creating the U.S. Women’s Cycling Development Program, Inc.

The recommendation to replace the head coach with a team director position was made by members of the FLC Cycling Board of Directors. The board has said the move is an effort to be proactive and ensure that the team remains on top of the collegiate cycling world.

The FLC Cycling Team was recently ranked number one in collegiate cycling by USA Cycling. This result comes from the overall performance at the various national championships throughout the cycling season. In the past, Fort Lewis College was hurt in this ranking by the fact that it didn’t send teams to the track championships. That is, until last year.

“Last year we decided we would send a team [to track nationals], not really expecting much, but figured at least we wouldn’t come home with no points towards the ranking,” explains FLC Cycling Head Coach Rick Crawford. “When we returned home with the bronze medal after our first try at track, we were looking good towards this number one ranking.”

A win at the mountain bike nationals, third at the cyclocross nationals and second at road nationals sealed the team title for Fort Lewis. Crawford will continue on with the team through the fall semester and help with the transition.

“I’m very excited to work with Michael Engleman as he has specific skill sets that will help fill some gaps in manpower that the program has struggled with previously,” Crawford said.

USFS firefighting budget vanishes

The U.S. Forest Service has already burned through its firefighting budget this year. Just half-way through the wildfire season, the agency is pulling money from other programs in order to wrap up fire suppression. The cut is hitting field offices across the country, and nearly $800,000 is being trimmed from local San Juan National Forest programs in order to help make up the shortfall.

Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell sent a letter to field offices last week explaining the situation. The agency is projecting a total firefighting cost of $1.6 billion, leaving a shortfall of $400 million. Kimbell ordered offices to suspend all spending except in emergency situations. The agency has even opted to pull $30 million for the Healthy Forests Initiative which mitigates the threat of catastrophic wildfire.

The total hit for San Juan Public Lands will be $778,710 according to Craig Goodell, fire mitigation and education specialist. That cut will be spread through the San Juan National Forest’s different resource areas in order to minimize the hit. Goodell said that the shift shouldn’t be too severe and will definitely not affect local firefighting efforts.

“There won’t be any shortfalls on the San Juan National Forest,” he said. “If there’s a fire up in the hills, we’re not going to say ‘sorry we can’t fight it.’ The fund transfer will make continued fire fighting possible.”

The serious, early-season fires in California are credited with consuming much of this year’s funding. Increased reliance on private contractors to fight wildfires has also driven up costs.

Workshop targets energy efficiency

Homeowners looking to save energy and dollars have a unique opportunity this week. A Home Energy Makeover Workshop & Expo is set for Saturday, Aug. 16. The 8 a.m.-3 p.m. event meets in the Fort Lewis College (CUB) Ballroom.

“Energy prices are rising across the board, so we’re hoping to help homeowners by providing them with information on how they can take advantage of the variety of home energy-saving improvements that have become available,” said Jeannie Bennett, of La Plata Electric Association, one of the event’s sponsors.

Trade show exhibits will allow attendees one-on-one with various national and local suppliers of energy efficiency products and services. The Home Energy Makeover will also feature 25 brief presentations covering everything from Earth-friendly remodeling to ground source heat pumps. Tri-State will also be on hand to provide an overview of Energy Efficiency Credits available to consumers through the generation company.

A complete event agenda is available

– Will Sands