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Colorado joins Wyo. effort to fight federal roadless rule

May 18, 2012 - The Associated Press

DENVER -- The Colorado Mining Association is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a 2001 rule that largely barred new roads on 58 million acres of roadless areas in national forests.

The national roadless rule was adopted under former President Bill Clinton. Last fall a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rule, and the court this year denied requests from the state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association for a rehearing.

Now Wyoming is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a review, and the Colorado Mining Association said Thursday it also is petitioning the high court. The mining association argues the roadless rule essentially established new wilderness areas, which only Congress can designate.

Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said the rule will harm the mining industry and communities that rely on mining for jobs and tax revenue.

"Without roads mineral development cannot occur," the association wrote in its petition. "Further, timber harvests have ceased under the Roadless Rule, and with that comes the increased risk of destructive insect infestations and forest fires."

Attorney Tim Preso of the environmental law firm Earthjustice said his group would fight appeals. He noted the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also has upheld the Clinton-era roadless rule. He said the rule still allows some activities that are prohibited within wilderness areas, so the designations aren't the same.

"These roadless areas are irreplaceable parts of our national heritage on public lands," Preso said. "They are the last havens for any number of wildlife species and produce clean water we rely on in many parts of the country. The rule provides essential protection to these lands."

The mining association argues the 9th Circuit has at times referred to land protected by the roadless rule as wilderness.

Meanwhile, federal officials are poised to adopt a state-specific roadless rule for Colorado that would allow for temporary roads for coal mining on 19,000 acres in western Colorado. The state started crafting its own rule after groups challenged the national policy in court.

It could take months before the Supreme Court announces whether it will take up the case.

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