A proposal by the Bush administration has the potential to open millions of acres of roadless areas for development, including land in the Routt National Forest.
The proposal provides an option for the U.S. Forest Service to work with local communities to manage inventoried roadless areas, said forest service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard.
Some states may choose to develop their roadless areas, while others could decide to protect theirs, Ritschard said.
"We don't know how exactly it's going to turn out," Ritschard said.
The Routt National Forest contains 502,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas. But that includes the Zirkel and Sarvis wilderness areas, which won't be affected by the proposal, Ritschard said.
Some conservationists say Bush's roadless proposal is bad news for Colorado.
"Certainly we are very disappointed," said Adriana Raudzens, associate field representative with the Sierra Club. "These proposed changes are the first step in completely undermining Colorado's protection for roadless areas."
The Sierra Club's primary concern seems to be that the proposal will open the door for logging companies to cut timber in remote forest locations because they could gain the ability to build roads to these places. Ritschard said that is a possibility.
Much of the state's clean water comes from roadless areas, Raudzens said. If development is permitted in these areas, the state could lose much of that clean water.
Many of the state's visitors come here to hunt, fish and hike in roadless areas, she said. If these areas are developed, it could cost Colorado.
"If you think about it, one of the biggest draws is having unique places to hunt, to fish and to hike and to really enjoy outdoor recreation," Raudzens said.
Sierra Club officials say Bush's proposal effectively cripples the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a policy introduced by the Clinton administration to protect the nation's 58 million roadless acres
Those interested in commenting on the proposal can do so for the next 60 days. When the comment period ends, state governors will have 18 months to submit petitions to the Forest Service detailing how they would like to manage their roadless areas.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.