Are...Can the Uintas Be Wild? Keeping the Uintas Wild
"Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late." Bob Dylan
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Forest Service are still at it-- stocking non-native hatchery reared fisheries in High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) lakes without the requisite formal agreement required by the Forest Service, let alone a wilderness- wide analysis or review of the impacts to native fisheries, other aquatic life, or the whole context of wilderness!
The same with mountain goats, which are as foreign to Utah as camels! Proposals fly up and down about more transplants of mountain goats in or near the HUW or now on or near the Mt. Nebo Wilderness. The near comes into play as nothing but a ruse to get around the legal prohibition of placing a clearly non-indigenous species like mountain goats into designated wilderness. The intent is clear: get goats up into wildernesses with UDWR thumbing its nose at the very idea of wilderness and the Forest Service bowing its head to UDWR, closing its collective eyes to its own regulations.
It is not fishing (or hunting) we oppose. Certainly it isn't mountain goats that trouble us-- what more remarkable species, symbolic of wilderness, exists? It is wilderness and what makes wilderness meaningful-- wildness-- we care about. The law is clear. The regulations are clear. The intent and context are clear. Wilderness is a place whereby wild processes are allowed to play, not just a place where we play or we define by our long and powerful reach that changes the nature of lakes, streams and mountains. We so often forget, want to forget, apparently, that it is not simply a road, a saw, an oil well or cow or sheep that changes the very nature and structure of wild places. It is a much deeper and insidious problem and therein lies the concern over the majestic mountain goat or the predacious trout where only salamander, frogs and aquatic insects reside.
Year after year, decade after decade the mistakes are made. Have they made the HUW and dozens and dozens of other wildernesses tame, indeed, benign? Does wildness really exist? Or have we simply turned wilderness into open space, exquisite open space, important open space, but open space devoid of the big predators and stocked with fish, mountain goats, turkeys, in some places, and artificially large numbers of elk and deer, mostly young, to facilitate recreational hunting, not to mention the better known and ubiquitous cow and sheep?
To this extent we are presenting (see Maintaining Wildlife Naturalness in Wilderness) the article I wrote for the International Journal of Wilderness (1997), "Maintaining Wildlife Naturalness in Wilderness." We also refer you to HUPC Newsletters May/June 1997, "Mountain Goats and the High Uintas Wilderness: An Exotic Presence," and August 1997, "A Wild Fisheries?" as well as the October 1999 LYNX, "The Wilderness Act: Thirty-five Years Strong." We hope you will engage these issues and concerns-- they have often been ignored in the rhetoric of conservationists as we've strived to protect wilderness and roadless landscapes from roads and bulldozers. The whole ecological equation must be met at some point or the wildness we so desperately seek to preserve will disappear. This is not a new thought. The founders of the modern wilderness movement-- Bob Marshall, Aldo Leopold, Sigurd Olson, Howard Zahniser-- all recognized this dilemma. If wilderness is seen only as a recreational counterpart to the utilitarian human agenda then maybe our voice is a bit wilted. But if our concerns transcend a human solipsism, then this voice is a desperate, sometimes ragged, necessity.
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE?
Ecologists, conservation biologists and many conservationists have come to realize that wild systems and native species are threatened as much by exotics (non-indigenous species) as any other anthropogenic activity. Whether plant or animal, big or small, exotics pose serious problems to wild systems. It is not something we can continue to pass over.
But looking at our National Wilderness Preservation System one sees non-native fisheries are the norm, not the exception, and here in Utah, mountain goats, and elsewhere other species, threaten the integrity of these wild places. Drainage after drainage is now filled with fisheries that simply don't belong. To remove them may be impossible. It may require huge, intensive investments and risky management actions such as the use of the toxicant rotenone, a true anathema to the very idea of wilderness. Is it possible to inject more human energy/management into a wild system to restore missing wildness?
What about mountain goats?
There are likely hundreds of goats between Marsh Peak and Mt. Watson. We know they pose a threat to this and other mountainous systems where they did not partake of the long evolutionary dance-- we just don't know when. Should they be removed and how? Olympic National Park has struggled with this very problem and removal by live trapping has proven to be a near impossibility requiring helicopters and intensive human input-- again, an anathema to wilderness.
Should they be subject to outfitting and guiding and recreational hunting-- more impacts to wilderness-- or ignored or removed by government sharpshooters? The discussion about monitoring goat populations in the enclosed IJW article has not been properly conducted-- no surprise there! It is time for the recreation managers of UDWR (for that is how they are behaving) and the USFS to apply the science/biology/ecology-based decision making they both rave about but rarely do.
The ultimate irony is that we are even discussing the possibility of more mountain goat introductions given a clear and firm 1999 statement opposing any more introductions in wilderness by the Forest Service's Intermountain Region Director of Bio-Physical Resources.
Are the High Uintas and dozens of other western wildernesses already tame, defined by humans? We know a few things--non-native fish stocking and wildlife introductions must cease now. That is the only right thing to do. It matters to care about wilderness and this is one way. For UDWR and USFS to thumb their noses at wilderness is legally, morally and ecologically WRONG.
We know it is important to bring back the natives-- bighorn sheep-- and welcome wolves, wolverine, lynx and, someday, in our wildest dreams, grizz.
We know UDWR, the Forest Service, the High Uintas Preservation Council and others have the capability to use our deepest passion for wildlife and wild places to meet and begin the preparation of a long term plan for fisheries refugia dedicated to native fisheries, to prepare and plan for a return of the natives. These things HUPC has engaged and pursued. It is now time for land and wildlife managers to join with us to set in motion the restoration and maintenance of wilderness.