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Lakes Backcountry Management Plan Appeal

A management plan for the Lakes Backcountry, home of the last sighting of bigfoot in Utah, and HUPC s proposed 100,000 acre+ Mt. Watson Wilderness (see LYNX, 2/99, 12/98 and HUPC Newsletter, March/April 97), was completed early this year by the Kamas Ranger District. Although lacking in many ways it was a valuable culmination of years of work.

But some of its problems were too weak or unclear, forcing HUPC to file an administrative appeal with the Forest Service in June.

The draft plan prohibited recreational use of chainsaws in the undeveloped backcountry area. The final decision, quite surprisingly, harbored a standard allowing chainsaws in the backcountry collect firewood for hunting camps... 14 days prior to and during the fall deer and elk hunting seasons.

This was a new standard that did not appear in either the scoping documents or the predecisional EA. In addition, allowing chain saws for the cutting of firewood for hunting camps is against almost every standard and goal in the plan. The use of chain saws violates the desired future conditions of quiet and self-reliance. Of utmost concern, the use of chain saws for several weeks within the formally designated Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized area is particularly egregious. In essence, chain saws could be used for several weeks at Cuberant Lakes, Island Lake, Pot Lake, Three Divide Lakes, Clyde Lake and Hidden Lake. All of these areas are in sensitive, high elevation settings with limited forested vegetation. The EA simply did not address the impacts of this decision on backcountry users and their expectations, particularly within the roadless, backcountry and associated formally designated Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized area. The Lakes Backcountry would be that much less of a backcountry area.

The plan also authorized a number of non profit/educational outfitter and guide partnerships based on a set of needs criteria dealing with Nordic skiing, yurts, mt. biking and educational leave no trace horse packing. A number of outfitting proposal were rejected including rock climbing and horse packing. While we had problems with the criteria and whether there are any needs for these activities, our broader concerns lie in the location of these proposals. Thus we asked the Forest Service to constrain the proposals to the roaded or otherwise developed portions of the district.

The final appeal point represents the most sensitive issue. The draft plan did not allow mountain bikes on any of the backcountry non-motorized trails to avoid significant user conflicts and potential resource damage. The final decision opened all of the backcountry trails to mountain bike use with the exception of the Middle and Main Fork of the Weber, the North Fork of the Provo, the Lofty Lake Loop and the Cuberant Lake Trail.

Again, this was a new standard that did not appear in either of the scoping documents or the predecisional EA. It has not been evaluated and subject to public comment.

Under the draft proposal EA hundreds of miles of primitive roads and some motorized trails would be open to mountain bikes. This new standard adopted without public review in the final decision opened the Crystal Lake Trailhead, the district's heaviest used, non-motorized, hiking, backpacking and horseback trailhead, to mountain biking, certainly enhancing direct and indirect social conflicts with the predominant non-mechanized users. Under this decision the Notch Mt. Trail would be opened to mountain biking, despite the steep switchbacks leading to Lovenia and Ibantik Lakes, both of which are high elevation, subalpine lakes basins. The incredibly steep, switchback and rocky trail to Cliff, Watson, Linear and Petit Lakes would now be open to mountain biking. These lakes are high elevation, sensitive lakes in subalpine basins where backpackers, hikers and horseback riders seek the solitude and rugged primitive recreation that is inherent in these places. Other trails receiving predominant hiking and backpacking recreational use would now be open to mountain biking include Smith Morehouse and the Bald Mt.Trailhead, including the trail up Bald Mt.! The plan does not fully analyze the conflicts between mountain bikers and hikers.

Mountain bikes with 18 gears and aluminum alloy frames are not semi-primitive by any stretch of the imagination. Common sense must dictate. Mountain bikes are pitched as the epitome of high tech transportation. They fit like the proverbial square peg of high tech in the round hole of roadless, natural, semi-primitive backcountry!

On the other hand, mountain bikes (and many of us are mountain bikers) do belong in the forest setting on the hundreds of miles of roads, ways and motorized trails, including the Mirror Lake Scenic Trail which parallels the Mirror Lake Highway.

The District Ranger concurred with HUPC on the concerns over chainsaws and making sure outfitting and guiding occurs on the developed portions of the district (Norway Flats, Paulsin Basin, etc.) With respect to mt. biking the District Ranger agreed to withdraw her decision and proposed a discussion between non-motorized-mechan-ized groups and the non-mechanized interests to determine to try and negotiate a user-trails decision contingent upon HUPC withdrawing our appeal.

And we did withdraw. We applaud the District Ranger's decisions and support her efforts to seek conversation concerning trail use in the Lakes Backcountry. This is a large, roadless, undeveloped, 122,000 acre region of the Kamas Ranger District.

The options for sensitive, ecologically- based management are numerous.

Dick Carter

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