STEAMBOAT SPRINGS Though the reasons varied, a strong majority of the 27 people who spoke out about a U.S. Forest Service roadless area proposal at a meeting Wednesday night were against it.
Many who attended the meeting, which was held by the Forest Service to gather public comments on the proposal, were concerned that the roadless plan is just another restriction on public lands used for multiple purposes.
If mandated by the federal government, the roadless initiative would stop any road-building or reconstruction in forest land designated as roadless. There are 502,183 acres of land inventoried as roadless in the Routt National Forest and 54 million acres of roadless land inventoried in the United States. Now, local forest managers can choose to build roads in those areas, even though they are described as roadless.
"I think the initiative flies in the face of the definition of public lands," Ron Tuchschmidt said. "We're asking for fair use, not unlimited or unrestricted."
He was afraid that restrictions on road-building and reconstruction in forest land designated as roadless would limit who could use the land.
"Some people don't have time to hike for seven days to get to these areas," Tuchschmidt said. "It's simply wrong to appropriate the lands away from the people who own them."
Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall spoke against the proposal on behalf of the county commissioners.
"The process here leaves a lot to be desired," he said.
More time is needed to study the initiative, he said. Furthermore, Routt Forest officials finished revising the forest plan in 1998 with management designations to reflect the roadless areas.
"Forests that have established forest plans in the last five years should be exempt," Beall said.
Kim Vogel, Routt-Medicine Bow district ranger, said the intent of the management plan is to allow for multiple uses.
The Routt Forest plan also considered the areas designated roadless, and proper management of those lands was reflected in the final draft. Therefore, most of the land won't be affected dramatically by the roadless proposal, Vogel said.
However, the Medicine Bow Forest plan hasn't been revised in 15 years, she said. Roadless land in that forest is managed completely differently, meaning the federal roadless plan would have a great influence.
The idea of the federal government having that type of influence on specific local areas didn't sit well with local rancher Doug Monger.
"All the decisions made in the forest should be made in the local areas," he said.
Tonie Louder drove from Moffat County to speak against the proposal.
"It will worsen fire conditions and the ability of fighting fires," she said, asking how firefighters could prevent or battle blazes in areas without roads.
Vogel said that is a legitimate concern.
Vogel said that because the initiative was coming directly from President Clinton, it's going through a top-down process that isn't common for the Forest Service. That has left the public and forest officials with lots of questions and worries.
Mark Palmer spoke in support of protecting the lands.
"The remaining roadless areas need to be protected," he said. "Our diversity and wildlife need to be preserved."
All the comments at the meeting were recorded and will be used in making a final decision on plan. (Doug Crowl is a reporter with the Steamboat Springs Pilot/Today.)