In our years of experience as sportsmen, we believe that wilderness and roadless backcountry areas are an essential element to the American and democratic hunting and fishing tradition that has continued over the past 200 years. These wild landscapes allow us to challenge ourselves and gain access to some of the best fish and wildlife habitat in our state’s national forests.
More than a hundred years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt established our national forest system as a legacy for future generations. Because of his vision, these public lands have provided critical habitat for fish and wildlife, clean drinking water for millions and unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities for all to enjoy.
In January 2001, after two decades of broad debate and more than 600 public meetings, the Forest Service enacted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, protecting 58.5 million acres of backcountry national forest lands from road-building and most economic development. With more than half of our national forests already open to resource development, the rule was intended to conserve the last third of undeveloped forest lands for important fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation and clean watersheds for the future — while still allowing use of existing roads for both motorized and non-motorized uses.
Right here in Snohomish County, the Glacier Peak, Boulder River and Eagle Rock (recently designated as part of the Wild Sky Wilderness) roadless areas provide a diversity of wildlife habitat for many non-game species and opportunities to hunt blacktailed deer, black bear and mountain lion. Even hunters who do not venture into these backcountry areas directly benefit from the security and habitat that it provides, which allows big game animals to mature and grow. Roadless and backcountry lands are a critical part of the public commons that benefit all sportsmen and all Americans.
Hunting and fishing in roadless areas also generates economic benefits for rural communities near these healthy streams and rivers. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, hunters, anglers and wildlife viewers spend a combined total of more than $2.18 billion annually in Washington. In Snohomish County alone, a 2001 study by Dean Runyan and Associates totaled destination spending at $509 million.
The original Roadless Area Conservation Rule was extremely popular with the citizens of Washington and these areas were not delineated lightly or haphazardly. Nor were the rules passed in a hurry. Over a three-year period leading up to 2001, more people participated in this rule-making process than in any other federal rule-making process in history—and more than 95 percent of the public comments supported strong protection for the remaining unroaded areas in our national forests.
Nationwide, sportfishing, hunting, wildlife and recreation groups are contacting President Obama by resolution and asking him to uphold the popular and balanced Roadless Area Conservation Rule on National Forests, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and to issue a temporary moratorium on all commercial road-building and logging in all inventoried roadless areas until the rule can be fully implemented.
We value the age-old tradition of passing on our hunting and angling heritage to our children and families. Instilling the ethic of providing sustenance through a portion of the food that nourishes and sustains our families is both meaningful and healthy but depends upon healthy habitat. Let’s keep it that way.
Gary Bee is a member of the Sky Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Joe LaTourrette is West Coast policy consultant for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.