Why sell roadless areas before public gets its say?
From the looks of it, the public has been given the runaround on the roadless area question.The U.S. Forest Service plans in August to auction off about 2,500 acres in designated roadless areas in the White River National Forest to mining companies. The unfortunate thing is that this sale comes at a time when Coloradans in great numbers are saying what they think should be done with close to 4 million roadless acres around the state. In 2001, the Clinton administration designated tens of millions of acres around the western United States as official roadless areas. The action came after years of public review and comment. It is generally considered one of the most exhaustive public review processes in U.S. history, generating hundreds of thousands of public comments.The roadless designation provided a level of protection for vast sections of public lands that is not as intense as wilderness or national park designation. Motorized recreation, such as snowmobiling, is permitted. Grazing continues. But more intense industrial uses such as mining and logging – those that require the building of new roads – were barred.In 2005, without any discernible public process, the Bush administration did away with the roadless area program altogether. The Forest Service, which Bush appointees in the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversee, now has the right open roadless lands up for whatever uses it deems appropriate. At the same time his administration ended roadless area protections, President Bush asked Western governors to make recommendations to the Agriculture Department about how it should administer roadless areas in their states. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed a citizens task force to travel the state and gauge public sentiment before making his recommendation. The Roadless Area Task Force will hold a public meeting beginning at 5 p.m. today at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.Gas exploration companies have more than enough work to do with the drilling rights they’ve already obtained. Delaying the sale of leases in the Mamm Creek Roadless Area of the White River National Forest for a few months won’t likely harm anyone.Such disparate groups as environmentalists, real estate agents and hunters have been adamant in their support of keeping the West’s roadless areas roadless. The Bush administration’s unwillingness to hear their point of view is both disappointing and disturbing.Nevertheless, citizens should take the opportunity to get their points of view across tonight in Glenwood Springs. And the Bush administration’s representatives here and in Washington, D.C., should have the decency to listen.
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