POTENTIAL WILDERNESS, ASHLEY-STYLE
Earlier this summer the Ashley National Forest released its “Evaluation of Undeveloped Areas for Potential Wilderness Draft Information Packet” (see HUPC Email Alert 7/06) as part of the forest plan revision (see, for example, HUPC LYNX 6/06.)
The Ashley should be commended for a good roadless inventory (roadless areas are now referred to as undeveloped areas by the Forest Service; they just hate the word roadless) which includes 37 areas/678,000 acres--523,000 acres on the Uintas (313,000 acres adjacent and contiguous to the 460,000 acre High Uintas Wilderness) and 155,000 acres on the South Unit (between Duchesne and Price.) At this preliminary stage, the forest has proposed that only FIVE areas have values high enough to be considered for wilderness evaluation and recommendation:
We were appalled that only the five areas were given high wilderness capability ratings and harbored all of the data to help determine how that rating was made. While bragging about "…the spirit of maintaining a transparent and open process,” the process used by the Ashley not only precluded all but five areas, but prohibited a full review of the information determining that recommendation.
It makes no sense!
The Bad, Ugly and Disingenuous
The Ashley has broken the single most important rule in analyzing roadless areas for potential wilderness—it has taken a single, massive, diverse roadless area and fragmented it into tiny, arbitrary, separate units that automatically diminish and bias wilderness/ wild values. This practice was abandoned in 1972 and shows just how far back the Ashley has reached to bias wilderness character! Five roadless areas are indisputably one, all with contiguous boundaries to one another and the High Uintas Wilderness:
To give credit where it is due, the areas defined in this evaluation as having high capability are certainly meritorious. In most cases, they followed the context of the logic we have suggested for decades—adding large roadless areas to existing designated wilderness should be an absolute priority and will, without dispute, enhance the extant wilderness system from every perspective, ecological to recreational.
Nonetheless, we were shocked to see a single roadless area fragmented into numerous units that do not reflect the extent, the size and the ecological diversity of the roadless landscape. Size and ecological diversity are clear indicators of uniqueness--capability--and it has been recognized, again without dispute, that the more diverse and large a roadless area is, the more value it has, particularly within the context of ecosystem management.
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 HUW is the 24th largest designated wilderness of the 680 Wilderness Areas, excluding the 48 Alaskan Wilderness Areas.)
There are a host of other notable problems with the analysis: suggestions that almost every stream is a dam site; that protection of wilderness would hurt ORV use with nary a word that ORV use destroys wildness; and that “sights and sounds” outside a roadless area diminish its wilderness value, a concept dropped some three decades ago as well! There were still other problems— all attempts to minimize areas that could be considered capable for wilderness. To see our full comment, check out our web page at WWW.HUPC.ORG or call us and we’ll send you a copy.