Outfitters rallying for preservation | AspenTimes.com

Outfitters rallying for preservation

DENVER – Durango-area outfitter Mike Murphy has an answer to people who oppose preserving roadless areas in national forests and say public land should be open to everyone: Look at the satellite images of his corner of Colorado on the Internet.”You take a look at that map and look at all the roads in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico, and you won’t want to see another road for a long time,” Murphy said.Murphy, who has led hunting trips into Colorado’s backcountry for 28 years, said he is being squeezed out of places by oil and gas development and increasing off-road vehicle use. He’s one of 131 Colorado outfitters asking a state task force weighing the fate of 4.4 million acres of roadless national forest land to support keeping development out of the remaining remote spots.The bipartisan panel, appointed by Gov. Bill Owens and the Legislature, will meet Thursday in Grand Junction for its ninth public hearing. Owens will consider the panel’s recommendations when deciding whether to ask the federal government to protect all or some of the roadless sites.The outfitters say in a letter to be delivered to the task force this week that roadless, public areas are “vital to our ability to continue earning a living” by providing quiet, backcountry fishing and hunting trips to thousands of people, many from other states and countries.The guides and outfitters join the Colorado Division of Wildlife, hunting and fishing groups and environmentalists in asking that logging, new roads and other activities be banned from the areas. They say the land scattered across national forests in Colorado provides important wildlife habitat and many times contains pristine waterways.At least 18 counties, cities and towns have endorsed keeping most activities off the 4.4 million acres. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said in a public hearing in February that such areas are crucial to the state’s economy by driving tourism and luring employers seeking a high quality of life.Off-road vehicle users argue that public lands should be open to everybody. The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, which says it represents 200,000 Coloradans, fears that leaving the areas designated as roadless is a precursor to making them wilderness areas, which are off-limits to motorized vehicles.”We believe that the best way to manage these areas is on a local basis, through the forest planning process,” said Jack Welch, president of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, an Idaho-based group that advocates motorized recreation. “We just don’t feel that the concept of trying to identify a broad-brush approach to this makes sense.”Welch also noted that some of the forest land classified as roadless has roads and trails.The 4.4 million acres designated as roadless in Colorado are among 58.5 million acres nationwide put off-limits to development under the Clinton administration.In 2003, a federal judge in Wyoming ruled that the ban was illegal. The Bush administration then moved to open the land to logging, energy development and other activities.At the same time, the administration gave governors 18 months to petition the federal government to preserve the roadless areas, most of which are in remote parts of forests. A federal advisory board will consider the petitions, and the final decision will come from the agriculture secretary, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service.The governors of Oregon, Washington, California and New Mexico are challenging the Bush administration’s rule in court. Environmentalists are suing to overturn the Forest Service’s decision allowing logging in a roadless area in Oregon.Under existing individual forest plans, the new policy opens about 2.2 million acres in Colorado and roughly 34 million acres nationwide to road building.”From all the outfitters, we’re saying we’re opposed to any elimination of roadless,” Murphy said. “It’s not only important to our business, it’s important to the wildlife of Colorado.”

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