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Public Input Sought on CO Roadless Rule Policy

May 18, 2011

DENVER - A coalition of environmental and recreation groups is calling on the Obama administration to rethink the Colorado roadless rule proposal for Forest Service land.

Under the current proposal, more than 500,000 acres of Colorado's roadless public forest land - about 13 percent of the total - would qualify for top-tier protections. Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, says that's not enough.

"Both watershed values and recreational values are still at risk under this proposed rule, and we believe it has too many exemptions to roadless protections that would affect too many high-quality roadless lands."

The Forest Service identified more than 2.5 million acres of land that should meet the highest protections, Jones says. Some industries - including oil, natural gas and mining - are advocating for fewer roadless areas for either development or to allow for temporary roads for drilling operations.

Bryan Martin, the Colorado Mountain Club's director of conservation, says wilderness is big business for the state, contributing $10 billion to the economy every year, providing 107,000 jobs and $500 million in tax revenue.

"We need public lands in our topography to do what we do. Climbers need escarpments, and hikers, mountain bikers, skiers and snowshoers need trails."

Wildlife biologist Dr. Barry Noon agrees that roadless areas are crucial to Colorado's current and future economic well-being. Noon, a Colorado State University professor, says roads change both the landscape and the way animals behave.

"For wildlife, roads represent an immediate loss of habitat but, more importantly, fragment habitat and create areas that animals avoid because of the increased risk of death from both legal and illegal hunting."

Roadless areas provide animals a refuge, Noon says, which ultimately helps to increase their populations. Roadless areas offer other ecological benefits, he adds, including less sediment in rivers and a decreased chance of flooding when compared with areas with roads.

The Forest Service Colorado Roadless Rule proposal is online at fs.usda.gov.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO