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The Importance of Wild Voices

Is your wild voice really needed?

To even imagine a mountain defined by the creation of life, not the production of resources requires a living, wild voice, a paean of wild voices.

Consider the importance of your wild voice now and well into the future...

Just a few wilderness management issues

While we've played an active and major role, dating back two decades, in pushing at first a reluctant and now supportive Ashley National Forest (ANF) effort to stabilize High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) Reservoirs, we have only stepped inside the door (see HUPC Review and Lynx, 3/97, 4/98, 4/99, 4/01, 6/01, 8/01, and 12/01.) The decision is made, and it is a good one, led and supported by the Ashley and the Central Utah Water Conservation District (CUWCD), to stabilize the 14 HUW reservoirs on the South Slope Lake Fork and Yellowstone drainages. The on-the-ground process will start once the off-forest and off-stream Big Sand Wash Reservoir is completed so contracted upstream water will be deliverable, maybe two years hence.

But will that stabilization proceed with motorized equipment or will the reservoirs be "decommissioned" in the same way they were built-- by horse, buggy and muscle? Will the ever-present demands by recreational fishery managers, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), insist the reservoirs be "stabilized" at slightly higher than natural lake levels to assure a non-native recreational fishery flourishes? Will or should there by an effort to speed along the recovery of the "bathtub ring" by actively replanting native vegetation?

And we are still faced with how to stabilize the four reservoirs on the Uinta River (HUPC Lynx, 4/01). Notably the Ashley National Forest has initiated the process to prepare an EIS to determine how Fox and Crescent Lakes, the first two, should be managed. Stabilized and decommissioned? Reconstructed? Provide an easement and property right? Motorized access for construction/maintenance on a regular basis? With the help of your wild voices thus far the forest has clearly recognized the implications of how the reservoirs will be "managed" will deal squarely with the future of a wild or tamed HUW!

Speaking of the HUW, it took the Ashley and Wasatch National Forests over a dozen years to prepare a wilderness management plan which was built fundamentally on the principle of monitoring and implementing a series of actions. Half a decade has gone by and the necessary and promised monitoring plan is still not finalized! (See HUPC Review and Lynx, 1/97, 5/97, 8/97, 10/97, 6/98, 4/00, 6/01, 8/01, 12/01.)

Talk about time gone by, government bureaucracy and the taming of wilderness... The Forest Service knows fully well, as does the UDWR, that recreational based, non-native, "put and take" fisheries, so dominant in the HUW (not to mention wildernesses throughout the West), are an anathema to wilderness/wildness (see HUPC Review and Lynx, 1/97, 5/97, 8/97, 6/00, 8/00). There is no dispute that the vast majority of the lakes in the HUW were teeming with life, just not fish of any sort. After a couple of decades of undeniable scientific investigation we know these non-native recreational-based, put and take fisheries have had meaningful impacts on these wild lake ecosystems; we all agree both the Wilderness Act and the principles of wilderness management require that non-native fish stocking must end. The broader question of whether and how the non-native fisheries can be removed and these wild systems truly returned to a wild state needs a serious discussion but can't get off the proverbial pier until fish stocking ends. But on and on and on and on it goes, even though, in the case of the HUW, there isn't a Memorandum of Agreement, which is required, between the Forest Service and UDWR to direct the stocking program. Both the FS and UDWR know this doesn't exist and either linger or are unwilling to do what is required! So much for a commitment to wilderness, which at least the FS asserts, to policy making and a land ethic, which both love to ramble on about!

But it is not just fish stocking. Look at the issue of mt. goats in the HUW and other designated wilderness here in Utah. (See HUPC Review and Lynx, 1/97, 5/97, 8/97, 10/97, 8/00, 12/00, 4/01.) After years of discussion, review, analysis, persuasion, and research, we have arrived at a most interesting place-- a conflict without a dispute. Forest Service wilderness managers agree with the undisputed scientific evidence that mt. goats should never have been transplanted into the HUW--they are not native wildlife. They belong in the Uintas the way an armadillo does! While the mt. goat is a vital and vigorous symbol of wildness, the only way they have been able to call Utah wilderness home is a one way ticket in a helicopter or the back of a horse trailer, reluctantly lured, trapped and transported by pilots and guys with drivers licenses!

UDWR does the trapping, luring and piloting and even they know mt. goats don't belong in wilderness-- the regulations expressly prohibit it--so they often drop them off in unsuitable habitat nearby so they move into the wilderness or right on the edge of the wilderness. Either way the intent is clear and stated directly!

The Forest Service knows this is wrong, has said so in writing, and then turned its collective head. And that is wrong - a conflict without a dispute.

We fully understand these are difficult issues because of the need to interact and get along with state wildlife agencies. We fully understand it takes time to assimilate new information and move it through a government agency. It takes time to act. It takes time to get centered. We know that. Yet decade after decade has passed. While UDWR is wrong, and they know that, they argue it isn't important, habitat exists for goats or non-native fisheries and the important thing is to alter the wild ecosystem so that humans further define the system, not mother nature. But it is the good folk in the Forest Service that are doing the wrong bidding here and that is deeply frustrating because the agency and so many of its dedicated folk know where they should be on this issue. On our behalf and in our trust they mange these wildernesses and they are skirting issues of consequence!

Just a few timber harvesting issues

Within the next few months both forests will once again embark upon series of timber sales. (See HUPC Review and Lynx, 1/97, 3/97, 5/97, 8/97, 10/97, 4/98, 6/98, 8/98, 4/99, 10/99, 4/00, 8/00, 10/00, 6/01, 8/01, 12/01). The Ashley pursues the proposed West Trout Slope timber sale. Long proposed, long fought, it has the potential to set in motion the same destructive timber program that defined the Ashley for so many years or, indeed, move the timber program into a broader realm of ecosystem management by focusing not on outputs but on identifying and protecting wildlife corridors, closing roads, staying out of unharvested and roadless areas, protecting old growth, assuring soil integrity, and using prescribed fire or uneven aged harvesting treatments. The goal should not be board feet or a future timber program but to rehabilitate a forest system to heavily harvested and roaded in the past and to assure it resembles an appropriate historical condition deep into the future! Toward summers end we should see the initial analysis.

The Wasatch has its own long proposed timber proposal. The West Fork Bear River region is now undergoing the initial scoping proposal, with a draft EIS proposed for later in the year. This is an incredibly diverse area of pine, aspen, spruce and fir intermixed with huge sage slopes and wet and dry meadows. Like most forest systems in the West it has been abused, in part by roading and timbering, in part by grazing, and in part by a pitched and zealous battle against the primary agent that defined this forest-- fire. Old Smoky, a Forest Service invention (we are pretty sure wild bears thoroughly understand the nature of wildfire within their wild homes), adequate and detailed information to the contrary (some folks, even in the Forest Service, still suggest the fire ecology information that is so widespread is "new" information--it isn't) and now the agency suggests large timber harvesting projects are needed to rectify the problem of forests without fire. What most data suggests, however, is fire is needed to rectify this problem and, in fact, notes additional timber harvesting, road building and increasing dependence of the forest system on human intervention only exacerbates the problems already extant. Let us watch the Forest Service and let your wild voice be heard so the West Fork Bear River can be defined by insects, wind, fire, the wonderful evolutionary march of time, the creation of life and not by saws, culverts, roads and tractors.

Just a few forest planning issues

The Wasatch forest plan (see HUPC Lynx, 6/01, 8/01, 10/01, 12/01) is now being finalized and should be out later in the year. It will either change the past direction and move us into a new paradigm, the creation of life, not the "production of resources" or root us in the past. While it is a complex process, the choice is clear. The issues at stake are wilderness recommendations--the plan proposes tiny wilderness recommendations on the Lakes Roadless Area and the North Slope of the Uintas, protection of roadless areas, timber harvesting potential, wild and scenic river recommendations, oil and gas leasing, and snowmobile use, to note just a few.

The Ashley National Forest plan revision was supposed to move along side by side with the Wasatch but in the never ending jigsaw puzzle that is forest planning and internal decision making the plan has been delayed until a start date of 2004 and a completion date of 2008. The forest has assured us the puzzle piece will fit better than this proposal--let us hope so because the Ashley's extant plan is so bad that it can't truly guide the forest for another day, let along half a decade!

One of many grazing issues

Something like 12,000+ sheep still graze the Uintas--about half the mountain is grazing-free-- with one of the most important allotment decisions, the West Fork Blacks Fork, Evanston Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, now undergoing a new analysis process (see HUPC Lynx 4/00, 8/00, 2/02). A great deal of suspicion abounds here-it took many years to get an Environmental Assessment prepared and opened to public review. A couple of years went by while it was undergoing the public comment analysis and the Forest Service then decided to scrap that effort and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, something proposed by HUPC and other conservationists from the outset. But even more disturbingly, while we were set to find a strong disagreement with the decision coming out in the EA, the direction was hopeful with the Wasatch National Forest conceding grazing standards had been exceeded and meaningful action necessary. They now tell us one of the reasons for the new EIS process is that it is likely the impacts are not so great, the alpine country in the Uintas is more resilient toward domestic grazing than originally thought, and, while not all is good, it is better! This is a new twist and hardly likely.

Our favorite topic-- the end of silence, snowmobiles

The forest plan proposes the vast majority of the roadless areas on the North Slope and the Lakes Roadless Area be open to snowmobile use and, in fact, recommended a paltry 25,000 acre Lakes Roadless Area (120,000 acres) wilderness largely due to the snowmobile diatribe. Much the same holds for the North Slope of the Uintas adjacent to the HUW (see HUPC Lynx, 4/00, 8/00, 12/00, 6/01, 12/01, 2/02). If those key areas are left open to snowmobiles, the equivalent of a road, in a very real sense, the potential for meaningful and permanent protection of those wild values is lost. There is no shortage of areas available for snowmobilers--even they admit few snowmobilers use the backcountry/roadless areas in question. It won't remain that way, of course, if the Forest Service bows to some very unyielding screaming from some in the snowmobile community.

Another day of oil and a few days of natural gas, if that...

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 2000 (PL 106-469) required public land agencies to initiate and pull together extant data dealing with energy potential, inventories and "hindrances," roadless areas, for example, to develop those energy resources. This combined with the so-called comprehensive energy legislation (HR 4, S 517) that are winding their way through Congress, clearly will increase the pressure to explore for ever more meaningless and marginal oil and gas resources. The North Slope roadless areas adjacent to the HUW are just such a place even though all of the available data notes that potential for discovering any oil and gas within this road less country is low. (See HUPC Review and Lynx, 2/98, 10/99, 6/01, 8/01, 10/01, 12/01). The roaded country, all of it leased, is where the potential exists and not because of leases but because of the geological formations. If the Wasatch proceeds to allow leasing on the roadless country, it will have determined for the long term the fate of this country... and it will not be wild.

Just this small peek forward should remind us of the importance of our wild voices. Contact HUPC or the Forest Service to get on their mailing list if you want to participate in these crucial discussions.

Dick Carter

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