While some Western congressmen may be trying to “release” roadless and wilderness areas, sportsmen in their home states cheered last week as the Colorado roadless rule to protect such habitat moved one step closer to completion.

The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership praised the release of the U.S. Forest Service’s final environmental impact statement of that rule in a combined statement that said “while citing the need for final refinements called this version an “on-target plan for managing more than 4 million acres of public lands.” The rule can become law in 30 days.

The timing of that reaction is useful for sportsmen in other states trying to protect the assault on this critical fish and wildlife area in Washington by supporters of the Roadless act. The Wilderness and Roadless Release acts (H.R. 1581 and S.1087) still have strong support in Congress, despite opposition from a coalition of hunting and fishing groups.

Some of the important points the group has made include:

* These protections for federal lands are not forced on the states in which they are located, but are the result of a years-long cooperative process involving the state government. For example, last week’s announcement was made both by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Salazar and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper–after a six-year process.

* The public lands in question are not being locked up for backpackers and granola crunchers, but for hunters and anglers. As TRCP Colorado Field Representative Nick Payne said, “Sportsmen applaud the rule’s stronger safeguards for world-class hunting and fishing destinations in upper-tier lands such as Sugarloaf in the Routt National Forest and Hermosa in the San Juan National Forest.”

* Finally, while the group noted the rule was not, in their opinion, perfect, they could still be involved in crafting changes important to fish, wildlife and sportsmen. Payne said, sportsmen can rest assured that “we will remain involved to address our remaining concerns with the rule, such as language allowing linear construction zones in upper tier lands to develop water projects and existing oil and gas leases that were issued with questionable stipulations.”

Of course, all this rejoicing could be for nothing if opponents of roadless areas have their way in Congress. For more facts on the value of roadless areas, go to