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WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS

As the Utah National Forests join with the state of Utah to evaluate wild and scenic river suitability (see HUPC LYNX 8/98, 10/99, 8/04, 8/05 and special W&SR Alert, 5/07), there are a number of obvious reasons for deep concern. The state of Utah, defined, at least, by its political administrations, has not exactly shown itself to be environmentally concerned--pardon my measured analysis (Governor Matheson’s tenure was the last and still the most meaningful effort at stringing together a conservation and environmental policy)--and it is no secret that the broadest iteration of the Forest Service has wandered so far off course, and allowed itself to be led even further out of the woods so as to be utterly and truly lost. In other words, to be less measured, the process is being taped together by entities that have little understanding or care about preservation.

Thus, there are three notable concerns:

  1. Rivers identified by the Forest Service as eligible and thus to be considered for suitability are deeply disparate.
  2. The alternatives prepared for this EIS will be crucial.
  3. Suitability of individual rivers.
Chapter 1

There is a great eligibility disparity between the Wasatch-Cache (33 rivers found eligible, over 260 miles) and Ashley National Forests (24 rivers found eligible, over 320 miles) and the rest of Utah’s four national forest inventories (23 rivers found eligible, 137 miles). Clearly, those two forests were deeply responsive to the process and value of river segments on both forests and took the eligibility process seriously and professionally. Both forests were responsive to public concerns as well. It is imperative that each alternative properly reflect this positive disparity and harbor the respective preponderance of Ashley and Wasatch-Cache river segments. It is also notable, of course, that of the 57 river segments found eligible on the Wasatch-Cache and Ashley, 43 of them are within the High Uintas. These two forests account for 71% of the rivers found eligible on the national forests in Utah and 81% of the mileage.

It only makes sense that each alternative reflect that context as well. We recognize the alternatives are structured to deal with suitability, not eligibility. Both those forests and the Uintas, since they harbor, by far, the most eligible river segments, should also harbor the most suitable segments. It is inconceivable to think otherwise, particularly given the disparity in identifying eligible river segments. There are almost twice as many eligible river segments identified on the Uintas as the rest of Utah forests).

It is clear the river eligibility process on the other Utah forests was not up to snuff.

Chapter 2

The obvious alternative that must be considered is one that finds all roadless area river segments suitable. By definition roadless area river segments now found eligible are, by their nature, in roadless areas and, by management guidance policy, without significant conflicts as defined by the suitability criteria and, because of their roadless geography have inherently higher river values. This combination of high ecosystem and aesthetic values and inherently low suitability conflicts defines a clear course of action. This clearly should be captured as an alternative and portrayed part and parcel with designated wilderness river segments since these river segments are harbored within the same dominant context.

Chapter 3

All of the eligible river segments (see Table 1 below) within the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) and immediately adjacent to it meet all of the suitability criteria with ease. Many of these segments after leaving the wilderness are within roadless areas contiguous to the HUW and, if not, are adjacent to roadless areas contiguous to HUW and associated with trailheads part and parcel with the wilderness landscape and experience. Because of their eligibility characteristics, ease with meeting suitability requirements and ecological nexus to a single wilderness environment/landscape, rather than isolated rivers, these river segments, an impressive 323 miles, are exceptionally meaningful as additions to the National Wild and Scenic River System (NW&SRS).

At the same time, it is particularly important to note that river segments largely harbored within roadless areas on both forests (Table 2) meet, with ease, all of the suitability criteria. The Main and Middle Forks of the Weber River (WCNF) are the core of the Forest Service proposed Lakes Wilderness Area. Again, rather than isolated segments, they are part and parcel of the proposed wilderness. Both river corridors are productive wildlife corridors with dense forests of lodgepole pine, spruce, aspen, willows and dotted with small meadows and steep rock outcrops. Both areas represent the last few mid-elevation forested streams that are not accessed by motors, diverted or dammed in any way, and are important native trout fisheries, lightly fished and receiving very light recreational use. Grazing is minimal or nonexistent.

wild rivers table 1

Boundary Creek also represents an important ecological reserve. The area receives very limited recreational use, is entirely within a roadless environment adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness, an important native fisheries, representative of an old growth forest(s) and ungrazed for decades. The stream runs almost entirely in dense forest stands with no notable meadows or openings, yet at a moderate grade. It is a vital home to goshawk, pine marten and black bear because of the old and dense forests of lodgepole, spruce, fir and a few aspen stands. It is a very unusual stream on the North Slope of the Uintas because of the dense continuous forests, light recreational use and mid-elevation.

On the Ashley, notably the Upper, West, East, Middle Fork Whiterocks and Reader Creeks are all part and parcel of one another, making for an ecological system of connected river segments rather than isolated rivers. This adds to the obvious ecological and primitive recreational values of these river segments, particularly since they are largely harbored within the South Slope High Country Roadless Area--a roadless area identified by the Ashley National Forest as an area of “high capability” for potential wilderness. The South Fork Ashley starts just on the other side of the Whiterocks drainage and courses for a wild 15 miles through the same roadless area adding to the value of the river segment as it is part of a broad and exceptionally wild region. None of these rivers harbor any resource conflicts that delimit their suitability; their eligibility and river values have been clearly noted and documented.

Ashley Gorge and Black Canyon also meet all of the suitability criteria with ease and harbor not the slightest suitability conflict. In fact, the Ashley Gorge Roadless Area-- a roadless area also identified by the Ashley National Forest as an area of “high capability” for potential wilderness--is primarily defined by the stunning Ashley Gorge Canyon and the course of Black Canyon as it starts high in subalpine meadows and descends also through a deep and isolated canyon. Both areas are crucial wildlife habitat and unique as they represent mid-elevation forest ecosystems unroaded and harvested, a rarity on the South Slope of the Uintas! None of these rivers harbor any resource conflicts that delimit their suitability; their eligibility and river values have been clearly noted and documented.

Every bit as unique are Cart Creek and Pipe Creek, harbored within the Mt. Lena Roadless Area, a large 31,500 acre roadless landscape. Pipe Creek runs through a steep canyon of willows and alder, sagebrush slopes, steep exposed “red-rock” slopes, and some ponderosa pine, doug fir and lodgepole forests--all low to mid-elevation forests, unroaded and unharvested, exceptionally rare on the Ashley National Forest.

Cart Creek is a remarkable river in a deep canyon, densely forested right to the bank, with its headwaters in a meadow ecosystem. It is found within a mid-elevation environment, un-roaded and un-harvested. Carter Creek is an inaccessible river running through the Roadshed Roadless Area, starting in meadow country and dipping into a wild canyon filled with deciduous understory, beaver dams and middle elevation, old growth lodgepole pine forests, un-roaded and unharvested--the last of its type. It is exceptionally important wildlife habitat.

The Green River, plainly, is the penultimate wild river. As it leaves Flaming Gorge it pounds through Red Canyon (Little Hole and Bare Top Roadless Areas) and starts its long winding course through Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons to the confluence with the Colorado River, making a world-known and world-class stretch of undeveloped wild river. This is the top of that remarkable stretch.

None of these rivers harbor any resource conflicts that delimit their suitability. Their eligibility and river values have been clearly noted and documented.

A SIMPLE PROLOGUE: Let us hope a sense of
preservation and wisdom captures the Forest Service!


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