Vilsack earns green brownie points on biochar, Colorado roadless rule

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been making the rounds in Colorado the last couple of days, earning points from enviros at the North American Biochar conference in Boulder and casting some doubt on Colorado’s proposed roadless rule in Denver.

According to the Boulder Daily Camera, backers of the International Biochar Initiative – aimed at promoting the production and commercial use of the biomass and biofuel byproduct as a super, carbon-sucking soil supplement – Vilsack did his homework, knew what biochar was and got it on the topic of biochar as perhaps the best way to reverse global warming.

On the subject of Colorado’s revised, draft roadless rule – a controversial bid by the state to protect 4.2 million acres of public lands in Colorado from road building – Vilsack was quite a bit more circumspect. The ag secretary clearly backs an overarching national rule, which is consistent with previous Obama administration statements, but also left the door open to considerable state input -– if not a state-specific rule like the one Idaho adopted.

Vilsack, according to the Durango Herald, said the Colorado process underway since 2005 and recently revised and released for more public comment, will likely result in numerous changes from last year’s draft rule, which conservationists charged contained far too many exceptions for logging, mining, infrastructure and ski-area expansion.

“When you solicit public comment, you have to take it into consideration, and it may very well be that when public comment comes forward, there may be adjustments or changes to the plan. So I think it would be premature for me to talk about precisely what our reaction’s going to be because we really don’t know what the plan is going to look like,” Vilsack said.

“We are very committed to protecting the roadless areas generally,” he added. “We think there needs to be a national approach to this. What we’re looking for is a collaborative process, working with folks in individual states.”

Department of Natural Resources officials and Gov. Bill Ritter also support a national rule, but they want the Colorado rule incorporated into the national rule to allow for logging to thwart wildfire danger stemming from the ongoing pine beetle epidemic, as well as certain exceptions for economic development such as coal mining and ski-area development.

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