Coalition gears up for meeting on the future of national forest roadless areas
GARFIELD COUNTY A coalition is gearing up to make its voice heard regarding the future of roadless areas in the White River National Forest.Some 40 people met in Glenwood Springs Thursday night to continue working on a campaign strategy in connection with Colorados roadless area review.The Citizens Roadless Campaign is organizing in anticipation of a June 21 roadless meeting in Glenwood Springs. A state task force, headed by state Department of Natural Resources director Russell George, of Rifle, has been holding public hearings in various national forests across Colorado. The June meeting will focus on the White River, which covers most of Summit County, and Manti-La Sal national forests.Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop environmental organization, said it will be important to pack the house in June with advocates for preserving roadless areas on the WRNF.We need to demonstrate that the public overwhelmingly is interested in keeping roadless areas wild, he said.Former President Clinton had sought to protect 58 million acres of roadless areas nationwide, including some 4 million acres in Colorado. However, his initiative suffered a setback in court, and the Bush administration went a new direction by providing for states to recommend roadless area protections.A Forest Service inventory has identified 640,000 acres of roadless areas in the WRNF, including such places as Deep Creek in the southeast corner of the Flat Tops, Thompson Creek near Carbondale, and Red Table Mountain south of Gypsum.The local citizens group hopes to elicit the support of local governments, chambers of commerce, businesses and others in its mission. One of its messages will be the benefit national forests, including roadless areas, provide.Its just overwhelming, the economic value of our national forest, said Bob Millette, a local Sierra Club member.Statewide, forests support a multi-billion-dollar hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching industry, he said.Roadless areas are important to ecosystems, but that also trickles down to the general public, participants in Thursdays meeting said. For example, areas with roads tend to be more vulnerable to invasive species, which can cost taxpayer money to fight as they spread.Shoemaker said areas with roads also are more prone to wildfire. Human-caused fires are more likely because these areas are more heavily visited, and they are more likely to be logged, which opens up forest canopies, dries out forest floors and enables fine fuels to ignite.Part of the citizen groups challenge is educating the public about what a roadless area is.The roadless areas do have some roads in them, Millette said.However, they may not be authorized by the U.S. Forest Service.A road to us is something thats on our map, Kristi Ponozzo, a spokesperson on the White River National Forest, told the group.Land can still be considered for roadless designation even if it has routes that can be used by vehicles under 50 inches in width. And despite public perceptions to the contrary, participants in Thursdays meeting said, motorized uses are allowed in some roadless areas. Theyre not calling for that to change.Were not talking about locking anything up, were just talking about keeping it the way it is, Shoemaker said.The state committee will make recommendations to Gov. Bill Owens about what areas he should ask to be protected as roadless areas and which ones should be managed in a less protective manner. That could open up some of them to logging, energy development and other uses.
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