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Obama Hosts Public Lands Summit; Scientists Want CO Roadless Plan Rejected

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Friday, April 16, 2010   

DENVER - The White House says President Obama's Conference for the Great Outdoors, which takes place today in Washington, is all about protecting our treasured public lands, but a number of scientists and conservationists say recent actions run counter to the vision. Those actions have to do with the last third of undisturbed forests in the country, known as roadless areas.

Last week the administration voiced support for a controversial State of Colorado plan for managing roadless lands. Colorado State University ecology professor Barry Noone was one of more than 500 scientists who signed a letter asking the President to reject the proposal, citing provisions that could allow for some new road-building in Colorado wilderness.

"Many roadless areas are in fragile, steep, forested watersheds that are critical to fish, wildlife and the water we need to conserve."

The letter asks the White House to reject management plans submitted by the State, which are widely seen as less protective of remaining wilderness than the 2001 national roadless rule, which recently came back into force following a long court battle during the Bush Administration.

Jim Furnish, a former deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, says before the 2001 roadless rule, logging forests to meet the lumber needs of the housing boom was often the main management priority. But he says priorities have shifted in the 21st century, and so has the value of roadless forests.

"That's in terms of their values for watershed health, biodiversity, their resiliency and sustainability."

Dr. Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, says the roadless management plan submitted by Colorado would weaken the national rule used in most other states, through its numerous exemptions. He says leaving areas undeveloped has benefits beyond great views and hiking.

"Roadless forests and watersheds purify the water we drink, cleanse the air we breathe, and can be considered a biological oasis for fish and wildlife populations."

The Colorado proposal was submitted March 31 for federal approval. Administration officials have said they will support it, and claim that it is just as protective of roadless areas as the 2001 national rule, but DellaSala says few scientists or conservationists agree with that reading of the plan.





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