April 16, 2007
DENVER—Thousands of Colorado sportsmen likely breathed a sigh of relief over the weekend when Gov. Bill Ritter clarified his intentions regarding the future protection of the state’s 4.1 million acres of roadless backcountry, said Dave Petersen, Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Public Lands Initiative.
While at a memorial dedication to the late Western Slope politician Wayne N. Aspinall in Palisade on Saturday, the governor made it clear that his petition, submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week and aimed at the future management of Colorado’s roadless lands, was intended solely as a backup, to take effect only should the 2001 Roadless Rule be overturned.
“We must do all we can to try and get interim protections [for roadless areas] in place and agreed upon if that rule might be struck down,” Ritter told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel at the event. The 2001 rule, which is in place today, prohibits most development on roadless land in Colorado and throughout the national forest system.
Earlier interpretations among sportsmen of the governor’s plans, including TU staffers in Colorado, were less than optimistic—it appeared as if the governor’s petition was intended to supersede the 2001 rule and allow for industrial development of some public roadless land. That apparently is not the case.
“To have the governor personally clarify his position and reinforce the protections in place today thanks to the 2001 rule is quite a relief and greatly appreciated by Colorado hunters and anglers,” said Petersen, who served on the state roadless task force under previous Gov. Bill Owens. The petition Gov. Ritter is proposing as an “insurance policy” is based largely on the findings of that task force, but like many anglers and hunters, Petersen believes the task force recommendations fall short when it comes to protecting roadless lands and the unparalleled hunting and fishing found there. “We’re extremely thankful to learn the governor’s petition is meant only as a safety net, not as a replacement for the 2001 rule.”
David Lien, co-chair of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, agreed with Petersen, noting the importance of roadless land to hunting and fishing quality and opportunity.
“These lands provide the best habitat for our big game herds and the cleanest, coldest water for our wild and native fish,” Lien said. “That Gov. Ritter seems intent on protecting them by placing emphasis on the 2001 rule is gratifying. It shows that he has listened to the sportsmen in our state who understand that roadless lands are the key to successful hunting and fishing today and for generations to come.”
In Colorado, roadless backcountry is home to the healthiest deer and elk herds, the source of most trophy animals, and essential to maintaining the state’s world-famous populations of native cutthroat trout.
“These lands nurture Colorado’s heritage populations of greenback, Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroat trout,” said Steve Craig, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We are still able to fish for these amazing native trout species today thanks to our pristine backcountry, which shelters healthy populations of native cutthroats. Keeping this land as it is today is vital, and it is clear that Gov. Ritter, an avid fisherman, realizes this fact and wants to defend it.”
In all, there are about 58 million acres of inventoried roadless land in America, most of it in the West.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation group. It boasts more than 150,000 members from coast to coast.