Following numerous revisions and several years of debate, a management plan for Colorado’s 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest backcountry has been published in the federal register, cementing it as the law of the land until another politician or judge sweeps through with enough momentum or gusto for reform.
Considered in the context of the 10th Circuit Court’s recent decision to uphold the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the finalization of the Colorado rule – and the importance of maintaining a high standard for backcountry lands in the state – is undeniably clear.
The Colorado roadless rule maintains that standard by including roughly 30 percent, or 1.2 million acres of backcountry, under a higher level of safeguards (i.e., “upper tier” areas) from unneeded development. While the rule keeps these areas intact, it also allows some backcountry lands to be developed for coal mining and ski area expansion. It also allows tree-cutting and some road building in backcountry lands located within 1.5 miles of communities recognized as at risk for wildfires. Colorado’s remaining backcountry areas are managed in a similar fashion to the 2001 rule.
Sportsmen were a consistent, engaged and reasonable presence throughout the multi-year rule-making process. Recommendations from members of our community helped result in the final Colorado rule being a common-sense management tool able to assure conservation of some of the state’s best hunting and fishing grounds and most valuable fish and wildlife habitat. The state of Colorado and the U.S. Forest Service likewise deserve recognition for their efforts to refine and improve the plan for the benefit of Colorado’s backcountry traditions.
As someone who enjoys backcountry hunting and fishing throughout the state and who is well-acquainted with both the Colorado and national rules, I can celebrate the fact that much of Colorado’s most important national forest lands will remain intact and accessible for hunters and anglers into the foreseeable future.
Data from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife demonstrates that more than 900,000 acres of lands designated as “upper tier” under the new rule provide extremely important habitat for much of Colorado’s bedrock fish and wildlife, including cutthroat and other wild trout species, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, grouse and bighorn sheep.
Backcountry roadless areas are lands already largely devoid of roads and other development. Daily, they are becoming rarer and rarer. The Colorado roadless rule does not close any existing roads or trails. Instead, it keeps some of the state’s last remaining intact public lands intact and accessible to sportsmen and other citizens. That equals thousands of acres that I know I can depend on for a true backcountry experience, and that’s huge in my world.