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Roadless rule faces the ax

A growing number of businesses that rely on Colorado's open spaces have joined environmentalists in opposition to a Bush administration plan to relax a rule created to protect the nation's forests.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, last week published its plan for altering the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The relaxed rule would allow governors to determine whether or not to allow new roads be built to enable logging, oil drilling and other commercial activities on about one-third of all U.S. Forest Service land.

In Colorado, Gov. Bill Owens supports the proposal.

However, the Outdoor Industry Association, a group of 4,000 outdoor manufacturers, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers, are actively campaigning to halt the changes. Members of the Boulder-based association include JanSport, Columbia, Nike, The North Face, Patagonia and Timberland.

Jason Lee, creative director of MBS Mountainboards in Colorado Springs, which is a member of the Outdoor Industry Association, said if changes result in an opening of too many lands in Colorado, tourists might choose other locations. That, he says, could hurt a range of businesses.

"Our sport and our industry rely heavily on open lands," he said.

The so-called "roadless rule" was finalized in January 2001, after the federal government received an estimated 2.5 million public comments, mostly opposed to increasing roads in national forests. The rule prevents new roads from being created on 58.5 million acres of national forest lands, 4.4 million of them in Colorado.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are fighting what is expected to be an uphill battle to prevent any changes to the rule, said Jay Hermon, an organizer with the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance, which represents 26 environmental and recreational groups across Colorado.

"The roadless rule was one of the greatest conservation measures of all time," he added. "This has definitely been the worst proposal for forests we have seen from this administration."

Hermon anticipates large numbers of people opposing changes will contact Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman during the 60-day public-comment period that begins Friday.

The proposed change is expected to be finalized by September.

-- Michael de Yoanna

capsule

Written comments on the proposed roadless rule may be mailed to:

Content Analysis Team, ATTN: Roadless State Petitions, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, UT 84122;

Or faxed to 801/517-1014;

Or e-mailed to

statepetitionroadless@fs.fed.us.

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