The US Forest Service just doesn’t get it.
Alaska’s National Interest Land Conservation Act, more commonly known as ANILCA, is behind the developers of a proposed luxury subdivision to claim a right to several miles of new paved road through public lands north of Edwards.
The law was passed by Congress in 1980 “to preserve for future generations certain lands and waters of the State of Alaska which had values of national significance, including areas important for wildlife, livelihood, wild nature, recreation, scientific, scenic and historical reasons “.
The guidelines of this legislation provided for “adequate” access through public and protected lands to existing mining concessions and to private property on such lands “for reasonable use and enjoyment”. The term “reasonable use” is essential.
If the promoters of Berlaimont bought a property which had been abandoned several times for lack of viability to develop, it is their fault alone. This should be obvious to National Forestry Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who is now ready to allow them to pave our public lands to facilitate the profit of speculators. It really is that simple.
Ignoring, literally, thousands of signatures and hundreds of comments denouncing the negative impacts of this project on the part of individuals; independent wildlife and conservation experts; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and local, regional, state and federal officials, Fitzwilliams blatantly ignored guidance from his own Forest Service superior to address and correct neglected and flawed aspects of the environmental impact assessment.
Alaska’s National Interest Land Conservation Act is first and foremost a driving force behind the conservation and protection of wildlife, as its language states. Contrary to the Forest Service’s mission, agency officials have shown shameless indifference to this goal in order to appease a private promoter’s dreams of wealth. All of this at the expense of wildlife at a time when local wildlife populations are experiencing their greatest decline since we started keeping records. The decline is not due to overhunting, disease or displacement by other species, but to habitat encroachment throughout the year by ever-increasing development.
How do we know this? The Forest Service’s forest plan identified most of the area surrounding the development as “critical winter habitat”. So critical that it requires seasonal closure to protect the many wildlife species that depend on it for their winter range and migration. And now, agency officials will be throwing known wildlife science to the wind to aid in backcountry sprawl.
Worse yet, the move will set a damaging precedent that will open the floodgates for others seeking to leverage this legislation to maximize private gains, likely at the expense of even more critical habitats and wilderness areas in the West. The access provision in the Conservation Act has been established as an “exception” rather than a “rule” and the Forest Service should view this unnecessary and excessive request through this lens. Berlaimont Estates is unreasonable and the improved access is unreasonable.
The final environmental impact study is the last step before the final decision report. This is the last chance for the Forest Service to decide not to take the quick and easy route and to have the courage and commitment in its mission to make the right decision for future generations.
Howard Leavitt lives in Avon with his wife, his hunting and fishing companion, Daisy, and Shaman, a very talkative cat. He has had his own marketing and advertising agency for 25 years.