Monday, July 24, 2006

July 24, 2006 Roadless

Consider This for July 24, 2006--Roadless

Roadless does not mean roadless.

Welcome to the wonderful world of words in government.

A few months ago I attended a meeting in Frisco where the head of a very large west slope organization was talking about issues. He started by explaining about how the roadless plan would close all roads on public lands.

I immediately stopped him and exclaimed that !@#$% roadless did not mean !@#$% roadless as he had proclaimed. He immediately sat down and shut up.

For my regular readers I will apologize now because I have written about this before.

Each of the National Forests has a Forest Plan. The Forest Plan includes a lot of parts. It includes how the forest is going to be managed and the many uses for the forest. Each forest is a little different, so there are different plans for each forest.

Here in the central Rockies and in my House of Representatives district there are two major forests. The Pike San Isabel is in Lake County, and most of Summit and Eagle Counties is in the White River. The White River is the most visited National Forest in the nation. This is primarily because of the ski areas. There are seven ski areas in my district.

In the late 1990s the White River Forest Plan was rewritten. That is a story in itself. Summit County was presented with a large cardboard box containing the plan and told that we had one month to read, review, and comment on the plan. Of course we did not accept this, and in the final analysis, seven years later, the plan still has not been approved.

I laughed when I read an article this week about how the travel plan was still in process. That was a big part of recreation in the White River and was very contentious as the “Gear Heads” fought against the “Tree Huggers” in the process.

Part of the plan included several “roadless” areas. There are roads in these roadless areas, and none of them were ever marked for closure. The roadless designation just meant new roads could not be built in those areas.

Colorado ski operators object to this designation because they believe they might want to build roads in those areas at some point in the future.

Roadless areas by definition are areas where new roads will not be built. It does not mean that any roads will be closed.

President Clinton, as one of his final acts in office, approved making roadless areas mandatory in forest plans. This created a furor that has continued for the past six years.

The two biggest objectors are the Mining Association and the oil and gas producers. They feel that prohibiting the building of new roads will inhibit their ability to extract natural resources.

They are right.

This past session I tried to run a Joint Resolution from General Assembly to Governor Owens and President Bush to keep the roadless area designation in place.

In an unprecedented move, my resolution was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee where it was killed. I say unprecedented because in the entire two years I was in the legislature, I was never aware of any other resolution being assigned to a committee. Most of the time they go right to the floor for an up or down vote.

During that committee hearing the oil and gas producers brought in photos showing long winding roads connecting wells in various areas. This was their argument to allow new roads in roadless areas. Bad example. Their photos showed exactly the point in question. The landscape was torn up by the new roads they had constructed.

Even though I testified to the contrary, there were several members of the committee who seriously believed roadless meant no roads. They had bought into the deception by the industry.

It reminded me of the gold mining groups who testified opposing the county not allowing cyanide heap leach mining a few years ago. They showed photos of large areas of scorched earth as examples of how cyanide did not hurt anything. Another bad example. I knew we would ban the process as soon as I saw their photos.

The Mining Association testified at the House hearing also.

Regardless, my resolution failed.

The Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and the Roan Plateau here in Colorado are both examples of how what is happening in some places in Colorado can happen there too.

There are ways to mine and extract oil and gas without tearing up the landscape building roads. Somehow we need to get that message to Governor Owens and President Bush.

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