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Protect our roadless areas

Sloan Shoemaker, Vera Smith, and Sandy Shea

President Theodore Roosevelt, one of America’s great conservationists, established the National Forest System to protect forests from rampant exploitation. Today we applaud his foresight and convictions. At the time, his conservation efforts were vigorously opposed by logging and other commercial interests who wanted free reign on public lands. In 2001, the Forest Service established a national policy to conserve our last remaining roadless lands. Millions applauded, recognizing the value of undeveloped places, while logging and other special interests opposed the policy in knee-jerk fashion. In 2004, the Forest Service issued an un-Rooseveltian proposal to dismantle the 2001 policy with one ultimately designed to eliminate roadless protections. Under this proposal, state governments on overextended budgets must submit detailed recommendations to protect specific Forest Service roadless areas, though final discretion to reject these requests is granted to a former timber lobbyist appointed to oversee the Forest Service. More than 1.7 million citizens, including 60,000 Coloradans, protested the proposal, urging the Forest Service to keep the earlier policy of conserving undeveloped roadless areas as a natural and economic legacy. Last week, the State House Agriculture Committee heard testimony on HB1259, a bill proposing to create a committee charged with preparing recommendations on how Colorado’s 4 million National Forest roadless acres should be managed. The committee would be composed of nine gubernatorial appointments and four legislative appointments – a stacked deck, to be sure.HB1259 was intended to be yet one more nail in the coffin of the 2001 national policy of conserving roadless areas. It is no wonder that the only voices that testified in support of the bill were the mining and the ski industries. The bill was presumptive and premature. It established an expensive process responding to a not-yet-final federal rule. More disturbing, the bill ignores the 60,000 Coloradans who specifically opposed this new approach and clamored for the preservation of the earlier policy. The House Agriculture Committee opposed the bill, but only after state Rep. Kathleen Curry, the chair of the committee, tried unsuccessfully to amend it to improve the composition of the task force. Roadless areas are not abstractions, but real places such as Deep Creek, Thompson Creek, and Sloan Peak, on which deer, elk, lynx and a host of other species depend. They are places such as Red Table Mountain and Grizzly Creek that provide clean water to our communities, and unparalleled recreational opportunities. Roadless areas serve as Colorado’s economic backbone, bolstering hunting and fishing (a $1.5 billion industry in Colorado), and tourism (a $7 billion industry). Extractive industries boom and bust. Hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreation activities that depend on roadless areas provide steady employment and revenue to local communities. They are the gift that keeps on giving. Last year, over 100 economists sent a letter to President Bush and the 11 western governors explaining that our long-term prosperity depends on protecting the environment, not the other way around. “The West’s natural environment is, arguably, its greatest long-run economic strength,” wrote the economists. “By opening roadless lands to vehicular traffic, mining, logging … the federal government has expanded the supply of that which is already plentiful and common at the expense of that which is increasingly scarce and unique. … The loss of these benefits undermines one of the cornerstones of economic strength for communities throughout the west.”The House Agriculture Committee was absolutely right to oppose the bill. Preserving our last remaining roadless areas is critical to maintaining economic security for this and future generations. Creating a rigged committee to decide which few roadless areas to protect is a false choice. We should be demanding protection for all of our roadless areas.Authors: Sloan Shoemaker, director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale; Vera Smith, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club with West Slope office in Carbondale; and Sandy Shea, conservation director for the High Country Citizens’ Alliance.Authors: Sloan Shoemaker, director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale; Vera Smith, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club with West Slope office in Carbondale; and Sandy Shea, conservation director for the High Country Citizens’ Alliance.


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