Montana sportsmen support roadless areas
We live in Montana for a number of good reasons; one huge one is that our state is home to the best hunting and fishing in the United States. That is why many sportsmen and women across Montana are standing up for backcountry roadless lands by strongly opposing The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (House Resolution 1581).
This bill would harm critically important wildlife habitat, adversely effecting hunting and fishing opportunities by removing protections and opening the door for new road construction on 5.5 million acres of backcountry areas in Montana.
The Montana Wildlife Federation strongly opposes the bill, and last September we joined some 25 other Montana-based sportsmen's organizations to send a letter to the Montana Congressional delegation asking them to oppose HR 1581.
Our members have been hunting and fishing in these areas with their families for generations, and we understand that healthy habitat equals healthier and more abundant wildlife along with good hunting and fishing. We support conserving backcountry roadless areas like the lands along the Rocky Mountain Front, the Crazy Mountains, Gravellys and the Belts because these are the places where we hunt and fish, and we want to make sure our kids and grandkids can have the same opportunities to experience that which we have. We don't shy away from taking on legislation that weakens our hunting and fishing heritage.
We are the ones who showed up during the last legislature to combat over 250 bad bills, and we are the hunters and anglers who are standing up against HR 1581 in order to conserve the backcountry lands that we know and cherish.
While some claim more road building in the backcountry is a good idea, here are the facts:
Scientific studies show that hunter success rates are higher in unroaded areas than in roaded areas and that higher road densities cause a reduction in the length and quality of the hunting season, loss of habitat, over harvest and population decline of elk.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has indicated that excessive road building in elk habitat could lead to a shortening of Montana's five-week elk hunting season;
A survey of 600 Montana sportsmen found that 68 percent of Montana anglers and 83 percent of Montana hunters support keeping roadless areas intact in order to conserve habitat and oppose opening them up for road building;
Ninety percent of the lands that would be impacted by HR 1581 are within 2 miles of an existing road. They are an easily accessible buffer between wildernesss areas and the roaded front country, providing good wildlife habitat and great walk-in hunting for the average foot hunter
These backcountry lands provide essential fish and game habitat and unparalleled fishing opportunities for Montana's hunters and anglers. In addition to some of the best big game hunting in the state, these areas contain strongholds for cutthroat trout — our state fish — and provide clean, cold water downstream to blue ribbon trout streams like the Madison and Smith Rivers that are the envy of anglers nationwide.
Moreover, roadless areas are managed for multiple uses. This includes allowing firewood cutting, game carts, OHV riding on designated established trails, timber management to mitigate fire risk, habitat management for wildlife, and even oil and gas development on existing leases. Supporters of HR 1581 want to ignore this fact and want to simply eliminate common sense protections on these lands in favor of development and new forest road construction.
Considering that we already have 32,000 miles of roads on national forest lands in Montana and that the Forest Service faces a maintenance backlog of $558 million, new roads are one thing that sportsmen and tax payers don't need. Let focus on taking care of the roads we already have, not building more that we don't want or can't afford to maintain.
Simply put, backcountry roadless areas are good for hunting, fishing and wildlife. The current management of these lands provides Montanans access to public lands while conserving the vital fish and game habitats they sustain. Let's keep our backcountry like it is. Join us to help protect our priceless roadless land resources and kill bad ideas like HR 1581.
(Tim Aldrich is president of the Montana Wilderness Federation.)