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National forest is more useful without roads

Francisco Tharp

Until June 21, the Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force will be accepting public comment regarding the protection of roadless national forest land, including 640,000 acres of roadless forest in the White River National Forest. Gov. Bill Owens assembled this task force and will report its findings to the Department of Agriculture.The roadless lands in the White River National Forest have two types of resources. First, they have recreational, aesthetic and environmental resources that, without roads, contain intact ecosystems and habitat as well as appealing places to hike, bike, raft, hunt, fish, camp, climb, photograph, observe and more. Second, these lands contain natural resources that could be extracted for short-term, economic gains followed by severe economic and environmental losses. My argument is that it is economically essential to our community – from Dillon to Rifle, from Meeker to Aspen – and environmentally essential to our globe that these areas be maintained as roadless. We must cultivate the recreational resources (by saying no to roads) and leave the extractable resources where they lie. Here’s why:Roads on Forest Service lands will invite logging and mining. Both are necessary to our nation but are not sustainable for our local economy. Resource extraction creates booms and busts (as has happened repeatedly in places like Rifle and Parachute) while recreational resource use is more consistent and sustainable.The key to sustainable living is to fuse the health of our natural environment with that of our economic environment. In Colorado and the White River National Forest, that is easily possible. The White River National Forest is the most visited National Forest in the U.S., with 9,692,000 user days logged in 2002. Outdoor retail sales in Colorado – that depend on recreationists who thrive on wilderness, not on mines and clear cuts – totaled $1.3 billion in 2003. In Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Garfield counties, total input from hunting, fishing and wildlife watching is about $265 million. Ninety-eight percent of this is generated within the White River National Forest, where wildlife species depend on roadless areas for essential habitat. In these counties, 67 percent depend on the tourism industry for its livelihood. The Forest Service estimates that conservation and recreation activities generate about three times the revenue and five times the number of jobs as extractive industries on Forest Service land.Educate yourself and get involved at http://www.wrroadless.org. Please take this opportunity to speak. The voices of local business owners will be especially powerful. You can write a letter to the task force and attend the public hearing on June 21 from 5 to 8:45 p.m. at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs (more information is on the website).For the sake of our local economy and local business owners, let’s keep roads out and tourism up. After all, who will come and pay to hunt the ghosts of Rocky Mountain elk in a forest muted to their ancient autumn calls? Who will travel the country to watch the memory of a native cutthroat rise to their No. 16 olive caddis without a single splash or ripple? Francisco Tharp is a resident of Glenwood Springs.


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