Roadless areas benefit us all

JOHN WEBSTER August 15, 2006 In Oregon, we are blessed with a diverse landscape of deserts, temperate rain forests, mountains and a coastline. Many of these areas are publicly owned, providing Oregon's 3.6 million residents with ample access to a stunning natural environment. All of us are incredibly lucky for the outdoor opportunities we have. However, for folks who like to hunt and fish, the question doesn't just land on the quantity of access but also with quality of access. If we want to maintain quality outdoor experiences in this state, we owe it to ourselves to conserve the back-country values of the 1.96 million acres of roadless national forests that are currently up for debate in Oregon. Officially known as "Inventoried Roadless Areas," back-country lands represent national forest areas of 5,000 or more contiguous acres that have never been roaded or developed. These places make up just 12 percent of Oregon's 16.7 million acres of national forests yet hold the state's most important bighorn, elk and deer habitat, plus the most productive salmon, steelhead and trout waters. It has been repeatedly shown that back-country areas provide necessary habitat for big-game animals such as elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep. While access is important, studies show that if you have too many roads, elk vulnerability increases, causing an imbalance in the bull-to-cow ratio and a reduction in mature animals. This increased animal vulnerability almost always results in shortened seasons and fewer available tags. We can't have roads over every ridge and across every mountain if we want to continue to have quality hunting and fishing in Oregon. Critters need places to hide, and existing roadless areas are where they can do this. A case in point: the back country of the Siskiyous in southwest Oregon provides clean, silt-free water and is the only place in the state where people still can harvest wild winter steelhead. Both the Murderers Creek back country near the Strawberry Range and Lord Flat in the Wallowas provide important winter range and migration habitat for some of Oregon's largest deer and elk herds. On Mount Hood alone, elk hunting provides nearly $1 million to the state's economy. As folks continue to move to our state, these and other core areas of habitat will become even more important for Oregon's wildlife. Fortunately, the president has provided a mechanism for governors to protect our back country. Sportsmen can go to http://governor.oregon.gov to support Gov. Kulongoski's petition. Whether you enjoy hunting and angling or just appreciate knowing these places still exist, we all benefit from Oregon's 1.96 million roadless acres. Besides, considering the maintenance backlog on Oregon's 70,000 miles of existing forest service roads is $664 million, it doesn't make much sense to build new roads when we can't afford the ones we have. John Webster of Silverton is a longtime hunter, angler and small-business owner. He is an active member of the Oregon chapter of Back-country Hunters and Anglers. He can be reached at webster_john@hotmail.com.