Johnny Spillane: Leave the backcountry alone | SteamboatToday.com

Johnny Spillane: Leave the backcountry alone

As a sportsman in northern Colorado, I have come to appreciate the intrinsic connection between the untracked backcountry of the Routt National Forest and my opportunities to hunt and fish in a place where the footprint of civilization can quickly become a memory with just a little effort and a stretch of the legs.

The Routt National Forest is a magical place that offers untold opportunity to people like me, and to just about anyone who can appreciate a landscape that looks just like it should. As a hunter and an angler, I see that the forest is a treasure trove of backcountry roadless land that opens its bounty to me every time I set foot off the pavement and into its wild heart.

I would argue, too, that the forest is an integral part of the economic lifeblood of this region, especially during summer, when tourists come from all across America to visit our mountains, to cast flies to rising trout in our wild waters and experience some of the best backcountry recreation our nation has to offer. When it comes to the management of the Routt National Forest, I can't help but think, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But the U.S. Forest Service has other ideas.

The Routt National Forest is a 1.1 million-acre forest that belongs to all Americans, but those of us who live here have a special connection with this vast forest. Perhaps, above all else, we value the forest's 433,000 roadless acres — the best of the best of Colorado. In its new rule governing the management of Colorado's national forest roadless lands, the Forest Service claims that only 24,600 acres of the Routt National Forest's roadless backcountry should be managed as "upper tier." In other words, this little sliver of backcountry habitat is the only portion of the Routt's roadless land that should be kept just like it is.

The rest of the Routt's roadless areas? These priceless lands could be subject to eventual development — everything from oil and gas drilling to power line construction to coal mining. I'm left to wonder how the Forest Service arrived at such a modest figure. I'm also worried about the future of our sporting heritage on public lands if the Forest Service can't see the value in our intact backcountry landscapes.

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These wild lands nurture our big-game herds and protect our wild and native trout. As such, they quite obviously offer some of the best hunting and fishing in the West. What's more, they'll continue to do just that if we work to keep this habitat intact — our children and our grandchildren will be the beneficiaries of our wisdom.

But first, we must convince the Forest Service that our national forest's backcountry heart is best left alone. We must convince the Forest Service that our long-term, above-ground resources — our fish, game and intact wildlife habitat — have the best potential as a renewable, dependable economic resource if they are kept intact. Like I said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I urge you to contact the Forest Service by sending an email to coroadlesscoments@fs.org, and let them know that we expect more from the agency managing the best of what's left of a wild Colorado. Tell them to scrap their "preferred alternative" that would lead to the bisection of our big game habitat, and put our wild and native trout streams in peril. Tell them to support the conservation alternative, which would manage about 350,000 acres of the Routt National Forest as "upper-tier" roadless lands.

Your kids and grandkids will thank you for it.

Johnny Spillane is a Steamboat Springs resident, a silver-medal winning Olympian on the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and a fly-fishing guide.

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