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HIGH UINTAS UPDATES

The Ashley National Forest, Duchesne/ Roosevelt Ranger District, approved-- “categorically excluded from documentation in an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment”-- continued grazing on the Fall Creek, Painter Basin and Tungsten allotments within the High Uintas Wilderness. In other words, the Ashley offered limited public involvement, prepared no environmental analyses for public review, analyzed no alternatives, offers no opportunity for a public appeal, and flat out lied! Back in 2003 (HUPC LYNX 8/03) the forest proposed (promised) to do a formal environmental analysis on Painter Basin and Tungsten. The reason was simple— grazing within the HUW is a given impact on wilderness values and characteristics. It doesn’t matter that grazing is allowed in wilderness. That doesn’t preclude the obvious impacts of grazing on the fabric, the essence, of wilderness.

Between then and now, the Ashley reversed that position, stomped on the proposal/promise and now with apparent pride concludes grazing has no impact upon wilderness values and characteristics and has flushed public participation in such important grazing decisions! In numerous past issues of the LYNX (8/05, 10/05, 2/06), we have documented this spiral away from public interests/concerns and right into the loving grasp of the livestock interests. This is the new Forest Service led by the Ashley where all grazing allotments “will be categorically excluded from documentation in a….” Over and over we hear it and, with a wink and a nod, we are told our voice matters!

The same district has embarked upon the hopeful process of stabilizing the High Uintas Wilderness reservoirs on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone Rivers (see HUPC LYNX 4/06). In a meeting with Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission officials, we learned that, indeed, Water Lily, Farmers and White Miller Lakes (in the Swift Creek drainage of the Yellowstone) will be stabilized this summer. The other eleven lakes will be completed in subsequent summers now that off –forest water storage is available. The whole process will be finalized in four to six years.

Stream by M. PettisTwo issues of note are still on the table—whether the Forest Service will authorize extensive motorized/mechanized access and tools and the time frame to complete the project. Their instincts seem sound in a strong desire to do all of the work with hand tools or as few motorized and mechanized tools as possible. But for the first time, we learned those instincts seem controlled not by the project at hand— all of the work on all of the reservoirs could be done by hand, but by the “requirement” that each reservoir be stabilized within a single season of work (July-October).We were told in no uncertain terms this was a “requirement” imposed by state and forest engineers for public safety and to prevent any potential for unusual downstream flows from incomplete reservoir-works removal. Interestingly, the skilled labor, primitive skills and packers are in short supply as well!

Reservoirs will be stabilized in small connected groups and based on stabilization requirements. Farmers and White Miller are small reservoirs that are no longer impounding water and will be stabilized at natural lake levels using hand tools and pack strings only. Water Lily will require, because of the time constraints, a small backhoe and two helicopter trips.

We raised concerns about the requirement of a single season completion and will watch closely if that, indeed, is the actual constraint. The public has a right to be a bit doubtful here as it is the same district and forest that has argued grazing has no impacts upon wilderness values and characteristics noted above. Nonetheless, there is no doubt this is difficult work, requiring primitive skills and humane treatment of pack animals that will be asked to do strenuous work. We are hopeful the Forest Service will indeed minimize motorized access and mechanized tools. When completed, wilderness characteristics will be meaningfully enhanced.

On the down side and adding to the skepticism and cynicism is the rather nonchalant Forest Service approval of reconstruction of Fox and Crescent Lake Reservoirs in the High Uintas Wilderness (Uinta River), requiring and allowing extensive motorized and mechanized access and equipment (see HUPC LYNX 4/06). The work will start in August and must be completed in a single season as well. We shall see.

Ignoring the real issues and concerns, the Ashley approved the fisheries study to determine the effects of non-native stocked trout on the native species in the High Uintas Wilderness (see HUPC Lynx 4/06). While the proposal sounds innocuous, it is, in fact, more than a bit devious. Literally a plethora of studies and data clearly and unequivocally show brook trout have significant detrimental impacts to Colorado River Cutthroat Trout and that, in high alpine lake systems, brook trout move easily from lake to lake where there is only intermittent stream access.

What is being sought is already known!

For decades we have had these discussions with the Forest Service concerning the need to end non-native recreational-based fish stocking in designated wilderness. (See, for example, HUPC Newsletter, 1/97, 6/97, 8/97, and HUPC LYNX, 6/00, 8/00, 8/03.) In spite of the data—again, there is no disputation about this data—the Forest Service has turned its head. For decades now we have argued the first step in returning the wild to the HUW is to stop nonnative fish stocking. Second, determine the historical, ecological extent of native fisheries and seek that goal as the non-natives simply disappear.

The guiding question is how this enhances wilderness values/ characteristics and whether the proposal and its physical components meet the context and constraints of the “minimum required for administration for the purpose of the Act.” This means, of course, preserving wilderness values/ characteristics.

The sad irony is that non-native recreational-based fish stocking clearly does not meet any of these wilderness tests. Yet it is allowed to proceed without critical analysis.

Mountain by M. Pettis


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