Prodded by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Forest Service is reviewing a Colorado coal-mining company’s stalled request to build roads in a federally protected “roadless” forest. The high-level handling reflects tension over efforts to preserve 58.4 million acres of relatively roadless national-forest land across the country. President Bill Clinton’s initiative to create the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule led to years of arguments — including government efforts to defend the rule today in Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Colorado has proposed an alternative state plan for managing 4.1 million roadless acres in a way that makes exceptions for coal mining, ski areas and towns threatened by wildfire that want to remove beetle-killed trees.
The federal government has picked a compromise path to protect the imperiled sage grouse, declaring it needs help to prevent extinction but giving Westerners a chance to save it voluntarily before Endangered Species Act restrictions are imposed. Sage grouse became “a candidate species,” in line along with 249 other candidates deemed deserving of federal protection.