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A Uintas Hike with the Forest Service

There haven’t been many clear blue sky days in the Uintas this summer and fall. But on September 16 we were greeted with one of them-- even a bit cool (although there have been frosts in the Uintas as early as mid-August this year.) Along with Bernard Asay, Evanston/Mt. View Wilderness Manager, Steve Ryberg and Jane Cottrell, Evanston and Kamas District Rangers, Jack Troyer and Randy Welsh, Intermountain Region Deputy Regional Forester and Regional Wilderness Coordinator, I hiked up the Stillwater drainage to Amethyst Lake. Oh yea, also Duke, the big black horse, joined us in case Ber-nard’s bad ankle went bad again, or Steve’s bad knees went bad again, or Jack’s bad back, or my bad hip-- you get the picture. This was not a bunch of spring chickens trotting up the trail! (Duke had an easy day-- he carried his saddle.)

From 9 AM to 6 PM, we covered the 15-16 miles with a half dozen long stops to look and talk about specific wilderness management issues facing the Uintas. We engaged issues ranging from how to manage the roadless lands surrounding the High Uintas Wil-derness (i.e. it is over a mile hike up the Stillwater before you encounter the designated wilderness), how much additional wilderness should be designated as part of the High Uintas Wilderness, and how should the wilderness be "managed" to maintain its wildness.

Many of the management issues stemmed from our wilderness management appeal which, ironically, was denied (see HUPC Newsletters, June ‘98, Oct. ‘97 and Dec. ‘97). The discussions have a powerful sense of deja vu to them. A generic- typical discussion went like this:

+Of course, we’ve raised the need to reduce group size or enforce a broad no-fire, backpacking stov- only restriction on many areas within the wilderness--the evidence is clear; your own EIS notes problems of this type exist.

-Yes, that is the case in some places and we know we have to act on some important issues, but we don’t have the staffing or money and because some of these issues are very sensitive we have to move slowly.

+You mean, follow rather than lead. And slow is one word for decades of delay. In part budgets may well be so small because of a history of allowing wilderness issues to take distant second burner. We are glad to see that is ending. But since a consensus will never emerge among wilderness users simply because many people are there for non-wilderness purposes, the Forest Service has to lead the way with the wilderness ethic that emphasizes the importance of wildness and diminishes the heavy foot of human impacts.

-Well, you may be right, and we should have done that last year but didn’t. Maybe next we will make a backpacking stove requirement as voluntary for a year or so while people get used to it. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to stock the lakes with non-native fisheries and populate the region with non-native mountain goats, all of which have or may cause meaningful ecological impacts, not to mention allow sheep to continue grazing on alpine ecosystems.

+We agree these issues are complex and attempts to oversimplify them don’t go anywhere. But it is even more dangerous to suggest changes are needed and then continue with the status quo, no matter what you call it! That is what we alleged in our wilderness management plan appeal.

-Well, stay with us; change takes time.

This disussion is a synthesis of many discussion many of us have heard all too often. Nonetheless, it was a good day with good people. The immensity and wildness of the area rings so clear. And as soon as wildness becomes the management paradigm, the Uintas will be, indeed, the symbol of wildness, a wildness waiting to erupt.

Dick Carter

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