Is A High Uintas Wilderness Monitoring Plan Still A Dream?
Over the last couple of months we have had some very meaningful and productive discussions with the Forest Service dealing with implementation and monitoring of the High Uintas Wilderness Management Plan (for detailed background see HUPC Review, 1/97, 5/97, 8/97, 10/97; LYNX, 6/98, 4/99 and 10/99).
As you know we were very discouraged with the 1997 High Uintas Wilderness Management Plan and the appeal decision. Many of the problems now facing the Uintas are directly tiered to both of those inadequate decisions. Thus we noted and vigorously argued during the formal procedures associated with both efforts and numerous times since both decisions that a meaningful implementation and monitoring process was essential to maintain a minimum of quality dealing with management of the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW).
It has taken an incredulously long period of time to get this effort started! We are now sixteen years beyond the passage of the Utah Wilderness Act and still have not implemented the management plan, signed almost four years ago! A significant number of concerns await response.
The High Uintas is one large wilderness surrounded by an expanse of roadless and wild land, over half again as large as the HUW. This wilderness is "managed" by two forests and three districts-- the obvious planning, budgeting, on-the-ground-management coordination and uniform priority setting must be a given. While we are assured that is occurring and improving, it is not always clear. Those of us who care about High Uintas Wilderness management ought to be able to talk to any of the appropriate managers and see the same direction.
Monitoring and implementing the wilderness management plan is the ultimate value of the plan. But in our recent discussions we have discovered a seemingly significant disconnect in the monitoring plan. Somehow the monitoring standards and guidelines in the April 1997 Record of Decision (ROD) were seemingly condensed into a table at the end of the ROD with considerably fewer standards, guidelines and indicators. We have been told that this table will consist of the standards, guidelines and indicators to be monitored, not the complete set of standards and guidelines in the ROD. While we are fully aware of the need for monitoring to be consistent with budget and common sense, the simple matter of fact is the standards and guidelines in the ROD must be monitored. If not, the ROD and EIS must be amended and not casually set aside. Th e NEPA process can t have an intended public consideration only later to alter the intent outside of the formal public disclosure process even if the reasons seem clear and good to managers.
We are also very concerned with an even deeper issue dealing with monitoring and implementation of the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) process envisioned in the High Uintas Wilderness Management Plan. The concern is obvious-- will on-the-ground conditions trigger management changes once the monitoring and implementation plan is finalized or will those on-the-ground conditions, even if they exceed standards and guidelines, be used as a baseline and then monitored for the determined number of years (5-10, for example) before the plan decisions are implemented? The latter would allow deteriorating conditions to overshadow and paralyze the process for a distinctly long period of time.
Broader ecological issues are still largely being ignored by both forests and the Intermountain Regional office. A recent Journal of Wilderness article highlighted a number of crucial wildlife and ecological based issues surrounding wilderness management. Ironically nonnative trout stocking and mountain goat introductions were identified by High Uintas Wilderness managers as significant issues. It is noteworthy the Forest Service, nonetheless, has turned away from those issues in this High Uintas Wilderness Management Plan as noted in a September 1997 article I wrote for the Journal of Wilderness dealing with Forest Service wilderness and wildlife policy. (For additional information, see HUPC Reviews 1/97, 5/97, 8/97, and 10/97.)
This plan has failed to deal with the most significant wilderness issues and is already outdated. Unbelievably, it is time to start over and do it right.