WASHINGTON – As members of the Senate and House of Representatives weigh the future of legislation that would dramatically change the management of some of the nation’s most valuable public lands, more than 200 fish and wildlife scientists and managers, including 12 former directors of state fish and game agencies, are uniting in vocal opposition to the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (H.R. 1581/S. 1087), the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership announced today.
Passage of the bill would “facilitate the fragmentation and degradation of rare high-value intact fish and wildlife habitat and profoundly and permanently diminish backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities” stated the fish and wildlife managers in a letter to members of Congress.
“Decades of scientific research have strongly reinforced the connection between road building and negative impacts on wildlife and fish habitat and populations,” the letter states. “These impacts often spill over to reduce public hunting and fishing opportunities. As professional fish and wildlife managers, it is our responsibility to advocate on behalf of policies that benefit our shared fish and wildlife resource.”
H.R. 1581 would effectively overturn the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a multiple-use management plan for 49 million acres of backcountry national forest lands in 37 states. American sportsmen in particular have urged Congress to reject this legislation, which would open vast expanses of backcountry fish and big-game habitat to industrial development. Wildlife managers signing the letter to House and Senate members similarly stressed the bill’s disastrous implications for fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation.
“The Idaho and 2001 roadless rules represent a multiple-use approach to conserve high value backcountry lands that are important for fish, wildlife and sportsmen,” said Jack Ward Thomas, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service and a wildlife manager with more than 55 years of state and federal fish and wildlife experience. “This legislation would eliminate the Forest Service’s authority to administratively conserve nearly all roadless areas through any means other than individual forest plans, at the level where our most pristine public lands are most vulnerable to industrial interests.
“Building roads is not only bad for fish and wildlife, it is fiscally irresponsible in a time when we can’t afford upkeep on the 380,000 miles of national forest roads we already have,” continued Thomas. “Instead of building new roads, precious taxpayer dollars need to be spent maintaining roads that already are built.”
The core fish and wildlife habitat provided by national forest roadless areas is vital for big-game survival, facilitating robust hunting seasons, and offers key spawning habitat for trout and salmon, expanding angler opportunity. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would open millions of acres of this core habitat to development, with shorter seasons, fewer available tags and less productive fisheries the likely result.
“The roadless rule provides wildlife managers with flexibility to install guzzlers and conduct restoration projects while simultaneously conserving important backcountry lands that provide hiding cover for big game and clean water for wild trout,” said William Molini, former director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “For the benefit of fish, wildlife and our outdoor traditions, Congress needs to reject this radical attempt to undermine responsible public lands management.”
“Backcountry public lands are necessary for wildlife managers to provide a diversity of quality public hunting opportunities, a fact reinforced by many state fish and wildlife agencies,” said Tom Franklin, TRCP senior director of science and policy and former president of The Wildlife Society. “The Wilderness and Roadless Release Act not only threatens unique public land sporting opportunities; the development it enables could reduce hunting and fishing license sale revenues that support state fish and wildlife agencies and America’s $821 billion per year outdoor-recreation-based economy.”
The TRCP and some of its partners signed a national sportsmen’s letter that also was submitted to Congress today opposing the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act.
Read “Backcountry Borderlands,” a TRCP report on the need for coordinated management of national forest roadless areas.
Read “Banking on the Backcountry,” in which 270 businesses and organizations from across the country urge the federal government to support sustainable, roadless-dependent economies.
Learn more about the TRCP’s work in support of roadless area conservation.