Bob McConnell: Balance resources
May 28, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The roadless plan for management of federal lands in Northwest Colorado now under consideration is not about protecting resources. It is about denying the opportunity to utilize those resources. To some, this will sound counter-intuitive. Others will recognize it as a clear statement of an agenda that wears the mask of environmental responsibility.
History demonstrates that when we take a long-term view, we can utilize and protect natural resources. A brief recitation of facts with which I hope we can all agree will make my point clear:
■ Colorado is blessed with abundant natural resources, including flora, fauna, water and minerals.
■ During the past 100-plus years, the discovery and use of those resources has generally followed an east to west progression.
■ Increased populations and economic growth have followed that same progression.
■ The use of resources whether through hunting, trapping, harvesting or extraction results in disruption of conditions existing before that use begins. Well known examples include the depletion of beaver, deer and elk populations, along with visual degradation associated with harvesting timber and extraction of coal, oil and minerals.
■ Today, populations of beaver, deer, elk and other previously depleted fauna are thriving.
■ Today, along the Front Range visual degradation and other impacts resulting from previous extraction have been mitigated. A prime example is Marshall Mesa near Boulder. Literature published by the Open Space & Mountain Parks Coalition, http://www.osmp.org, reports, "A century ago, Marshall Mesa was famous as one of the most important coal mining areas in the state. There were 51 official coal mines in Marshall … The last of the mines closed in the 1940s." Today, prairie dogs chirp and meadowlarks sing in more than 3,000 acres of intact grassland. This beautiful open space, minutes from downtown Boulder, is open to hiking, biking and horseback riding. Seventy years ago it was producing millions of tons of coal.
■ Mining coal on Marshall Mesa brought miners, their families and supporting infrastructure including railroads, and later highways to Boulder County. The coal mined there fueled the economic development of the entire Front Range.
■ Today, Boulder is a thriving metropolitan community dedicated to protecting the natural resources that, through utilization led to its economic growth.
■ I moved to Steamboat Springs five years ago. The Forest Service was then reporting that 1 million acres of the conifer forest north of Interstate 70 were dead. That number has grown to 2 million, and now 4 million acres of dead trees. This represents geometric growth, or rather death.
■ Through the greater Rocky Mountain ecosystem, that number is estimated to be 30 million acres of dead trees stretching from Canada to Mexico.
■ While not as dramatic as the Gulf or Exxon Valdez oil spills, the environmental impact of this flora loss will be far more long lasting and profound.
■ Former Rep. John Salazar called this a crisis as early as 2005. Sen. Mark Udall has obtained some funding to mitigate the damage. However, mitigation is limited just as much by access as it is by funding.
We are now faced with choices. We can let this dead wood burn. Once we dry out, it will burn. Recall that during the Yellowstone fire, smoke clouds darkened the sky as far south as New Mexico. What will be the impact of just a 1 million-acre fire? How many homes will be lost and communities will suffer? Another choice is to fast track the removal of this valuable resource while most of the dead trees are still standing. That will create jobs for loggers, truckers, millers, sales people and managers. In the near term, it will require clearing forest roads. Once the dead wood is removed, these roads can be allowed to become trails, providing access for multiple uses, just as thousands of old mining and logging roads throughout Colorado do now.
I stand in favor of responsible utilization of our resources, accepting that in the short term, there will be adverse impacts. I think that those impacts can be mitigated, just as adverse impacts have been mitigated on the Front Range. Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion.