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Feds clear way for Colorado to manage roadless areas
By Bruce Finley, The Denver Post
Colorado has prevailed in establishing its own unique rule for managing 4.2 million acres of roadless forests in the state.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday will unveil a final plan that gives Colorado greater flexibility than the current national rule.
The Colorado Roadless Rule — to be announced in Denver's City Park as the "preferred alternative" in a Final Environmental Impact Statement — establishes what U.S. Forest Service officials call "a higher category of protection" — compared with protection under the existing national rule — on 1.2 million acres of national forest in Colorado.
This marks the culmination of a seven-year process that has engaged conservationists, industry lobbyists, and residents across the state.
Federal officials will emphasize the following elements of Colorado's rule:
• More protection than the 2001 national rule for 1.2 million acres.
• Greater flexibility to allow roads necessary to protect urbanized mountain areas from wildfires by enabling "hazardous fuel treatment" in surrounding forests.
• Updated inventories that add 409,500 acres not protected under the 2001 national rule and remove 459,100 acres that already were ecologically compromised.
• Exceptions to the ban on new roads for ski areas and coal mining companies seeking access in roadless forests to construct methane vents needed for current and future coal mining in the North Fork area of western Colorado near Paonia.