Posted by Michael Lanthier
July 14, 2009, Seattle Times Guest Op-Ed, by Jim Whittaker, Make roadless forest area rule permanent:
Growing up in Seattle, with Mount Rainier, the Olympics and the Cascades beckoning, I developed a passion for the natural world and climbing. Whether in the damp, clean air of an ancient forest or on a snowy summit, the beauty and richness of the wild places within Washington are an inspiration and comfort to millions of Washington residents a year.
In order to preserve and protect much of our remaining natural heritage, the federal Roadless Area Conservation Rule was created in 2001, setting aside nearly 60 million acres of our national forests from destructive road building, which can do even more damage than clear-cutting.
The 2 million acres of roadless forests here in Washington state are a critical part of the quality of life we have come to expect. Roadless forests provide much of our clean water and safe drinking water, besides protecting fish and wildlife.
Along the east side of the Olympic National Forest, near Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and my now hometown of Port Townsend, roadless forests make available the chance for adventure by hiking, camping, kayaking, bicycling, climbing, hunting and fishing, backcountry skiing, wildlife viewing and much more. You can traverse through old-growth forests and climb Mount Washington for spectacular views of Seattle and the Cascade Peaks. You can mountain bike through the Dungeness River Valley or hike one of the many trails — from trekking along the ledges of Dirt Face Ridge to taking kid-friendly trips to Murhut Falls or Lena Lake.
"No Child Left Inside!" should be the rallying cry we live by. Here in Port Townsend, we are lucky to have the Northwest Maritime Center, which gets kids out on the water. But children in the entire state are afforded year-round opportunities in roadless areas for outdoor adventure and discovery.
Washington's wild forests are also a significant resource to our local economy. They inspire homegrown companies like REI, Eddie Bauer and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear. Active outdoor recreation supports more than 100,000 jobs in Washington and contributes more than $11 billion dollars to our state's economy.
Severely undercut by the Bush administration's concentrated efforts to weaken this popular rule, our roadless forests are in danger. As a U.S. senator and as a candidate for the White House, President Obama was up-front about his support for the Roadless Rule. The recent one-year moratorium on road building by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a welcome reprieve, but now we need further action.
As our towns and cities continue to grow, it is more critical than ever to have safeguards in place in order to maintain our wildlife habitats. And for humans, they offer the opportunity for adventure, as well as for peace and solitude.
The president must act now to ensure the long-term protection of the public's roadless forestlands by reinstating the Roadless Rule. Our congressional leaders must join Sen. Maria Cantwell, Congressman Jay Inslee and others in their efforts to enact legislation to protect these valuable wild places. Preserving roadless forests ensures the passing of a natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.
Jim Whittaker was the first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963 and was the first full-time employee of REI, becoming the CEO from 1971-1979. Author of "A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond," he resides in Port Townsend.
Click here to learn more about Washington's roadless areas and the value of roadless forest.