We feel extremely lucky to be living where we do. We were both able to find jobs in the area and after a few years, we were able to chose where we live based on access to public land. Specifically, we chose to live near undeveloped National Forest lands that we can easily access for hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. We eventually hope to retire here and for as long as we are physically able, enjoy all these outdoor activities.
I can give dozens of examples of special little honey holes we have found that are great for wildlife and fairly easy to access, but you do have to get off the road and you do have to walk a little bit. This is why we live where we live. Now we find out there may be threats to these special areas due to legislative bills before Congress or potential laws suits that want to open up some of the “roadless” areas.
Who Wants More Roads?
The potential threat I write about is HR 1581, AKA the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act,” which means to remove what protections (if any) that are provided by the 2001 Roadless Rule on USFS lands and on Wilderness Study Areas on BLM lands. I noticed that The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a supporter, but was surprised when I read that Safari Club International (SCI) was also supporting this bill. I went straight to the SCI websites to see for myself and sure enough, they are supporting it.
I was curious to see what other groups were supporting HR 1581 (pdf file). It is not a surprise there are many ATV, off-roading and 4-wheeler type groups, groups that make their money from grazing on public land, as well as logging and energy interests that also support this bill. I can understand someone trying to make money. I will not like it if they ruin my hunting, fishing or camping in the process, but I can at least understand it. But aparently, some of these off-roading groups will never be happy until they can ride up every creek and canyon and ride out on top of every single ridge. They have a right to ride on public land, but they do not have the right to ride over every inch of public land.
But to me, there was a bigger surprise. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) also originally supported the bill, but has since pulled their support for HR 1581. Based on some of the talk on the blogs, it must be because so many of their members put a stop to it. There is no mention of this any where on the RMEF website, so we can only guess as to why they initially supported it and then changed their minds.
Not only is SCI supporting HR 1581, they also filed legal papers in June in an attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 2001 Roadless Rule.
All Roadless Areas are not Roadless
Before taking a serious look at HR 1581, I want to point out that so-called roadless areas may actually have many roads. The National Forest that borders our little mountain valley totals about two million acres and includes over 30 Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) that includes over 520,000 acres. The forest is can be accessed from four directions by paved road and it is possible to travel completely across the forest North-South and East-West on dirt roads in dry weather. The roads are closed due to snow during the Winter and the area is heavily used by snow machines. Most of the area is easily accessed and yet remains relatively undeveloped except for existing roads.
One of our favorite little honey holes is in an IRA that is about 11,000 acres (see picture) and is separated from another 6,000 acre IRA by a major highway. It is really a misnomer to call most of these areas “roadless”. In most cases, the boundary of each IRA is a road, as is this IRA, which is bounded on 3 sides by roads and 6 roads even intrude into the center of the IRA. Three of the roads are at least a mile long. The roads are buffered and their acreages are not included in the total acreage for that IRA. In this particular National Forest, every single IRA still allows for construction of new roads and for reconstruction of existing roads. So it is not true that most IRAs are protected from development far into the future as Wilderness Areas.
It seems that main reason that there are not more roads in our area is because of the terrain. Many roads start up the canyons and almost every flat ridge seems to have a road on it, but most of the canyons are too narrow and steep for these ridge roads and canyon roads to be connected without spending a lot of money on road construction. This provides plenty of access by vehicles to much of the area, but also leaves large tracts of land without vehicle traffic.
Currently, there is no money for road construction and from the state of the roads, apparently very little money for road maintenance on USFS lands. If there were interest in energy extraction or wind farming, there would instantly be money for building roads and the area would be changed forever.
In our next post, we will talk more about what groups support HR 1581 and why.