Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. Public Lands Program, issued the following statement regarding Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's announcement, which praised Colorado's plan that would allow new mining and oil and gas drilling in pristine national forest roadless areas.
“The Obama administration's decision to move forward on the Colorado proposal contradicts its commitment to uphold the 2001 roadless rule as the best way to protect our national forests. At the same time the administration is defending the roadless rule in court, it is supporting a plan that circumvents the rule's protections.”
“Governor Bill Ritter's proposal would allow major new mining and drilling activity in Colorado's backcountry, threatening water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and sustainable economic growth.
“The administration's position represents a significant step backward for America's national forests; returning to an era when our national forests were managed through a patchwork of rules that often favored special interests over the public interest. We hope the administration will reconsider this direction.”
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was issued in 2001 to protect nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped U.S. Forest Service lands. In 2005, the Bush administration attempted to replace the 2001 rule with a discretionary state-based petition process. Colorado became one of two states to initiate a rule-making to replace the 2001 rule. In August 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision to reinstate the 2001 rule for the majority of roadless areas. In October 2009, the Obama administration received more than 200,000 messages from the public criticizing the Colorado proposal and calling for Colorado national forests to receive the protections of the 2001 rule. The administration has expressed strong support for the 2001 policy, including in a case now before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.