Hunters, anglers push roadless protection
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Colorado’s roadless areas, including more than 60,000 acres in Summit County, are critically important for big game and fish and need to be protected from road building and other development, Trout Unlimited (TU) concluded in a new report released this week. TU is a conservation group dedicated to the preservation of cold-water fisheries, including Colorado’s many outstanding trout waters.
Unveiling the report during a conference call Wednesday, Trout Unlimited spokesman Chris Hunt said the data goes “a long way toward making a strong connection between roadless areas and hunting and fishing,” described as vital and signifcant components of Colorado’s recreation economy.
At issue are 4 million roadless acres in Colorado identified under a Clinton-era Forest Service plan. The Clinton roadless plan was rescinded by incoming Bush appointees.
While the fate of the original plan is still subject to litigation, Colorado has launched a statewide roadless review process that will end with Gov. Bill Owens making a recommendation on how those 4 million acres should be managed.
A state roadless task force is holding a series of meetings to take public input, with the next meeting set for Jan. 6 in Pueblo. The timing of the TU report is coincidental to that process, Hunt said, but added that the report reinforces the high level of public support for roadless protection.
The Forest Service receive more than 1 million comments on the original roadless plan, a record number for a federal lands proposal.
“I’m a second-generation Colorado Native and I’ve seen the effects of growth on the state,” said TU president Sharon Lance. “Roadless areas are refuges … and provide habitat for the three species of native Colorado cutthroat trout.”
More than 75 percent of present-day greenback cutthroat trout habitat flows through roadless areas. Also, the bulk of Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroat habitat is in waters flowing through roadless areas (58 percent and 71 percent respectively).
TU’s report shows clearly how roadless areas in the White River National Forest overlap with the headwaters of nearly every stream and river, and explains how more road building and other development would lead to water quality impacts.
“Only 25 percent of the watersheds in the White River National Forest are rated as functional by the Forest Service,” said Jim Bartschi, president of Montrose-based Scott Fly Rods. Additional development in roadless areas could degrade additional areas, Bartshi said, explaining that more than half of Colorado’s Gold Medal fishing waters are fed by these White River National Forest headwaters.
The roadless issue is of critical economic importance to the state’s recreation industry, Batschi said, explaining that anglers and hunters contribute up to $1.5 billion to the state’s economy.
“I’m deeply concerned that we won’t be able to maintain our big game populations in the future,” said John Ellenberger, the former big game manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Advocating for protection of roadless areas, Ellenberger said that recreational demands on public lands by a growing state population threatens Colorado’s wildlife resources.
“I’m also concerned that special interest groups are trying to carve out their own interests instead of looking at the big picture,” Ellenberger said, referring to motorized user groups pressing for more access to roadless areas.
Tom Beck, another recently retired state wildlife biologist, said roadless preservation is important for hunters and others seeking solitude in the Colorado backcountry.
“Some of us just don’t like our fellow man all that much,” Beck said. “We like to spend time away, and so does wildlife. I’m amazed, in the last five years, how hard it is to find a place to be by yourself,” Beck said.
And while many of the negative impacts of roads and backcountry development can be mitigated given enough money and manpower, the best ” and cheapest ” way is to “not have roads” to begin with, he said.
TU’s report, “Where The Wildlands Are: Colorado,” can be viewed at http://www.tu.org.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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