A Call For Roadless Areas

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I may be a registered Republican, and the governor of the great state of Arizona may be a Democrat, but there are some places we share the same philosophy.

Gov. Janet Napolitano has asked the Arizona Game and Fish Department to hold public meetings over the next 30 days regarding the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which outlines protections for the remaining roadless areas of our national forests.

A meeting will be held in Payson on July 12 at 6 p.m. at the Payson Inn Conference Room, 801 N. Beeline Hwy. The Department has worked with the Governor's office over the past year providing an in-depth listing of all roadless areas in the National Forests and inventorying them for their roadless quality and characteristics. The purpose of this roadless policy is really quite simple: To maintain the parts of our national forests that are roadless and keep them that way so that many Arizonans can enjoy them as we have.

As a hunter, hiker and conservationist, each year I see the encroachment of civilization on all the places that we love to hunt, hike, and fish. Roadless habitat is vital: The wildlife we cherish needs places without roads to breed, raise their young, and find forage. Over the past 20 years of roaming Arizona's wild places, I know that the further one moves from a road, the more viable and healthy the wildlife becomes. As a conservationist, I want future generations to be able to enjoy some of the things that we hold dear today. Whether it is a bull elk bugling, or a flight of ducks over a pond in the fall, the future of wildlife hangs in a very delicate balance. The Roadless Rule simply helps preserve crucial wildlife habitat in key areas of our National Forest system.

Under the direction of Gov. Napolitano, and with the full cooperation of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, there has been a concerted effort to gather comments and spread the facts about roadless areas at the open house meetings, which anyone can attend.

The beauty of this program is that it allows us to speak up for the places we love, regardless of our party politics. So far, the U.S. Forest System has received more feedback on roadless forest protection than any other topic in their 100-year history. Millions of comments have already been sent in to Washington, D.C. The sportsmen and women of the United States have backed the plan at an 80 percent approval rate. That, my friends, is what I call a mandate. It's our turn now in Arizona to speak up.

Some of the questions that I initially had when I heard about this process revolved around conservation work projects, fire control, and what I termed "common sense" use of the land. My questions were answered, and I know that yours will be as well. The current road system in Arizona's forests offers more than enough access into hunting and fishing areas already. I understand the need for all people to be able to recreate, but I also understand that wildlife is at risk if we create "wildcat" trails in every square mile of our national forests. Existing motorized trails would remain open if the original Roadless Rule is upheld. The future of our wildlife depends on us making smart choices about our forests during this process.

-- John Koleszar is a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and sits on the boards of the Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Wildlife Federation and the Arizona Deer Association.

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