24 October 2006
Dear Mr. Harja:
Please accept these comments from the High Uintas Preservation Council to Governor John Huntsman as our official Roadless Petition comments.
24 October 2006
Governor John Huntsman Utah State Capitol Building SLC, UT 84114
Dear Governor Huntsman:
Please accept these comments on the Synopsis Draft Petition of the State of Utah to the Department of Agriculture Concerning Areas Identified as Roadless or Unroaded.
We are deeply concerned with every element of this process as we expressed to you in our 16 January 2006 letter. We are saddened that Utah continues to pursue a roadless petition, even though the so-called roadless petition adopted by the Bush administration (a deeply flawed process) has been overturned and replaced with the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (RACR). It was far more foundational as it was built upon professional Forest Service analysis and subject to the most extensive formal public involvement review imaginable, including numerous hearings and workshops in Utah. The process engaged by the State of Utah is as close to secretive as one can come!
This roadless petition process now engaged by the State of Utah under your administration is fraught with conflict and confusion. Rather than building state/federal partnerships, it enhances conflict and bewilderment and erases the beauty of this nation’s public lands system by suggesting Utah has the priority role in setting, in this case, national Forest Service roadless policy without management or policy consistency. The relationship between the Forest Service and each state harboring national forests has always been clear--state governments were a major player developing and administering such policies, recognizing always the sturdy eloquence of a consistent set of standards for public land administration from state to state. The process was never intended to end conflict and tension; better decisions have historically resulted from this clear process. The process was simple. The issues were complex.
This petition process rehashes an old context--a sort of Sagebrush Rebellion--where the federal government owns and administers the land base, but the state directs and dictates the management. This clever, but derisive, effort resolves the problem inherent in a literal Sagebrush Rebellion--millions and millions of acres of land here in Utah which have historically never been administered or managed by Utah state agencies would beg for management and simply overwhelm the infrastructure of the state natural resource management agencies.
This roadless petition is deeply cynical and insincere, calling for the overturning of past roadless reviews, suggesting the Utah Wilderness Act represented the only legitimate roadless review, calling for the state to conclude management on Forest Service lands through a singular advisory committee composed only of local and state officials, and implying roadless areas, if they were to be recognized, would be open to any and all management activities inconsistent with maintaining roadlessness. It is not a roadless area petition in any sense. It is not intended to make better resource policy decisions about roadless areas, enhance state and federal partnerships, or make for better government. That is always done through more extensive public participation, not less, and this process allows minimum public participation--only a few weeks, at best, to comment on a synopsis, not even the actual petition--no publicity, no announcements and just an obscure website. It wasn't intended to prepare better information on roadless landscapes. For decades the Forest Service has slowly moved in that direction with the RACR data base hitting its proverbial peak with crystal clear data exposed to extensive public discussion.
It is intended to cloud and confuse the issue, fragment decision making, and dismiss, at an ideological level, roadless area protection. It is inconceivable and beguiling, Governor Huntsman, in this day and age that Utah would pursue such a process and policy to devalue roadless areas so important to Utah residents.
The issues, the people who passionately care about roadless area preservation, and the ecology and science surrounding these issues deserve more.
I have lived here for 56 years. I don’t need to remind you, Governor, I’m sure, that when you drive north to Logan, much of the Wasatch Front to the east and the Bear River Mts. in Cache Valley represent roadless landscapes.
When you drive south, the southern Wasatch, the Canyon Mts, the Pavants, Beehive Peak, the Tushars, much of the central Plateau country such as Fish Creek, upper Muddy Creek, Fish Lake Hightop, Mt. Marvine, Terrill, Hilgard and Thousand Lake Mt. are all roadless. Monroe Mt. and Signal Peak on the Sevier Plateau, Mt. Dutton and Casto Bluff on the Paunsaugunt Plateau, the Boulder Mt Plateau, the LaSals, and the Abajos all represent roadless landscapes.
And while I could write personally about even more roadless landscapes across Utah (all deserve protection for the indisputable ecological values they harbor) and remain proud of the first small step we took in 1984 in getting some of them formally protected under the Utah Wilderness Act, let me again relay just a bit about the High Uintas, encountering them as you head up the Mirror Lake Highway from Kamas.
We should never lose sight of what makes the Uintas a remarkable landscape/ecosystem: the core of the range is protected as wilderness and surrounding that wilderness is a single, uninterrupted, roadless landscape that literally envelopes the Uintas, east to west, North and South Slopes, rolling off and flowing from the extant High Uintas Wilderness.
This is notably enhanced when exceptionally large roadless landscapes emanate from and are adjacent and contiguous to large designated wilderness: the High Uintas Wilderness is the 24th largest designated wilderness of the 680 Wilderness Areas, excluding the 48 Alaskan Wilderness Areas.
Why is this wild country so important? The immense size of the Uintas, its many moods of weather and physical challenge, its profound silence in winter and cacophony of needles, leaves, stones, waterfalls, in winds of autumn, its powerful rains and sun of summer in the high country, its chance encounter with creatures that never leave a mountain range in which they were born. The Uintas are a living system, an irreplaceable fabric of forest life. These are not abstract values;they are special places. That sense of a wild place is fundamental within each drainage and is enhanced as a profound wild character when viewed as a whole place of roadless drainages
It is tempting to think of the roadlessness that surrounds the Uintas as individual roadless areas. Of course, it isn’t. It is a sweeping arc of a single roadless landscape flowing out from the 460,000 acres High Uintas Wilderness. Surrounding, contiguous and adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness are about 103,000 acres of roadless North Slope lands on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and about 314,000 acres on the Ashley National Forest, North and South Slopes--about 877,000 acres of designated Wilderness and roadless lands. Of this we have proposed about 80,000 acres on the Wasatch-Cache North Slope and something like 190,000 acres on the Ashley South and North Slope that should be added to the High Uintas Wilderness--some 730,000 acres of High Uintas we feel should be designated Wilderness.
And, of course, literally across the street (the Mirror lake Highway) from the High Uintas Wilderness is our proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, or Lakes Roadless Area, another 122 ,000 acres, making a remarkably clean, wild, mountainous system of essentially 1,000,000 acres of roadless lands including the extant High Uintas Wilderness. We have recommended about 75,000 acres of the Lakes Roadless Areas as the proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, making for an expanse of undeniably high quality wilderness complex of 805,000 acres. When connected to the Book Cliffs and high Colorado Plateau of the Southern Rockies and the high Wyoming deserts through the Green River to the Wind Rivers, the Wyoming Range, andthe Yellowstone Plateau on the Northern Rockies, the Uintas crown a junction of immense wilderness.
A remarkable opportunity and obligation exists to preserve this place--all of these places-- andto allow its wildness to connect and hold this great power and to refresh our story and hold ourselves together as part and parcel of this wild landscape. It is here we can awaken the ghost of wolf, wolverine and grizz and share the life of great gray owl, cougar and black bear.