Colorado roadless rule mixes opinions

Colorado’s roadless areas could be headed for another unexpected turn. After more than a decade of back and forth, the Forest Service released a draft rule to manage the state’s roadless areas last Thursday. But many organizations say the proposal falls short of the goal of protecting some of Colorado’s wildest areas.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was originally adopted in 2001 to provide 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 on the state’s largest roadless area.

The tides shifted in the summer of 2004, however, when the Bush Administration announced a “modification” to the rule that shifted responsibility for roadless area protection to state’s governors. In response, then Colorado Gov. Bill Owens convened a roadless area protection task force and started drafting new guidelines for roadless areas. Colorado forged ahead in spite of a U.S. District Court’s overturn of the Bush modification in 2006. And last Thursday, the Forest Service released the draft Colorado rule, which would render the 2001 rule moot.  

Colorado hopes to take a tiered approach to roadless area protection. The rule bans road-building or tree cutting on nearly 4.2 million roadless acres in Colorado and goes on to grant “higher protection” to 560,000 acres, including the 148,000-acre Hermosa Creek Roadless Area. However, it also contains several exceptions. Logging would be allowed to mitigate the threat of wildfire in the urban interface; existing ski areas would be removed from the roadless inventory; and temporary road construction would be permitted at a coal mining complex near Paonia.

“The Forest Service cares deeply about protecting Colorado’s roadless areas,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Through collaboration, I believe we have developed a proposal that will afford better, lasting protection to these treasured areas, and we welcome additional comments in order to develop a successful approach for conservation of this special resource.”

However, the conservation community is taking a much dimmer view of the Colorado roadless plan. Ted Zukoski, of the environmental law firm Earth Justice, argued that Colorado’s roadless areas already have “gold standard” protection under the 2001 Roadless Rule and the new proposal would weaken that.

“The proposed Colorado roadless rule has damaging loopholes,” he said. “It will allow 20,000 acres of our state’s remaining wild forests to be scarred with bulldozers for coal mining. And it doesn’t end the threat of oil and gas leasing on leases pushed through by the Forest Service after 2001.”

Nine other Colorado conservation groups – including Durango’s Colorado Wild and San Juan Citizens Alliance – have come out against the new rule and allege that the 2001 rule offers better protection.

The Forest Service kicked off a three-month public comment period today (April 21) and plans to issue a final decision on the draft rule early in 2012. Comments can be filed online at:

McCombs land swap up for review

The Village at Wolf Creek is back on the table and open to public scrutiny. The Rio Grande National Forest is currently seeking feedback on a proposed land swap that would open access to developer Red McCombs’ landlocked parcel atop Wolf Creek Pass.

The swap would exchange 178 acres of McCombs’ property for 204 Forest Service acres abutting U.S. Hwy. 160. If approved, it would give the Village a total of nearly 324 acres and enable McCombs to

construct 1,700 units near the top of Wolf Creek Pass.  

“I feel there is significant public interest and enough potential benefit to this proposed land exchange over the previous right-of-way application to merit a full environmental analysis,” said Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas.

Opponents of the “Village” fail to see the positives of the exchange. Paul Joyce, of Colorado Wild, argued that the public would be the biggest loser if the deal goes forward. “McCombs is offering 178 acres of undevelopable land in exchange for 204 public acres with highway access,” he said. Joyce went on to question the circumstances surrounding the exchange, noting that Dallas has made an about-face from last spring, when he announced the swap was not in the public’s best interest. “I suspect inappropriate actions on behalf of Mr. McCombs,” Joyce added.

The public now has an opportunity to consider and weigh in on the proposal. Next week, the Forest Service will hold three open houses on the plan: April 25, 4:30-7 p.m., at the Creede Community Center; April 26, 4:30-7 p.m. at the Aragon Recreation Center in Pagosa Springs; and April 27, 4:30-7 p.m. at the Rio Grande County Annex in Del Norte.

Electronic comments can be submitted to: Please include “Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Proposal” in the subject line of the e-mail.


PBS film profiles the Smiley Building

One of Durango’s green pioneers goes on screen this week. Rocky Mountain PBS screens the documentary, “Green Up Colorado,” on Thurs., April 21.

Directed by Emmy Award winner Lisa D. Olken, the one-hour film takes a behind-the-scenes look at green efforts all over the state, including Colorado’s local food movement, alternative energy projects, and a range of recycling and green jobs. The Smiley Building, Durango’s solar-powered community center (and home to the Durango Telegraph headquarters), scores a few minutes of air time in the film.

Charles Shaw, one of the facility’s founders, explains how the 45,000-square-foot abandoned, Depression-era junior high school was transformed into an eco-conscious community center that is fully solar-powered and energy efficient. The program also features an interview with Michael Carroll, of the Wilderness Society Support Center, which is housed on the Smiley Buiding’s top floor.

“The Wilderness Society is all about building community around places, and the Smiley Building does that,” Carroll said.

“Green Up Colorado” also features segments on a hip hop artist/organic grower, a green school in Denver and community supported agriculture, among other efforts. The film premieres on Rocky Mountain PBS at 9 p.m. on April 21. For more information, visit

– Will Sands  




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows