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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 Proposal

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:

  • Roadshed- 37,805 a. This is the “elephant’s trunk” extending from Leidy Peak on the west some 15 miles eastward including Eagle Creek, Elk, Lake and Burnt Creeks. One of the last mid-elevation contiguous stands of old forest on the eastern Uintas, it is known for its wildlife and fisheries.
  • North Slope High Country- 40,573 a. The magnificent drainages of Sheep Creek, Weyman Park and Lamb Lakes define this area which is contiguous to the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW), Roadshed, South Slope High Country and the roadless Burnt Fork/Kabell Creek drainages on the North Slope of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
  • South Slope High Country- 85,024 a. Like the North Slope High Country, of which this is a part, merely on the South Slope, it is the quintessential “Bollies”—rounded alpine peaks, dense forests and high glacial basins of the West and East Forks of the Whiterocks, Blanchett Park, upper Dry Fork, Lakeshore Basin , the lonely Lake Wilde and Marsh Peak. It is also contiguous to the HUW, the lower Whiterocks roadless area, a portion of lower Dry Fork and High Uintas Unit B.
  • High Uintas B- 46,413 a. High Uintas B? What an insult—this is the epitome of rugged, incised, dense forested canyons and high elevation ridgetops of two of the most magnificent drainages on the Uintas—the Uinta and Yellowstone Rivers, including one of the most wild canyons on the South Slope-- Crow Canyon. This area is contiguous to the HUW for over 20 miles and contiguous to the South Slope High Country roadless area.
  • Ashley Creek -31,869 a. The stunning gorge of Ashley Creek and the marvelous and wild Black Canyon. The area represents diverse low elevation forested country, deep canyons and notable avian and raptor habitat.

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!

Woves by M. Pettis

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:

  • North Slope High Country, South Slope High Country, High Uintas B, Roadshed and the Lower Whiterocks (description below). Furthermore, units referred to as High Uintas A and C (descriptions below), while not immediately contiguous to the units above, have a common boundary with one another and the HUW! The fact is these seven areas have a common boundary with the HUW—they are a single unit encompassing and contiguous to the HUW, flowing north and south out of the east-west HUW. It is indisputable—a single massive roadless area on both the Wasatch-Cache (they recognized this in their forest plan) and the Ashley National Forests, north and south slopes, literally envelopes the High Uintas Wilderness!
  • Lower Whiterocks- 32,611 a. Deeply incised and convoluted canyon of the Whiterocks River. Forested slopes, open parklands along portions of the river and steep cliff sides dominate this wild country. It is contiguous and part and parcel of the Whiterocks drainage on the South Slope high country.
  • High Uintas A- 21,669 a. High Uintas A? Another insult intended to diminish this country by not giving it a geographical name. This is the steep forested country on the Lake Fork drainage including the wild Slate Creek and the marvelous, meadow-dotted Fish Creek. The entire area is contiguous and part and parcel to the High Uintas Wilderness along Brown Duck Basin and the high plateau of Toquer Lake.
  • High Uintas C- 48,851 a. High Uintas C… what an abominably sterile name for country as steep, isolated and diverse as any on the Uintas. In truth, it consists of peaks near 12,000 feet elevation, numerous subalpine lakes rarely visited, deep canyons of old growth pine and spruce, and open sage and aspen parklands at 6,000 feet elevation. It consist of drainages on Rock Creek and the Duchesne River; the entire boundary is contiguous with and flowing from the High Uintas Wilderness from Brown Duck Basin to the Grandview Trailhead and the Duchesne River— well over 15 miles!

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.

Dick Carter

Mountain Scene by M. Pettis


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