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Wildfire a Hot Topic in Latest CO Roadless Rule

August 4, 2009

DENVER - Two of the hottest topics in Colorado's high country in recent years are colliding in a new draft rule released by the state on Monday. The Department of Natural Resources has put out a revised draft of the state's controversial roadless rule. The document is a sort of blueprint for managing Colorado's roadless federal lands.

The state says the new draft protects some of Colorado's most pristine wilderness while making key exceptions for wildfire protection, but Ryan Bidwell, the executive director of Colorado Wild says the plan ignores the advice of fire scientists. Those experts say only a relatively narrow fire buffer of a few hundred feet around homes and infrastructure is needed for wildfire protection.

"The Colorado rule would allow clearing of trees and road-building virtually anywhere across these more than four million acres of roadless forest."

Bidwell worries that would open the door to scant resources being wasted on unnecessary fire protection in the back country, where private property is not at risk. He says this latest draft would result in less protection for roadless national forests in Colorado than in any other state.

Colorado's roadless rule is part of a larger legal battle over nationwide roadless management going back to the Clinton era. President Obama said during his campaign that he would support the 2001 national Roadless Rule that became the target of challenges during the Bush administration, and Bidwell says the state should wait to see what the White House does.

"We shouldn't finalize a Colorado rule until the President and his staff have had time to clarify what their national direction for roadless areas is going to be."

Dave Petersen, Colorado field director for the Trout Unlimited Sportsmen's Conservation Project, says the Forest Service and state have rightful concerns about wildfire, but worries that the exceptions in the new draft could throw the baby out with the bathwater.

"You can save more roadless area by following what the leading scientists on wildfires say to do."

He says scientific direction puts the responsibility on homeowners to create defensible spacing around homes and structures.

Coloradans now have 60 days to comment on the draft rule to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The draft rule is available at www.dnr.state.co/us

Eric Mack, Public News Service - CO