Legislature respects the voices of 60,000 Coloradans
“In utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the Nation, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight … .” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1907President Theodore Roosevelt, regarded as one of this country’s great conservationists, is responsible for establishing more than 150 million acres of national forests. Although today we applaud his foresight and convictions, his conservation efforts were vigorously opposed in the early 1900s by logging and other commercial interests who wanted free reign on public lands.In 2001, the Forest Service established a national policy to conserve our last remaining roadless lands. Millions applauded, recognizing the value of undeveloped places, while the logging industry and other special interests predictably opposed the policy.In a distinctly un-Rooseveltian move, the Forest Service in 2004 issued a draft proposal to dismantle the 2001 policy, replacing it with a new approach ultimately designed to thwart the protection of roadless lands. Under this draft proposal, governors on hamstrung budgets are asked to submit recommendations on how specific Forest Service roadless areas should be managed (although ultimately the Forest Service is under no requirement to heed the recommendations).More than 1.7 million citizens, including 60,000 Coloradans, protested the draft proposal, urging the Forest Service to keep its 2001 national policy of conserving our last undeveloped places as a natural and economic legacy.Last week, the state House Agriculture Committee heard testimony on HB 1259, a bill that proposed to create a Roadless Review Task Force that would prepare recommendations on how Colorado’s 381 roadless areas, totaling more than 4 million acres, in national forests should be managed. The task force would be composed of eight gubernatorial appointments, four legislative appointments, and the director of the Department of Natural Resources, another gubernatorial appointment – a stacked deck, to be sure.HB 1259 was intended to be yet one more nail in the coffin of the 2001 national policy of conserving roadless areas. It is no wonder that the only voices that testified in support of the bill were the mining and the ski industries.The bill was presumptive and premature. It established an expensive process responding to a not-yet-final federal rule. Even more disturbing, the bill presumed that the Legislature should ignore the 60,000 Coloradans who specifically opposed this new approach and clamored for the preservation of the earlier policy.The House Agriculture Committee opposed the bill, but only after Rep. Kathleen Curry, the chairwoman of the committee, tried unsuccessfully to amend it to improve the composition of the task force.Roadless areas are not abstractions, but real places, such as Deep Creek, Thompson Creek, and Cochetopa Hills, on which deer, elk, lynx and a host of other species depend. They are places such as Red Table Mountain and Cathedral Peak that provide clean water to our communities and unparalleled recreational opportunities.Roadless areas serve as Colorado’s economic backbone, bolstering hunting and fishing (a $1.5 billion industry in Colorado), and tourism (a $7 billion industry). When extractive industries ebb and flow, hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreation that depend on roadless areas continue to provide steady employment and revenue to our local communities. They are, as some economists say, the gift that keeps on giving.Last year, more than 100 economists sent a letter to President Bush and the 11 Western governors explaining that our long-term prosperity depends on protecting the environment, not the other way around. “The West’s natural environment is, arguably, its greatest long-run economic strength,” wrote the economists. “By opening roadless lands to vehicular traffic, mining, logging … the federal government has expanded the supply of that which is already plentiful and common at the expense of that which is increasingly scarce and unique … .The loss of these benefits undermines one of the cornerstones of economic strength for communities throughout the West.”The House Agriculture Committee was absolutely right to oppose the bill. Preserving our last remaining roadless areas is critical to establishing economic security for this and future generations. We shouldn’t be creating task forces to decide which few roadless areas to protect; we should be demanding protection for all of our roadless areas.Sloan Shoemaker is director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale; Vera Smith is conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club, a regional outdoor club with a Western Slope office in Carbondale; and Sandy Shea is conservation director for the High Country Citizens’ Alliance in Crested Butte.
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