County sides with enviros in roadless debate
Pitkin County commissioners decided yesterday to wade into the fight over roadless areas in national forests by opposing changes proposed by the Bush administration.Commissioners Dorothea Farris, Shellie Roy and Jack Hatfield directed their staff to send a letter to the U.S. Forest Service expressing support for former President Bill Clinton’s Roadless Rule, which would prohibit most road construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres nationwide.President George W. Bush announced July 12 that he wanted to rescind the Roadless Rule’s automatic protections and replace it with a system that allows state governors to determine how much roadless forest receives protection.Clinton’s roadless policy was criticized by off-road vehicle groups, the timber industry, and the oil and gas industry as a flawed, last-minute gift to tree-huggers.Conservationists now contend that Bush’s proposal is a handout to the special interest groups opposed to Clinton’s order.Pitkin County’s letter states the environment will suffer if Bush’s plan is adopted. It says: “Overall, it is our opinion that the proposed rule is a means of reversing existing policy at the expense of our watersheds, our public drinking supply, our plant and wildlife diversity, our scenic areas and our nation’s natural environment.”The White River National Forest, which surrounds the Roaring Fork Valley, has about 640,000 acres of what the Forest Service called Inventoried Roadless Area; about 105,000 acres are in Pitkin County.Those lands are separate from wilderness areas, like the Maroon Bells, which have guaranteed protections against mechanized travel and uses.Hatfield harshly criticized what he claimed were Bush’s benefits for extractive industries. “This is a giveaway of federal lands that all of America owns,” Hatfield said. “It’s an embarrassment that an administration, regardless of party, would propose this.”This is an example of the federal government – the administration, actually – getting out of hand,” he later added.Farris said she suspects Bush wants to rescind Clinton’s Roadless Rule to make sure no additional lands receive the stronger protections. “It’s a backhanded way to make sure it isn’t designated wilderness,” she claimed. Hatfield accused Clinton’s critics of misrepresenting the process that led to the former president’s Roadless Rule. While it was approved in Clinton’s final month in office, the review was under way for three years and more than 2.5 million public comments were received, Hatfield noted, citing research by assistant county manager Debbie Quinn.”It’s a public, PR spin that this just happened in [Clinton’s] last week,” Hatfield said.The controversy over roadless lands is heating up because the Bush administration’s deadline for written comments from the public ends Tuesday, Sept. 14.Comments can be sent to Content Analysis Team, Attn: Roadless State Petitions, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84122 or via fax to (801)517-1014.Conservation groups and off-road vehicle groups are rallying their troops to reply.Representative of one side of the debate is this statement by The Wilderness Society: “Any short-term gain that would result from turning over these areas to corporate special interests is significantly outweighed by the public benefits of keeping them intact.”The other side of the debate is represented by a Washington state based group called the American Land Rights Association.”Don’t allow special interests to win in this comment period. Your enemies are doing all they can to target your use of the forests,” said the group’s call to action. “You must deluge the Forest Service with comments supporting the new Bush administration Roadless Rule.”Wilderness Workshop, an Aspen-based environmental group, claims that a relaxation of the Clinton Roadless Rule has already harmed wild lands in Pitkin County. Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker said lands in the Thompson Creek Roadless Area, southwest of Carbondale, couldn’t have been leased recently for natural gas development if Clinton’s policy was enacted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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