January 08, 2006


Last Friday night M. and I went to Pueblo for the (deep breath) Roadless Area Review Task Force Public Hearing, one of several being held around Colorado.

To summarize drastically, this was the latest step of a tedious process going back to the Nixon Administration. Such processes are why the Forest Service has more people staring at computer screens rather than doing things out on the national forests. Now, according to the pro-roadless area activists:

In May, 2005, the Bush administration repealed the national policy — known as the “Roadless Rule” — that protected roadless areas in our National Forests, and replaced it with a process that requires governors to petition the Department of Agriculture in order to seek continued protections for these areas. In response, the Colorado legislature created the Roadless Areas Review Task force to advise the governor in that process. The task force is now holding hearings around the state to discuss these areas and identify any compelling reasons to shift the boundaries and the types of protections offered in the Roadless Rule. Even as the task force review process proceeds, roadless areas are increasingly subject to road-building and other disturbance from oil and gas development, mining, and logging, as industrial and commercial interests are already making plans to degrade these critical areas by opening them up to development.

According to the Pueblo Chieftain, about 250 people attended. I would put the pro-roadless crowd at a slight majority if I were counting noses. In terms of people getting up to speak, the pro-roadless folks were the definite majority.

The other side was represented by ATV and dirt bike riders, many of whom, unfortunately, don't realize that "roadless" and "trailless" do not mean the same thing. Like the man from Cheyenne, they seem to care nothing about wildlife, watersheds, or future human generations. They fear only that their motorized recreation might be disrupted. In fact, as one more-informed speaker pointed out, more than 80 percent of "roadless" areas on Colorado national forests are open to ATVs and motorcycles on designated trails.

One little irony: trying to walk on both sides of the fence in a classic bureaucratic way, Bob Leaverton, supervisor of the Pike and San Isabel national forests, said he was all for continued management of roadless areas as roadless--provided his people could have access for forest-fire fighting.

Immediately before that statement, he had projected a series of map slides. One showed how the immense Hayman Fire of 2002 (southwest of Denver) had burned right through the most heavily roaded part of the Pike NF. Meanwhile, the adjacent Lost Creek Wilderness Area came through mostly untouched. Pay attention to the slide, Bob.

The meeting ended only twenty minutes late. I had a chance to speak. There were no fistfights. No one had vandalized the Jeep's "Wilderness: A Great Place to Hunt and Fish" bumper sticker. So it was a successful public meeting.

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