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Demonstration aims to show importance of roadless areas

By GWEN FLORIO
Tribune Capitol Bureau
March 5, 2006

HELENA — About 50 people from around Montana walked nearly seven miles Saturday, starting on country roads and ending up on city streets, to let Gov. Brian Schweitzer know how important it is to them to keep more roads from being built within the state's national forests.

"I do not want to leave our new grandson with a legacy of a Montana indistinguishable from Detroit, Newark or Los Angeles," Kathy Hadley of the Montana Wildlife Federation told the group of blaze-orange-vested and camouflage-jacketed walkers after they arrived at the Capitol.

The group was protesting President George W. Bush's repeal of the Clinton Administration's 2001 ban on roads and development in roadless areas of national forests. Bush gave the states until November to submit requests on how they'd like the government to deal with those areas.

Several groups have joined to form the Montana Hunters and Anglers Roadless Working Group to urge counties, and, in turn, the governor, to ask that Montana's 6.4 million roadless acres be left alone.

Four states — Washington, California, Oregon and New Mexico — have sued to stop the repeal of the roadless rule, and Montana and Maine recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of those lawsuits.

Saturday's 6.7 mile march that started on the edge of the Black Mountain roadless area outside Helena included people from Great Falls, Lewistown, Billings and Anaconda. Walkers ranged in age from 5 to 75.

Jim Posewitz, who heads Orion: The Hunter's Institute, reminded the group that the Helena National Forest will celebrate its 100th anniversary on April 16. And he recalled that when Theodore Roosevelt created the national forests, he said, "Westerners who live in the neighborhood of the forest preserves are the men who in the last resort will determine whether or not these preserves are permanent."

"We are those people," Posewitz said.

Schweitzer, when he addressed the group, also gave credit to Roosevelt, saying those present were committed to his ideals.

"To conserve is not a Democratic value. It's not a Republican value. It's an American value," Schweitzer said. "The days of polarizing wild places are gone. We are the Treasure State and there's no greater treasure than our wild lands."

Schweitzer, who has been collecting input from counties for his November request to the federal government concerning the roadless areas, said he already has a general idea how that request will be worded.

"The question at hand is this: 'We have lands that do not have roads. Do you believe we need more roads? And, if so, where? And who will maintain them?'"

Schweitzer received a standing ovation from the group, along with a gift: An orange hunting cap, shot full of holes, its brim nearly blasted off.

"It was only worn once," said a straight-faced Posewitz, "during my hunt with Dick Cheney" — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that the vice president accidentally gave a hunting companion a face full of birdshot recently.