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Forest Plan Loosens Rules For High Uintas

by Heather May, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 30, l998

When Dick Carter appealed the High Uintas Wilderness Area management plan last year, he hoped the U.S. Forest Service would strengthen standards that limit human use in the area in northeastern Utah.

The Forest Service responded last week by shooting down Carter's appeal -- and even loosening some standards in its plans for 460,000 acres in the Wasatch-Cache and Ashley national forests.

"It was the most unresponsive, most deceptive and dishonest response I've ever seen from the Forest Service," said Carter, director of the High Uintas Preservation Council. "It's a sterile decision about a really rich landscape."

Environmentalists appealed the plan to the regional forester's office last November because they said it wrongly classified some wilderness areas, among other things. The plan ranks the land from Class 1 to 3, with Class 1 being the the most protective. Each class limits group size, the number of pack animals allowed, length of stay and location of campsites.

The Wasatch-Cache is the most-visited forest in the state.

In its original decision, the Forest Service designated about 33 percent of the land as Class 1, allowing groups of seven people and seven pack animals. Campsites must be one mile apart and stays are limited to two nights.

Class 2 designations make up 58 percent of the land, allowing 14 people and 15 stock. Campsites must be a quarter-mile apart and stays are limited to 14 days.

Class 3, which comprises 9 percent of the wilderness, permits 14 people and 15 animals, with campsites 200 feet apart and visits limited to 14 days.

In his appeal, Carter contended that about half of the 460,000 acres of wilderness should be Class 1 and half should be Class 2. He did not want any Class 3 designations because he said the Forest Service should strive to improve the area instead of managing to the "lowest common denominator."

Randy Welsh, a wilderness specialist for the Forest Service's Intermountain region, said the Forest Service must balance between managing forests for recreational use and keeping it wild. "Ideally, we should gently push wilderness up to that [purity] scale, but that's a general management concept. It's not a policy," he said.

Carter also said Class 1 areas are surrounded by lower class areas, which will mean larger groups will traipse through the more pristine areas. He requested the group size be consistent with Class 1 restrictions. Welsh said the Class 1 areas, which typically are trailless, do not see many tourists and the group sizes usually are only two or three people. Only groups of about four to eight people visit the Class 2 and 3 lands.

In its decision, the Forest Service said the management plan did not make clear if the limits were mandatory or only a guideline.

Welsh said research indicates smaller groups have smaller impacts in the forests, but no research exists for the High Uintas Wilderness Area to suggest the chosen group size for Class 1 areas was appropriate. The Forest Service regional office ordered the Wasatch-Cache and Ashley national forests to consider the Class 1 restrictions a recommendation but to allow 14 people and 15 stock in all areas until future research indicates a need to change.

"We have to monitor the actual impacts of party sizes before we place restrictions on the public," Welsh said.

The Forest Service's decision is final, unless the head of the Forest Service elects to review it. Carter said he is "bitter" about the decision, but he and others will make sure Forest Service officials follow the standards in the management plan.

"It's not the end of the High Uintas Wilderness [Area] but the Forest Service simply missed an opportunity to show us . . . they care about the wild part of the word wilderness," Carter said.

© Copyright 1998, The Salt Lake Tribune

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