As a Republican, 4x4 owner and hunter, I don’t fit the current paradigm of an “environmentalist.” But just like my mainstream environmentalist friends, I pay close attention to the management of our public lands, the birthright of all Americans.
The nation’s national forests provide vital habitat for wildlife, protection for pure water sources and abundant hunting and fishing opportunities. The parts of those forests that remain roadless offer all of the above, plus the knowledge that even in the 21st century we can see a country that is close to what the first trappers and pioneers experienced.
One endangered management policy – the Roadless Area Conservation Rule – is the best tool we have to ensure that our children’s children can enjoy the same experience. Roads and illegal off-road vehicle routes already crisscross many of our once pristine hunting grounds, reducing the quality of habitat for deer, elk and countless other species. It’s up to us to make sure we save what’s left.
Gov. Janet Napolitano has asked the Arizona Game and Fish Department to gather public feedback on protecting our last remaining roadless areas. A series of public meetings are taking place all over the state so that hunters, anglers and others who care about wildlife can weigh in. The Kingman meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Arizona Game and Fish Department regional office, 5325 N. Stockton Hill Road. Visit the AZ Game and Fish Web site for other places and times: www.azgfd.gov.
This process all stems from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted in 2001 after a two-year process involving more than 600 public meetings. The Forest Service received 4 million comments on the proposal – more than for any other issue in its history. American citizens who supported the plan outnumbered those who didn’t by almost 2-1. According to one poll, more than 80 percent of hunters and anglers voiced their support. The Outdoor Industry Association, which represents 4,000 companies involved in the $20 billion outdoor industry, supported it. Even the corporate headquarters of KB Homes, one of the nation’s largest builders, sent a letter of endorsement.
The reason for this past groundswell of support is simple: Americans overwhelmingly want to preserve the last pristine wild areas with which our country is blessed, along with the wildlife that lives there. Now we must step up to the plate and reinstate those protections.
The Roadless Rule affects only a third of all national forest land. The majority is still open to logging and other resource extraction, as well as motorized recreation, along 386,000 miles of existing Forest Service roads – enough to circle the earth 15 times. If that doesn’t qualify as “multiple use,” what would?
Some say we need more roads for fire crews to fight wildfires. But according to the Forest Service, destructive fires occur much more frequently in roaded and logged areas than in roadless areas, and human-caused fires are almost five times more likely to start near a road. The Roadless Rule allows firefighters motorized access to fight wildfires within roadless areas.
Some hunters I know complain that roadless areas make hunting more difficult. But as true conservationist hunters, we should be concerned with the health of the game first, our own convenience second. Several studies have shown that roadless areas make the best wildlife habitat. I’m happy to work hard to enjoy a quality hunting experience in wild country unspoiled by the noise of vehicles.
Anglers benefit from roadless areas as well, since streams free from the sedimentation caused by roads and trails provide deeper pools and better spawning conditions for fish.
Protecting the lands where we enjoy our outdoor activities holds economic incentive, too. Overall, hunters and anglers who use Arizona’s backcountry pour an estimated $548 million dollars annually into the state through license fees, travel and lodging expenses, equipment purchases and many other expenditures.
America needs lumber and minerals and oil. We also need space for fans of motorized recreation. That’s why the majority of all national forest land remains open for such activities, and existing motorized trails would remain open in the forests if the 2001 Rule protections are reinstated.
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule is supported by a solid majority of Americans (and Arizonans) and backed by sound science. It might be our final opportunity to preserve the last pristine areas of our national forests, for the enjoyment of ourselves and our children.
We must support restoring protection to Arizona’s National Forest Roadless Areas and show our support to the governor.
Hunters and anglers should turn out in droves at the public meetings to ensure that authentic backcountry opportunities don’t disappear from Arizona.
Jonathan Hanson is an author and correspondent for Outside magazine and a founding member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He lives in Tucson.