Roadless Forests — the Heart of the Hunt
By Ben Long
Come hunting season, what are you hunting for?
Meat? Sure, but you can buy beef at any supermarket.
Antlers? Maybe, but there are easier hat racks.
I hunt for something difficult to express on paper, but I’ll
try: I hunt for a profound feeling of freedom and solitude. I hunt for pure, unfiltered
time with family and friends, as is our tradition. I hunt for a chance to drink from
the pure, cold spring of Nature.
Those are the things I track though the November snows, as
certainly as I track a fat cow elk for the freezer or stalk a gray-muzzled mule deer
buck for the wall. And that’s why I hunt in Montana’s roadless areas.
Roadless areas are where I find all these things. At least
Often, hunters don’t call them by their Forest Service jargon
“roadless areas.” We call them “secret spots” or “hidey holes” or our “favorite
mountains.” We guard them jealously, sharing them only with our closest friends.
There is a mountain on the Kootenai National Forest that I
have climbed, rifle or bow in hand, perhaps 40 times over the past 10 years. About
once a season, it has provided me with an elk or a deer and sometimes both. It’s
fairly loaded with game, including some bruiser bucks and bulls, and is absolutely
devoid of roads. This is no coincidence. Security is a basic function of wildlife
habitat, along with providing food and water. Roadless lands provide the kind of
security big game needs to thrive.
This is no secret among savvy outdoors folks. As the September,
2004, Field & Stream reported: “Roadless areas may harbor twice the number of bull elk
than roaded terrain holds … Roadless areas often boast a population of 30 percent mature
bulls.” (See Where the Wild Things are in this newsletter.)
Truth is, if you only want to hunt whitetail deer, you can
set up a tree stand under a New Jersey freeway exit. But if you want to hunt elk,
mule deer, mountain lion, bear, bighorn sheep and mountain goat, roadless areas
serve you well. If you want to cast for cutthroat or bull trout, your sport benefits
from the clean, cold water provided by roadless areas.
If you want challenge, solitude, freedom, and Nature, then
please stand up for roadless areas.
For decades, the Forest Service was the largest road-building
agency in North America. Miles of quiet forest trails were lost under the blade of a
D-9 Cat. Finally, in the 1990s, the agency said “enough.” It had more roads than
taxpayers could afford to maintain.
“There may be some very rare exceptions, but basically we
have built roads anywhere they made any damn sense,” says former Forest Service
chief Jack Ward Thomas.
This issue should have been settled years ago. But for political
reasons, it’s still alive. President Bush wants governors to decide whether to “opt in”
to protecting roadless forests.
Here’s my message to the Forest Service and western governors:
Hunters like Montana’s backcountry just the way it is. We like our best, most secure
wildlife habitat, just fine. We like our hidey-holes, our secret spots, our favorite
mountains and our cleanest trout streams exactly like they are. Leave them alone.
— © Ben Long —
used by permission of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Ben Long is a journalist, a wildlife activist, the
author of two wildlife-themed books, and the northern Rockies program director for
Resource Media. He also serves as editor and board member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.