WASHINGTON – As the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a lawsuit that could determine the future of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today reasserted the need for responsible backcountry management that conserves the areas’ high-quality fish and wildlife habitat, economic benefits, and hunting and fishing opportunities.
The so-called “roadless rule” is a national forest management regulation that was designed to limit road building and timber harvest on 58.5 million acres of undeveloped public lands across the country.
A poll of sportsmen shows that a majority of American hunters and anglers supports conservation of the nation’s roadless backcountry. Excessive road densities have been shown to negatively affect elk and deer behavior, reproduction and survival. Too many roads in the wrong places also contribute to increased sediment loads in waterways that are important to wild trout and salmon.
Hundreds of sportsmen-focused businesses and organizations from across the country recently sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasizing the economic value of roadless lands and requesting that the USDA “maintain the maximum acreages of roadless areas” to sustain the more than $190 billion annually contributed to the nation’s economy by hunting and fishing. The USDA has responded to this and other voices in support of backcountry conservation by working to defend the national roadless rule.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commitment to upholding the Roadless Area Conservation Rule testifies to the federal government’s support of our public-lands hunting and fishing heritage,” said Joel Webster, roadless initiative manager for the TRCP. “Sportsmen appreciate the USDA’s ongoing efforts on behalf of our backcountry fish and wildlife habitat and look forward to continuing to work with the agency to defend this irreplaceable outdoor legacy.”
As litigation surrounding the national roadless rule approaches resolution, the state of Colorado continues to deliberate recommendations for a state-based rule that would govern management of more than 4 million acres of backcountry lands in Colorado. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has called the proposed Colorado roadless rule an “insurance policy” in case the national roadless rule was overturned. Whether such a policy is necessary will become evident in the months to come as the 10th Circuit Court reaches a decision regarding the roadless rule’s fate.
“Hunters and anglers urge the state of Colorado to wait for a ruling from the 10th Circuit before moving forward with the Colorado roadless rule,” said Nick Payne, TRCP Colorado field representative. “Centennial State sportsmen currently benefit from a national roadless rule that safeguards Colorado’s world-famous elk, mule deer and trout populations and outdoor traditions. The national roadless rule upholds sportsmen’s values and is the strongest option for ensuring conservation of Colorado’s roadless areas in the long term.”
“Americans with a stake in the future of our iconic landscapes now look to the 10th Circuit Court to affirm what many hunters and anglers long have maintained,” concluded Webster, “namely, that our remaining federal backcountry lands must be sustained for their prime fish and wildlife habitat and the irreplaceable recreational opportunities they provide all of our citizens.”
Learn more about the TRCP’s work in support of roadless area conservation.