Vilsack issues directive protecting national forest roadless areas

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday issued a memorandum essentially blocking most development and road building on more than 58 million acres of national forest (4.4 million in Colorado) designated as roadless areas.

Conservationists were quick to praise Vilsack and the Obama administration’s one-year “time out” to establish a long-term policy for managing roadless areas. Most favor a return to the 2001 Clinton administration Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

That highly protective bit of rulemaking was quickly set aside by the Bush administration in favor of allowing states to petition the Forest Service for their own customized roadless rules. Only Idaho and Colorado did so, with Gov. Bill Ritter moving forward in order to protect against the federal rule being scrapped altogether.

Ritter, though, asked for and received a slowdown on the implementation of the Colorado roadless rule until the federal rule, which was the subject of conflicting federal court rulings, could be sorted out.

At stake are more than 100 oil and gas leases on federal lands issued after the Bush administration scrapped the Clinton rule. State conservationists also say the Colorado rule allows more road-building exceptions for logging operations and ski-area expansions than the Clinton rule.

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