Backbone Media and other Colorado businesses ask Rep. Tipton to reconsider anti-wilderness bill

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenDecember 16, 2011
Over 30 Colorado business leaders are asking U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to reconsider his support of the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act saying it poses “a serious threat” to their bottom line.
Backbone Media is petitioning Rep. Tipton to rethink his support of an anti-wilderness bill.

Executives from Carbondale-based Backbone Media, Wallaroo Hat Company, Sierra Designs, Patagonia, Osprey, Kelty, Jax Mercantile, Brandwise and other suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and associations in the outdoor recreation business recently wrote Tipton, R-Colo., to say they are “extremely disappointed” he is co-sponsoring the bill.

“Our industry depends on the conservation of our public lands to provide places for our customers to use the products that we make and sell,” their letter states. “H.R. 1581 represents a serious threat to the outdoor recreation industry and the thousands of jobs and local communities we help support. It would also severely undermine the opportunities Americans have to enjoy their federal public lands.”

The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, aka H.R. 1581, would undo the work put into the Colorado Roadless Rule and open up vast expanses of the American West to drilling, mining and roadbuilding. Its opponents have called it “the biggest attack on wilderness” in modern history.

Rep. Scott Tipton

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., introduced the bill in April. Dozens of Republican congressmen, including Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman in Colorado, are co-sponsoring it. H.R. 1581, which has been referred to committee for discussion, calls for the release of Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas that are deemed unsuitable for wilderness designation from continued management “as de facto wilderness areas” and the removal of federal and state land-use protections for inventoried U.S. Forest Service roadless areas not recommended for wilderness designation.

“Forest Service roadless areas and BLM Wilderness Study Areas are an essential economic asset for our industry, and their preservation is widely supported by the American public,” the businesses' letter continues. “These lands are important to a wide range of outdoor customers: from hunters and anglers to backpackers, paddlers, and mountain bikers. Outdoor recreation and tourism is a growth industry across the West and will be for decades to come as both the U.S. population and international tourism continue to grow.”

Tipton supports the bill, his spokesman said, because “the lands would be managed by the land management plans for the areas, and local officials would be able to work with local communities to determine the best land management options for these areas moving forward.” The release of the lands, he added, would not immediately open them up to roads or drilling projects.

But building roads in forest lands is exactly what Tipton is advocating for in the Colorado Roadless Rule, which H.R. 1581 would invalidate along with the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. In an email in August, the congressman from Cortez — who represents Aspen and most of the Western Slope — wrote that the Colorado Roadless Rule provides more environmental protections than he believes are needed.

“While the rule, in large part, addresses the need for access and use in lower tier areas which was absent in the 2001 rule, the implementation of ‘upper tier’ areas could have serious consequences for our ability to maintain healthy and secure ecosystems and to provide fire mitigation to ensure safety and to prevent the loss of life,” he wrote in the email. “By prohibiting the construction of new roads in upper tier areas, even in the case of emergencies, management agencies will be hamstrung from providing much needed access to manage these lands in a safe and responsible manner.”

Conservation and sportsmen groups — including Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers — have criticized Tipton over his support of H.R. 1581 and over other environmental issues.

Economists, meanwhile, are calling on Congress to protect more public lands, not fewer.

And now Tipton is getting push-back from his home state's outdoor recreation industry, which contributes $10 billion annually to Colorado's economy and supports 106,000 jobs in the state.

“The argument that H.R. 1581 is needed to promote multiple use management on our public lands does not hold up, as wilderness itself is part of the multiple-use matrix,” their letter states. “Far more acres of federal public land are already open to resource extraction and motorized recreation than are preserved for their wilderness qualities. Nonetheless, the legislation would create a more uneven playing field by wiping out interim protections for lands with any wilderness potential.”

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