Full house rocks roadless meeting | PostIndependent.com

Full house rocks roadless meeting

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

Many people from Rifle to Summit County had one message for the Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force on Wednesday: Save the White River National Forest’s roadless areas for future generations and the local economy.More than 150 people turned out at the four-hour meeting at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs to hear advocacy groups and citizens speak out about the fate of local roadless areas. The task force will suggest to Gov. Bill Owens this summer how roadless areas in Colorado should be managed. Owens will later make his recommendation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will make a final decision about the fate of roadless areas nationwide. The task force heard Wednesday from panels of local government officials and forest users and a procession of local residents who spoke out about how they believe roadless areas should be managed. Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon declared his county’s support of protecting roadless areas because the county’s wild areas have helped to draw people to the county, which has grown by more than 40,000 people in 36 years. But Garfield County Commissioner John Martin took a different tack. He asked the task force to preserve all forms of access that currently exist on the WRNF.

The county, he said, will work hard to protect watersheds, water rights, grazing permits and other land uses. And while there’s a need on public lands for wild areas, which the county will protect, public lands are designed for multiple uses, he said. “Not one single group can place one blanket policy on public lands,” he said. Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig represented all the mayors of cities and towns from Aspen to Rifle, and asked the task force to preserve all local roadless areas. “The future environment, economy (and) sustainability of this region rests on the preservation of these lands, not on the degradation and destruction (of them) for short-term gain,” Hassig said. Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association Chief Executive Officer Marianne Virgili said preserving roadless areas is a sound business practice and sustains the local quality of life. One of the most passionate in favor of preserving roadless areas among the meeting’s three panels of speakers was Rifle-based outfitter Jeff Mead, owner of Mamm Peaks Outfitters. Since a gas company plowed a road into a roadless area near the Mamm Peaks, it has impacted deer and elk populations and hurt his business because clients no longer want to hunt in the area.

“I went from 40 hunters a year, and now I’m down to 18 hunters a year,” he said. “Nobody wants to hunt next to a gas rig.”He said he’s never heard anybody say anything bad about a roadless area. “We have wilderness areas,” he said. “We have to have the roadless areas also.”Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker railed against those who worry about the potential for wildfires in timber killed by bark beetles.He said the most effective way to deal with wildfires in those areas is to treat forests for beetles within 200 feet of homes. “Communities that don’t mitigate together burn together,” he said. When it was time for local residents to have their say, many said that future generations of Roaring Fork Valley residents will be harmed if roadless areas aren’t preserved.

“The resource we have in our backcountry and in our forest lands is something not to be divvied out in one or two generations, it’s something to be safeguarded,” said Aspen City Councilor Rachel Richards. But Dennis Larratt, chairman of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition accused roadless advocates of hypocrisy and having the “not-in-my-backyard syndrome.” He said advocates want to protect small areas from the bark beetle, but they really want to protect high-dollar real estate. He said motorized access to roadless areas need to be preserved and mineral extraction in those areas should continue because those valuable minerals may be needed in the future. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com

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