‘We’ve got a garden here’
EAGLE COUNTY ” In the safety of the woods, unmarred by crisscrossing roads, elk are at home, said Brian O’Donnell of Trout Unlimited.
Without the stressful noise of cars and the presence of humans they are able to concentrate on breeding and fattening up for the winter months. Other animals also thrive in the undisturbed habitat, but millions of acres of once protected public lands are back in jeopardy, O’Donnell said.
About 4.4 million acres of roadless area ” about 30 percent of the state’s national forests and grasslands ” were protected from development during the Clinton Administration, said Jim Maxwell, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
But those protections were overturned by the Bush Administration. Now preservation organizations are working again to secure the wide open spaces.
“We were disappointed about this new rule that was put in place, that we have to go through this whole process again,” O’Donnell said. “But that’s the way it is, so we’re participating and providing information. Coloradans have already weighed in in a big way, so we hope the results will be the same.”
But those in favor of keeping the land available for development say Bush was only righting Clinton’s wrong. According to Carl Spaulding, president of the Colorado Timber Industry Association, the lands had been open since they were designated federal land.
Taking Clinton’s decision and turning it over to individual states is the right thing to do, Spaulding said.
As the bipartisan Roadless Areas Task Force, created by Gov. Bill Owens, debates the fate of the land, preservationists are clamoring to keep as much land as possible road-free for environmental, recreational and economic reasons, said Rebecca Van Damm of the Wilderness Workshop and Colorado Mountain Club.
The task force, with the public’s help, will next year recommend which stretches will be protected and which will be opened to development. The governor will then petition the federal government for protection of some or all of the land, including parts of the surrounding While River National Forest.
A home of their own
Preservations say their primary desire for keeping the land road-free is the habitat for animals.
“These lands are the genesis of much of the state’s priceless wildlife resource,” O’Donnell said. “Roadless backcountry areas nurture the biggest bucks and bulls and the healthiest of Colorado’s trout fisheries.”
Roads deposit silt and dirt into streams and cause erosion, threatening fish and insects. The added sediment also harms water quality, preservationists say.
“To allow development of these precious wild areas would spoil what’s greatest about our state,” O’Donnell said. “Ideally, these areas will remain in their present state. It would be tragic to see them sacrificed for short-term gain.”
Oil, gas and timber will be extracted and depleted, but the forest will last forever, O’Donnell said.
“The logging gets done, but the road always stays there,” O’Donnell said.
But Spaulding said some roads are necessary so trees can be cut
from overgrown forests. Such logging projects reduce the threat of wildfires and can block spread of destructive beetles.
“There’s no way around it,” said Spaulding, a self-described environmentalist. “We’ve got a garden here, and we’ve got to maintain it in a healthy manner. Roadless is just an excuse to not manage those grounds, but management is the scientific way to go. We need to maintain it, not let it rot and die.”
Without roads and logging projects, “we’re just loading up the potential to have a catastrophic situation down where people are now living,” Spaulding said.
Keeping the hunt alive
Where there are roads there are cars and people. Trying to avoid these things, deer, elk, moose and other animals try to move away from them, but all the moving takes time and energy, weakening the animals and causing higher mortality rates.
Roads also provide hunters easier access to animals who sometimes hunt them down before the animals have matured, said David Dittloff with the National Wildlife Federation.
Without the game to hunt, the $1.5 billion spent on hunting and fishing every year will suffer, roadless advocates say.
“Hunting and fishing in Colorado are among our most traditional renewable resources,” said Matt Kenna, co-chair of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and member of Colorado Sportsman United for Public Lands Protection , a nonpartisan group of hunter, angler, outfitter organizations.
“If we wisely preserve what remains of undeveloped public-lands backcountry, we’re guaranteeing future generations of Colorado sportsmen and women the right to hunt and fish on public lands,” Kenna said. “Much opportunity has already been lost to roading and commercial development on our public lands.”
Preservationists also contend the open expanses are essential to the tourism industry and Coloradans’ quality of life.
“Here in Colorado you have the opportunity to do things in a primitive setting away from motorized travel, so you’re really having a back country experience,” O’Donnell said. “We owe future generations the ability to enjoy Colorado the way we have.”
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org.