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SALTING THE WEST FORK SMITHS FORK

‘Let me in-- I want to drive my pickup truck into the High Uintas Wilderness on the West Fork of the Smiths so I can put out salt for my cattle...’ So argues Wyoming cattle permittee, Dick Hamilton. After being denied motorized access into the High Uintas Wilderness by the Forest Service, the permittee has appealed this decision under special regulations which do not allow formal public participation or intervention. We were able to obtain the appeal and sit in on the oral hearing between the Wasatch National Forest Supervisor and Evanston District Ranger and their staffs. Sitting with us as guests and observers were representatives from Wyoming Senator Thomas’ and Representative Cubin’s offices.

The permittee contends promises were made to him in 1983-’84 that if ranchers supported creation of the High Uintas Wilderness they would be allowed to continue to graze their sheep and cattle. While the Wilderness Act and subsequent direction concerning grazing in wilderness, known as the Colorado Grazing regulations, allow grazing in wilderness, it is perfectly clear that grazing is subject to rules and regulations guided by wilderness designation. (For a complete background on this issue, please see the HUPC NEWSLETTER, Aug. and Oct. 1997 and April 1998).

We exposed this issue a year ago when the Forest Service announced without review or analysis that it would authorize this activity, even though the appropriate tests for allowing motorized activity within wilderness under the Colorado Grazing language had not been met. After a vigorous challenge by HUPC, the Forest Service conceded that motorized activity was not a management necessity from an historical perspective and that the grazing permit had never authorized the activity in the first place. It became clear, as the permittee readily notes, however, that some number of less than scrupulous Forest Service district rangers knew this was going on without proper analysis and on the basis of a wink and a nod.

This part of the history remains dark and troubling with nobody in the Forest Service today recalling how the promise was made, how this activity was ever documented and for how long it has been going on without any review, analysis or authorization.

While the permittee may have been promised access prior to designation of the High Uintas Wilderness, the Forest Service has never been in the position to grant such access without first initiating a formal and public analysis and review of the request. The permittee contends that the access is, in essence, a grandfathered right. But no such things exists. The Colorado Grazing Language, the Wilderness Act and the Utah Wilderness Act simply allowed existing grazing activities to continue subject to specific rules and regulations guiding wilderness management.

In 1983 and ‘84, when the Utah Wilderness Act was being negotiated we all agreed to those guiding principles, but not to specific actions, particularly those we didn’t even know about! The Forest Service analysis clearly shows motorized access is not needed to maintain the grazing privilege harbored by the permittee.

It is our hope that the Forest Service will simply reject the permittees appeal and move forward with protecting the High Uintas Wilderness. But the pressures are significant with Wyoming’s delegation and Utah Congressman Jim Hansen badgering and bullying the Forest Service. If the agency can’t hold here and do what is right-- the permittee will still be allowed to graze-- then it will show in as plain language as possible that wilderness continues to mean nothing to the Forest Service. This is a profoundly important issue-- will the public interest be served? Will the Forest Service step forward to protect wilderness? Or will a disgruntled permittee crying about needing unnecessary motorized access into the High Uintas Wilderness carry the day?

Dick Carter


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