Quick N' Dirty

Court reinstates 2011 Roadless Rule
Chalk one up for the environment. Last Friday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, ensuring protection for nearly 60 million acres of national forest, 435,000 acres in Colorado. The landmark decision was lauded by environmental and conservation groups across the country.

“(Friday’s) decision is among the most significant conservation victories in several decades,” Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. public lands program said. “It reinforces the roadless rule as the cornerstone of protection for our national forests and preserves these landscapes for generations to come.”

In recent years, the Clinton-era mandate had come under attack, first from the Bush Administration and then the State of Wyoming. In 2008, a federal court there established that the roadless rule violated federal law, referring to the rule as “Wilderness Lite.”

However, the three 10th Circuit judges saw things differently in their unanimous decision. Unlike designated wilderness, the roadless rule doesn’t prohibit construction of temporary or permanent structures or the use of motorized vehicles or mechanical transport; is less restrictive on grazing and mineral development; and allows existing roads to remain and be maintained.

The rule, which protects roughly one-third of undeveloped U.S. Forest Service lands, was the result of more than 1.2 million comments and 600 public hearings. “It received incredible support from the American public,” Jimbo Buickerood, Public Lands Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said Tuesday.

He said the reinstatement will have positive ramifications not only for wildlife, hunting and recreation, but clean water. “A huge amount of our watersheds comes out of roadless areas,” he said.  

What bearing the federal ruling will have on Colorado’s  own version of the rule remains to be seen. In 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter enacted protection for the state’s roadless areas as an “insurance policy” in case the federal rule was repealed. The decision was based on recommendation made by a task force convened by the previous governor, Bill Owens, and the state Legislature. However, given future uncertainty, state officials say they will continue working on the Colorado rule. “This (10th Circuit) ruling does not preclude further litigation, which could continue to create uncertainty,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King said. “As a result, we will continue working to finalize the Colorado rule so we can provide clear and appropriate direction on the management and protection of national forest roadless areas in Colorado.”

One likely scenario, is that environmental groups that have been working to improve Colorado’s rule, which has exemptions for coal mining and logging, may pull their support. “Why the state would want to pursue a rule with less protection would be a mystery,” said Buickerood. “There’s really no need for a Colorado rule.”

As for arguments that the federal roadless rule could face further challenges, the consensus is that is highly unlikely. “Both the 9th and 10th circuit courts – which is basically all of the Western states  – had unanimous decisions,” he said. “The state of Wyoming could petition, but its unlikely the Supreme Court would take it.”

 Although the threat of legal action may be over, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are getting behind a “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act,” which would open up 43 million acres of roadless and Wilderness Study Areas to multiple use, including new roads and resource development. However, even if it passes the House, the bill’s chances of making it through the Democratic-controlled Senate are slim.

Proponents of the rule argue that its ironclad crafting helped it withstand legal and industry challenges. “If you read the rule, it  is very flexible to fit local situations,” said Buickerood. “There is plenty to protect public safety and the land.”

City jumps into river planning process
The results are in, with rafters taking a resounding first place in the recent Animas River Usage survey. More than 400 people responded to the City of Durango’s survey last month, the first step in gauging public interest and input for a new Animas River Management Plan.

The City, in collaboration with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, will be enlisting the help of residents in interpreting the survey and crafting the plan during a series of meetings beginning in November. The first meeting will be an open house Nov. 10, 4-8 p.m., in the Pine Room at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.  The planning process will be overseen by Joy Lujan, from the National Park Service, who was involved in crafting the Lake Nighthorse recreation plan.

The idea for the Management Plan was an outgrowth of 2010’s Parks, Open Space and Trails Master Plan. “When we were working on the POST, there were a lot of requests from the community for the City to develop an Animas River Master Plan as well,” Durango Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Metz said. “The survey captures what we heard as staff; issues we wanted more feedback on.”

Of particular concern is the growing number of tubers as well as access and crowding at put-ins and take-outs. “We’re really trying to make sure river users enjoy a safe experience on the river; have access; and respect private property,” said Metz.

The first task at hand was to identify who is actually using the river. The survey found that nearly one-third of all respondents, or 128, participate in rafting most often during the peak season of May – September. Kayakers came in second, with a 24 percent participation rate, followed by anglers at 18 percent and tubers at about 9 percent. Paddleboarding, swimming and “other” rounded out the top favorite river activities among respondents.

River-users are also an avid bunch, with 46 percent of respondents using the river once or more a week. The majority of users prefer weekdays (61 percent) between the hours of 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. (70 percent.)

More than half of the respondents said they’ve noticed a rise in river use, but that it doesn’t bother them, with 23 percent saying the increase is leading to problems.

As for the most congested spots, 66 percent reported using the 33rd Street put-in most often, with 45 percent preferring Santa Rita park for take-out. Other popular take-outs include Cundiff Park (Four Corners), High Bridge and Dallabetta Park, in descending order.  

Full survey results as well as meeting information can be found on the City of Durango’s website at www.durangogov.org and clicking on the Animas River Management Plan link.

Weather ‘wild card’ may trump La Niña
Sure, this winter’s return of La Niña may be old news, but forecasters say it’s not the only climate factor at play. According to the National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Administration’s winter weather outlook, released this week, there is a lesser-known and less predictable “wild card” at play in the global weather picture.

The erratic “Arctic Oscillation” could make for dramatic short-term temperature swings this winter. But how exactly it will affect La Niña’s propensity for warmer and drier conditions in the south and cooler and wetter weather in the north, is up in the air. “The Arctic Oscillation can generate strong shifts in the climate patterns that could overwhelm or amplify La Niña’s typical impacts,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said.
According to NOAA, the ever-present Arctic Oscillation fluctuates between positive and negative phases. The negative phase pushes cold air into the U.S. from Canada, causing outbreaks of cold and snow such as the “Snowmaggedon” storm of 2009. Strong Arctic Oscillation episodes typically last a few weeks and are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance.

Sudden cold snaps aside, NOAA says the Southern Plains should prepare for continued drier and warmer than average weather, while the Pacific Northwest is likely to be colder and wetter. This comes as bad news for Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, which are unlikely to get enough rain to alleviate the ongoing drought. Texas, the epicenter of the drought, experienced its driest 12-month period on record from October 2010 - September 2011.

NOAA expects La Niña, which returned in August, to gradually strengthen and continue through the winter. Southwest Colorado is generally believed to be on the dividing line between dry and wet and is expected to have a winter similar to last year’s.
For a detailed look at NOAA’s winter weather outlook, go to: www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20111020_winteroutlook.html

– Missy Votel



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Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale