Colorado Roadless Areas on the Chopping Block (Again)
Colorado is the most populous, developed state in the Rocky Mountain West. Despite all the cities and towns, highways, oil rigs and second homes, about 4.4 million acres of roadless national forest remain. And that’s in addition to the 3 million-plus acres of existing wilderness. These roadless lands – which safeguard clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation –…
Colorado is the most populous, developed state in the Rocky Mountain West. Despite all the cities and towns, highways, oil rigs and second homes, about 4.4 million acres of roadless national forest remain. And that’s in addition to the 3 million-plus acres of existing wilderness.
These roadless lands – which safeguard clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation – are currently protected across the West (except Idaho – long story) by President Clinton’s 2001 “Roadless Rule.” That Rule bars commercial logging, road construction and most mining. The Rule does have carefully narrow provisions that allow some logging where needed to reduce fire risks in some forest types. But Clinton’s Rule remains the gold standard for protecting roadless lands.
President Obama’s Forest Service, however, is working to undermine the Rule in Colorado.
With the support of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Obama administration has proposed a new, Colorado-specific rule that would provide a high level of protection for only about half a million acres (13 percent of Colorado’s roadless forest, blow loopholes in the Clinton Rule to permit more logging and road-building, and exempt 20,000 acres of roadless land so that the coal industry can scrape roads and drill holes in the Sunset Trail roadless area as well as others.
The public has until July 14 to tell the Forest Service to improve or torpedo the Obama proposal. Watch this space in the near future for suggestions on how to take action. Citizens and groups – including sportsmen – are already mobilizing to plug the Colorado Roadless Rule’s loopholes.
But others are hoping to blow the loopholes wide open.
At least one coal company – Oxbow Mining LLC – has its eyes on the Currant Creek Roadless Area in western Colorado. Oxbow is owned by billionaire yachtsman Bill Koch, who spent a chunk of his fortune attacking the Cape Wind power generation project off the coast of Massachusetts, in part because it would ruin his precious yachting and spoil the view from one of his many homes. (Greenpeace tells the story in its report: “Bill Koch: The Dirty Money Behind Cape Wind Opposition.”)
Oxbow’s coal at its current mine – which will require roads and drill rigs on roadless lands – will run out in six or seven years, so Oxbow is apparently looking for another site. The company recently announced that it is exploring for coal on Colorado’s Oak Mesa, just a few miles from the Currant Creek roadless area. This is why the Obama administration needs to ensure that our highest-quality roadless areas – such as Currant Creek – receive the highest level of protection.
Meanwhile, natural gas drilling is the looming threat to the Thompson Creek Divide, near Carbondale, Colorado. Oil and gas leases were snuck through by the Bush administration during its illegal attempts to repeal the Rule, and drillers are poised to start scraping exploration wells at the area’s edge, a prelude to drilling the roadless lands. Wilderness Workshop and other local groups are mobilizing to oppose the project.
You can do your part by sending a letter to the Forest Service, which is considering the exploration proposal now.
Ted was an attorney in the Rocky Mountain regional office from 2003–2018. He protected wilderness, roadless areas and the planet's climate on behalf of conservation groups in the Four Corners' states.
Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office protects the region’s iconic public lands, wildlife species, and precious water resources; defends Tribes and disparately impacted communities fighting to live in a healthy environment; and works to accelerate the region’s transition to 100% clean energy.