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Protect The Ashley Roadless Country!

As we wrote extensively in our August 2006 LYNX, we are in receipt of the Ashley National Forest released its Draft Evaluation of Undeveloped Areas For Potential Wilderness Final Information Packet. The Final version was released late in September (see HUPC Special E-Mail Alert, October 2006.) We expected the worse and it came as a near mirror image of the draft document, with fewer areas rated with a high capability for potential wilderness.

The substance of the Evaluation and our dispute with it rests on fragmenting large— massive— roadless areas into smaller units. It is a clear misstatement to deny the scale and quality of roadlessness directly adjacent and contiguous to the High Uintas Wilderness. It is this scale that is so remarkable and so unique that is intentionally misstated and misrepresented in order to assure wilderness values associated with this roadless area are minimized/dismissed, thus severely limiting wilderness recommendations.

It is simply not disputable that the North Slope High Country (40,574 a.), South Slope High Country (85,024 a.), High Uintas B (46,413 a.), Lower Whiterocks (32,610 a.) and Roadshed (37,805 a.) are a single massive road-less area harboring 242,426 acres (see map). They are contiguous to one another and the High Uintas Wilderness and intuitively embody higher standards for primitive and unconfined recreation, outstanding opportunities for solitude, primeval character and ecological values than numerous smaller areas. There is a degree of intellectual dishonesty here that allocates thousands and thousands of acres by way of an arbitrary standard.

If you imagine the High Uintas Wilderness doesn’t exist and map the roadless boundary that surrounds and is contiguous/adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness, both forests, you will find ONE roadless landscape, not separated by a single road or other anthropomorphic insult. It is also important to point out that, while we did not agree with the Wasatch-Cache National Forest (WCNF) revised forest plan wilderness recommendations, the WCNF did not fragment the 103,000 acre High Uintas Roadless Area or the 122,000 acre Lakes Roadless Area into smaller units. A lesson for the Ashley to learn! Furthermore, to be consistent, something both forests have promised, the whole contiguous and adjacent roadless area should be called the High Uintas Roadless Area and should include the above noted areas along with High Uintas A (21,669 a.) and High Uintas C (48,851 a.), both of which are contiguous and adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness.

On the Ashley this single roadless landscape consists of just a few acres shy of 313,000! There is more wildly diverse, high quality, connected, contiguous, adjacent roadless acreage flowing off the High Uintas Wilderness, if you will, than the High Uintas Wilderness acreage on the Ashley National Forest.

The roadless (undeveloped) landscapes and the High Uintas Wilderness are one place— not separate units to be analyzed as single entities—but a single undeveloped area. It is a landscape of hundreds of thousands of acres. It is not possible to argue for even a blink of an eye that primitive recreation is not inherently high, solitude overwhelming, and naturalness simply stunning.

Even more remarkable is the incredible ecological diversity harbored within this single massive unit; nothing like it exists in the Intermountain Region.

The pinnacle of just how bad this Evaluation is is seen in this example: The wilderness availability chart for the South Slope High Country notes, “There are no wildlife habitat improvement projects planned for this area….” Very clear— no conflicts, no projects. Hold on, the chart then says this conflict applies and thus restricts the potential for wilderness suitability! If there are none planned, then it “does not apply,” plain and simple, one would think. The devious and disingenuous caveat is that if future treatments might occur, more than likely—how can that be known until they occur and are analyzed?—they will conflict with wilderness suitability in some manner not yet known, in some place not yet known, in some time not yet known. There is no place for this kind of analysis. It is not professional!

And so it goes. With respect to the North Slope High Country, the allegation is made that the entire area is subject to rotenone (fish poison) treatment by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) to eradicate nonnative fisheries and bring back the native Colorado River Cutthroat Trout (CRCT). That statement is absurdly broad and a misstatement, in fact. The guiding document is the 2002 Environmental Assessment (EA) and Decision Notice that authorized rotenone application on Mann Creek (roaded), upper Middle Fork Sheep Creek and later on Lower Middle Fork Sheep Creek and barrier construction on portions of North Fork Sheep Creek (roaded area), Middle Fork Sheep Creek (roaded) and South Fork Sheep Creek (roadless). Barriers have been placed on the North and Middle Fork Sheep Creek (roaded) and Mann Creek (roaded). Rotenone was applied to Mann Creek only. UDWR has not moved forward on any other parts of the specific 2002 EA.

The broader issue of whether or not wilderness is better for native fisheries hardly seems worth a dispute—particularly if the Forest Service and UDWR voluntarily end non-native fish stocking, an issue we have raised ad nauseam for decades. The latter only makes sense, whether wilderness or not, and will be the foundation for bringing CRCT back.

And so it goes. The Ashley falls back on sights and sounds outside of wilderness to continue the assault on wilderness values. This argument was discounted decades ago simply because every boundary of every wild area, designated or not, is subject to this arbitrary, capricious and dazed rationale. The Ashley has carved out an absurd position suggesting there are no places on Earth that have high natural integrity or offer outstanding solitude.

Is it too much to ask for a fair and professional evaluation?

Dick Carter

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