DENVER (AP) — A tentative rule announced Wednesday for restricting development on 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest land in Colorado would include stronger protections for more than 1 million acres, while some lands would remain open for ski resort expansion and for temporary roads for coal mining.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the rule outside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It is part of an environmental impact statement and cannot be formally adopted until after a 30-day comment period, but Vilsack says few changes are expected.
The rule covers 4.2 million acres of roadless forest land scattered across 363 areas and eight national forests in Colorado.
Higher protection would be given to 1.2 million of those acres, with even fewer exceptions for roads, power lines or other development than what is offered under a national roadless rule. A tiny percentage of all roadless forests in Colorado would be open to potential ski resort expansions and temporary roads for coal mines. The rule also allows for tree-thinning to lessen wildfire threats near homes.
The rule represents a compromise hashed out over seven years by the U.S. Forest Service and state officials. More than 310,000 people nationwide submitted comments.
Hickenlooper, who frequently advocates compromise among opponents on a wide range of issues, called it "a characteristically Colorado achievement."
"The rule enhances all that makes Colorado special while at the same time providing a measure of flexibility that supports local economies and ensures communities can take steps to protect themselves from threats of wildfire," he said.
In 2001, then-President Bill Clinton approved a rule prohibiting commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forest around the country. The George W. Bush administration later opened the door to commercial development on some of that land, but states could petition to protect certain areas.
Colorado officials started crafting a state-specific rule in 2005 amid court challenges of the national rule.
Federal appeals courts eventually upheld the 2001 nationwide rule, prompting some environmentalists to urge Colorado to stick with the national policy.
"I feel confident in saying this rule is better than the 2001 roadless rule for Colorado," Vilsack said.