(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Trout Unlimited (TU), North America's largest coldwater conservation organization, today expressed extreme disappointment with the Bush Administration's removal of protections for 58.5 million acres of public land.
The new rule gives individual state governors 18 months to develop recommendations for state-specific levels of roadless area protection. These recommendations would then be sent through a national advisory committee, before being considered in statewide rulemakings by the Department of Agriculture.
"The Department of Agriculture stated two objectives in developing this rule: to protect roadless areas and to end the controversy over their management," said Chris Wood, TU Vice President for Conservation Programs. "The only certain outcome from today's Kafkaesque announcement is that neither goal is accomplished."
The 58.5 million acres of roadless areas on National Forests are of vital importance to fish and wildlife, and hunting and fishing. For example, more than 70 percent of remaining bull trout and 60 percent of westslope cutthroat strongholds are found in roadless areas. Roadless lands also provide crucial habitat for elk, mule deer, and other fish and game.
"Although we wish that the administration had dealt with this issue in a more straightforward manner," Wood said, "our members look forward to working with governors to see that these landscapes remain intact."
"Disturbingly, the administration has tossed a hot potato to governors, signaling a lack of confidence in the Forest Service's ability to provide leadership on the most important and controversial natural resource issues of the day," said Steve Moyer, TU Vice President for Governmental Affairs.
The Forest Service maintains a maintenance backlog of more than $10 billion on the more than 386,000 miles of roads that traverse National Forests and Grasslands. "It makes little sense to build new roads when the Forest Service cannot take care of its existing road network," Wood said. "The administration ought to apply the rule of shovels to roadless areas. When the hole gets too deep, stop digging."
Trout Unlimited is North America's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, with 140,000 members dedicated to the protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.