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Clarifying the roadless areas issue

First, what is a “Roadless Area?” As defined by the federal government, it is an area (generally 5,000 acres or larger) in which no roads wide enough for full-size vehicles exist. In 2001, President Clinton’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule protected 58.5 million acres of national forest roadless areas for preservation, of which 4.4 million acres are in Colorado, and 640,000 acres are located in the White River National Forest.Second, who do we need to protect these roadless areas? With all or parts of six wilderness areas in the White River National Forest, don’t we already have enough areas that are off-limits to motorized travel? Let’s immediately get one thing straight. Motorized travel is prohibited in wilderness areas. But roadless areas are different: they will be open to bicycles, dirt bikes, ATVs and snowmobiles. Only full-size vehicles will be excluded.So what useful purpose do the roadless areas serve? Many of them are contiguous to wilderness areas and expand wildlife habitat, or provide migration corridors between separated wilderness areas, which are critical to maintaining healthy wildlife populations. Roads divide and disrupt wildlife habitat and provide avenues for the introduction of invasive plants and animals which threaten the health of native species. Furthermore, the Forest Service already has far more roads than it can maintain (2,356 miles in the White River National Forest), so why add more? And finally, there are the aesthetic and benefits, which attract hunters and fishermen and millions of vacationers, and the billions of dollars which they bring to the state’s economy.President Clinton issued the Roadless Rule following the most extensive public process in American history, involving countless public hearings, resulting in 11 million responses, 95 percent of which were in favor of protecting the roadless areas. The people have spoken. Why isn’t that enough? Why are we going through the process again? It’s like “deja vu, all over again.”The reason is that immediately on taking office, President Bush reversed the Clinton Rule, which protected roadless areas unless it could be proven that there was a valid reason not to. He issued his order which makes all roadless areas available for development unless the governor of each state specifically petitions the Department of Agriculture with reasons why each individual roadless area should be protected. Even then, these requests may be overruled by the Secretary of Agriculture.Gov. Bill Owens has established the procedure for Colorado, creating a Roadless Areas Review Task Force to conduct hearings throughout the state, and to receive public comments pertinent to each roadless area in each of the eleven national forests in Colorado. This is a Herculean task – there are more than 70 defined roadless areas in the White River National Forest alone. The task force is then charged with summarizing the results of the public hearings and the written public comments, and submitting its recommendation to the governor, who is then free to select from those recommendations those areas which he chooses to recommend for preservation to the Secretary of Agriculture.It is now up to “We the People” to redouble our past efforts to overcome the hurdles which have now been put in our way, to overwhelmingly convince the task force, and the governor, that each and all of the roadless areas in the White River National Forest are important to the forest’s future and should be protected. Write a letter to: The Keystone Center, Attn. Roadless Areas Review, 1628 Sts. John Road, Keystone, CO 80435 (postmarked no later than June 17). And be sure to attend the public hearing at 5 p.m. June 21 at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. For more information, log on to http://www.wrroadless.org.Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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