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Sportsmen applaud Gov. Ritter’s delay of state roadless rule

Guest Commentary
David Petersen
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The road to permanent and meaningful roadless protections for Colorado’s 4 million-plus acres of roadless Forest Service backcountry has been long and often contentious. Since President Bush struck down the national 2001 Roadless Rule in May 2005 and replaced it with a program of his own, Colorado sportsmen and women have walked point for roadless protection.

As early as November 2005, an unprecedented coalition of nine Colorado hunter, angler and outfitters’ groups came together to petition then-Gov. Bill Owens to safeguard the best of what’s left of Colorado’s backcountry fish and wildlife habitat.

“The futures of hunting, fishing, outfitting and other backcountry activities, together with the significant benefits they bring to our state’s celebrity, dignity and economic welfare, depend on keeping Colorado’s last remaining islands of unspoiled public wildlands intact,” a letter to the governor read. “As population pressures increase and remnants of pristine nature continue to be chopped up, developed and motorized, the demand for quiet, natural outdoor destinations and traditional muscle-powered backcountry recreation will also grow. Please help us protect this precious resource for Coloradans and America, for present and future generations, while keeping alive the traditional customs and culture of the rural West.”



Yet, a year later, a state task force’s recommendations more closely resembled a plan for roadless destruction, not protection. Again, sportsmen took the lead, and for a long time stood alone in calling out the petition’s many special-interest giveaways.

But to no avail. Gov. Owens submitted the flawed petition to the USDA unchanged.



In 2006, Owens was out and Bill Ritter was in. About the same time, the “Bush Rule” was ruled illegal, the 2001 Rule was reinstated, and states were no longer required to submit administrative petitions for roadless protection.

Yet, Gov. Ritter decided to resubmit his predecessor’s petition, little changed, calling it an “insurance policy” in case the national rule were to be struck down again (which it recently was, sort of, though President-elect Obama will have the final say).

Once again, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups came together to petition the new governor to “do the right thing” and improve the state’s petition.

Yet our requests, once again, seemingly went unheard.

Colorado sportsmen also were first to sound an alarm against what we saw shaping up as an overt attempt by the Bush regime to rush Colorado into signing a dangerous and destructive “protection” rule before the lame duck president left office.

“Since the next administration can be expected to have different and almost certainly friendlier, more far-seeing and protective attitudes and policies toward America’s shrinking commonwealth of pristine public lands, the rulemaking process should in fact be extended into that brighter new world before being signed into law,” sportsmen wrote to Gov. Ritter. “Please do not succumb to pressures to rush the process.”

The point of this history is that after years of being forced into a position increasingly critical of Gov. Ritter ” himself an active sportsman ” for his lack of response to sportsmen’s requests, suddenly we find ourselves in the unusually happy position of applauding and thanking him, to wit:

Thank you, Gov. Ritter, for striking a deal with the feds that assures any forthcoming Colorado Roadless Rule will not be a rush-job to satisfy a dying regime’s anti-nature whims. As your Department of Natural Resources staff have candidly and courageously stated in press, the draft Colorado rule still needs a lot of work, and that work will take months. Moreover, we thank you, Gov. Ritter, for asking the incoming Obama administration to expedite a public declaration of its intent for national roadless protection. This gives us hope that, in the end, Colorado could, after all, rejoin the rest of America in a common and sensible national rule.

As good as sportsmen are at complaining when necessary, we are far happier when we have reason to say “Thanks!”

David Petersen is field director for Trout Unlimited based in Durango.


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