Fighting over the ‘Wild West’
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Eating ice cream was a political statement at the Colorado Roadless Review Task Force meeting Wednesday night.
Almost 200 people packed into the meeting at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. Many had visited the ice cream social hosted by the Citizens for Roadless Area Defense, a group pressuring the government to protect the 640,000 “roadless” acres in the White River National Forest from the construction and reconstruction of roads.
Since President Bush’s repeal of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, state governors must petition the federal government for roadless protection.
The task force will make recommendations to Gov. Bill Owens about Colorado’s 4.4 million roadless acres, and it has met various times to hear panelists and the public speak about different sections of the land. Wednesday night’s meeting, the second to last, focused on the White River National Forest, which stretches from Summit County through Eagle County and into Pitkin and Garfield counties.
Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon urged the task force to protect roadless areas. He said that Vail’s foundation as a ski area in 1962 prompted a “population boom,” and Eagle County has “grown tremendously over the years.”
“The single thing that brought people to this special place in the world is (feeling) the beating heart of Mother Nature,” he said. “(It’s) critical that we acknowledge and preserve this.”
Clare Bastable of the Colorado Mountain Club, who helped run the ice cream social, said she wants to protect the roadless areas because she loves mountaineering.
“(Mountain recreation) is a way to get away from the urban lifestyle,” Bastable said. “If they can’t come to Colorado, where can they come?”
Vince Matthews of U.S. Geological Survey stressed the importance of extracting resources from roadless land to be competitive with India and China’s economies.
“There’s pressure on Colorado from the worldwide economy,” he said. “(We) have the natural resources.”
Dennis Larratt, chairman of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, said mineral extraction is important to do now because “in 100 years from now, we don’t know what society will be like.”
He urged the audience to “recognize the hypocrisy” of roadless protection supporters.
“There’s this ‘not-in-my-backyard’ syndrome,” Larratt said. “But most of us aren’t from Glenwood Springs, and we used roads and resources to get here tonight.”
U.S. Forest Service officials said oil and gas can be accessed in roadless land through horizontal drilling. They said drilling equipment placed outside of the area can pump underground without disturbing the land.
Representing mayors from Rifle to Aspen, Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig said roadless areas were crucial parts of the Colorado lifestyle and economy.
“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.
But many speakers cited the need for roads in roadless lands, so crews can do the work, such as cutting trees, to protect forests from wildfires and pine beetles.
Among the roadless supporters was Dylan Hoffman of Woody Creek, wearing one of the large, green “Roadless Yes” stickers that the Citizens for Roadless Area Defense handed out.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people that came out to support this,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said he went to the task force meeting to hand in pictures and a letter about the Mormon Creek roadless area, which he “adopted.” The task force is collecting write-ups about all of the roadless areas from volunteers like Hoffman to get a feel for each parcel of land.
Backcountry enthusiast Hoffman said he was happy to help preserve the roadless lands in which he spends so much time.
“I love the convenience of a day trip, feeling like you’re a million miles away when in actuality, you’re in your backyard,” he said.
Another supporter, whose name wasn’t available, stood up when the task force opened the floor for public comment.
“What has happened to the ‘Wild West?'” she asked. “(We’ll have) urbanization wall to wall for future generations.”
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent contributed to this report. Nikki Katz can be reached at email@example.com
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