Roadless areas up for adoption
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY ” National Forest roadless areas around Colorado have been orphaned by the ongoing political wrangling over public land management, their fate uncertain.
But that could soon change, as a statewide coalition of conservation groups is encouraging residents and businesses to step up and adopt roadless parcels near their communities, ultimately advocating for their preservation as Colorado’s roadless review task force looks for public input.
The coalition is calling itself Citizens for Roadless Area Defense (C-RAD) and has launched a new website focusing on White River National Forest roadless areas at http://www.wrroadless.org.
The inventoried national forest roadless areas in Summit County total more than 60,000 acres, with the biggest chunks in the Lower Blue and the Snake River Basin. Summit County planners recently presented some draft roadless management information to the basin planning commissions and took public comment. The next step is a May public hearing with the county commissioners, with the ultimate goal of making a formal recommendation to the state task force.
“The county process was great,” said wilderness advocate Currie Craven, designated as the local contact person for the “adopt a roadless area” scheme. “It was detail-oriented and site-specific, which is what the governor’s task force wanted,” Craven said.
He credited the county’s planning staff with doing a great job of compiling roadless information and even addressing some of the mapping errors made in the original roadless planning rule, stemming back to the Clinton era.
That roadless rule, supported by a huge outpouring of public support, was rescinded by incoming Forest Service officials appointed by Bush, and replaced with a state-by-state petitioning process. All the national-level rules are still under litigation, and given the pace of legal proceedings, the lawsuits may outlast Bush’s second term.
The county’s draft roadless recommendation generally called for continued roadless status for the inventoried areas, with consideration for existing access rights and with a special emphasis on the need to reduce the risk of wildfires in areas close to subdivisions, important infrastructure and recreational developments.
The adoption program announced by the conservation groups is definitely a tool for creating public awareness of roadless issues around the state, and Craven said that could be leveraged locally to help fine tune the management of roadless areas near at-risk residential zones.
“The whole idea is to get people to get out there and to write letters and protect their areas,” said Sandy Jackson, one of the organizers of C-RAD’s adoption program.
The website is a virtual one-stop-shop adoption agency, offering descriptions, travel directions, maps and photos of all 84 inventoried roadless areas on the White River National Forest.
C-RAD members have already stepped up to adopt about 30 roadless areas. There’s no limit on the number of people who can adopt the same roadless area, but Jackson said her top priority is to get all 84 areas adopted at least once.
The state task force is scheduled to take public input on roadless areas in the White River National Forest at a hearing in Glenwood Springs on June 21.
“It’s a rather indirect political process, but basically it’s up to us, the citizens, to urge the task force to urge the governor to urge the federal government to protect our roadless areas,” said Leslie Cook, another C-RAD organizer. “If we don’t, we risk letting our last remaining roadless areas be opened up for drilling, logging, mining and other ecologically damaging development.”
The White River National Forest has roadless areas totaling 640,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s inventory. Conservation groups believe the acreage meeting the Forest Service’s own definition of “roadless” is even higher – one estimate puts it at 1.1 million acres.
One of C-RAD’s goals is to educate the public as to the benefits of roadless areas, including recreation, economic prosperity, biodiversity and public health.
According to the group’s website, hunting fishing and wildlife watching result in a total economic input of about $265 million in Garfield, Pitkin and Summit counties, with 98 percent of that amount generated by activities on national forest lands.
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