Ritter says roadless petition won’t supersede current protections

By BOBBY MAGILL The Daily Sentinel

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gov. Bill Ritter on Saturday reiterated his support for broad protections now in place for Colorado’s roadless areas.

Ritter said the intent of a letter he sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week was to ensure the areas remain protected if the 2001 Roadless Rule gets struck down in federal court.

Ritter sent a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week asking the agency to protect Colorado’s roadless areas while also honoring the work of the Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force, which recommended last year that some exceptions be made to some roadless protections, allowing for some coal mining, wildfire prevention and some other activities.

The 2001 Roadless Rule, which now protects all of the nation’s 58.5 million acres of roadless land, is being challenged in federal court.

“I didn’t mean to presume that (the 2001 Roadless Rule) wouldn’t be upheld,” said Ritter, who was in Palisade for the unveiling Saturday of a memorial to Wayne N. Aspinall. “I just think that on the chance that it’s not, and I think there’s some chance that it’s not, that we must do all we can to try and get interim protections (for roadless areas) in place and agreed upon if that rule might be struck down.”

Ritter said the Colorado roadless rule he proposed in his letter to the USDA will not supersede the 2001 Roadless Rule if it prevails in court.

Some conservationists, including Brian O’Donnell of Trout Unlimited, said last week they feared Ritter was asking the USDA to weaken protections for roadless areas even if the 2001 rule remains in effect.

“The 2001 Roadless Rule, if it’s upheld by the courts, that’s the law of the land,” Ritter said.