Conservation activists and outdoor enthusiasts organize daily hikes and highlight threats to roadless areas
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado outdoor enthusiasts are celebrating the second annual Great Outdoors Week (Aug. 20-28) with a series of fun hikes and educational events aimed at highlighting potential threats to cherished backcountry areas.
A fierce Washington, D.C. ideological battle over public lands management, as well as continued controversy over a proposed Colorado roadless rule, serve as a backdrop for the activities, with Representative Diana DeGette highlighting what she describes as a special interest-driven attack on protections for backcountry areas.
“Here in Colorado, while my constituents and I are working with the Forest Service to keep the best of our backcountry forests protected, some in Congress are pushing on behalf of special interests to take those protections away entirely,” said DeGette. “Coloradans depend on these areas for our drinking water, our outdoor economy and our cherished way of life, and they must be preserved.”
In July, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 1581, introduced by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, which would take away protections for national forest lands and Wilderness Study Areas, opening up an area the size of Wyoming to large-scale development.
The House could vote on the bill this fall. Wyoming’s Sen. John Barrasso has introduced a companion bill, S. 1087. The measure is only one of multiple attempts by lawmakers in Washington, DC to undo fundamental environmental protections for clean air, clean water, endangered species and public lands.
“The bill is a double threat to Colorado’s national forest roadless areas,” explains Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Not only would it end existing protections provided to these treasured landscapes, it would also bar future action to safeguard them under either the Roadless Area Conservation Rule or the current state-based rulemaking underway by the Obama administration.”
Colorado conservation, sportsmen’s and outdoor industry groups have been critical of the latest roadless proposal for national forest lands in Colorado. The plan, still under review, includes a tier system that would give the most pristine lands the highest level of protection.
Management of lands in the lower roadless tiers would be more flexible, enabling officials to more easily permit certain activities, including fire mitigation projects.
Exactly which lands will be designated into the various tiers has not yet been finalized, but conservation groups and recreation enthusiasts are taking a pre-emptive approach to advocating for the most protection possible.
Conservation groups have also found some allies in the business community, with Charlie Berger, owner of Denver Beer Co., calling for strong protections.
“A quarter of Colorado’s headwaters originate in roadless areas. Colorado mountain water is not only good to drink; it’s good for business. Beer is 95 percent water and I cannot maintain a high-quality product without the availability of high quality water,” Berger said.
Colorado national forest roadless areas and other public lands also make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation contributes over $10 billion annually to the state’s economy and supports 107,000 jobs in Colorado.
Craig Mackey, director of government affairs at the Outdoor Industry Association, encouraged residents and visitors to participate in some of this week’s events.
“People can have fun and show their support for saving these treasured places,” said Craig Mackey, director of government affairs at the Outdoor Industry Association.
”Our public lands in places like Pikes Peak or Hermosa Creek, provide some of the best outdoor recreation areas we have in the state, and Coloradans are enjoying their public lands even more today than they did ten or twenty years ago.”
Interested individuals can go to http://www.coloradodeservesmore.org to find out about the week’s activities in their area, and to learn how to support roadless area protection.