AN OPEN LETTER TO THE FOREST SERVICE
An open letter (9/24) to Forest Supervisors Tom Tidwell, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and George Weldon, Ashley National Forest:
Dear Tom and George:
On the weekend of 11 September, forty members of the High Uintas Preservation Council gathered under a bright blue sky at Mirror Lake's amphitheater to hold our annual Rendezvous, this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and the 20th anniversary of the Utah Wilderness Act. We had a welcome chance to share the company of each others' friendship and discuss issues facing the Uintas. We expressed hope and consternation, direction for the agency and fatigue in raising the same, seemingly easy-to-correct problems we see year after year.
This year we took a new direction: the group composed a communal letter to both of you containing concerns we saw with the management of the High Uintas, both its developed and undeveloped landscapes, including, of course, the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW). While general in nature, we are presenting these observations to you as we would have done had you been on a bench beside us.
We care about the Uintas not for what they provide, but, as our mission statement notes, "Imagine a mountain defined by the creation of life, not the production of resources." While not a complex statement, it offers consequential guidance and assures the Uintas will be seen as an intact montane system rather than a disjunct set of management decisions based on meaninglessly small geographical areas and a hopeless timeframe of now. We would like nothing more than to support your policies and praise your good work, since it is you who are in charge of this legacy of wildness. But that legacy continues to erode rapidly; of that, there is no dispute.
Thus, we offer some direction by which you could secure the legacy of wilderness.
- Without hesitation, the group felt protection of ROADLESS and WILD LANDSCAPES on the Uintas deserves the highest priority:
The agency should pursue and actively support wilderness designation for all qualifying roadless lands before they are destroyed and compromised by non-wilderness uses. The High Uintas Preservation Council offers a measured wilderness proposal for the remainder of the core block of the Uintas and the Lakes Roadless Area. The Forest Service and HUPC should be working in consort on this issue.
- All roadless areas adjacent to the HUW should be closed to ATVs and snowmobiles to assure a fair balance of users and to assure wildness is not compromised.
- The Lakes Roadless area should not be open to snowmobilesthe accessible terrain along the Mirror Lake Highway, Murdock Basin and the Whitney area offer vast areas of snowmobile terrain for all types of snowmobilers.
- Roadless landscapes should not be leased for oil and gas. Once that happens, the roadless/ wild values are gone.
- No roadless lands should be available for any commercial timber harvesting.
The evidence is clearthe Forest Service has not yet committed itself to protecting this legacy of wildness and thus has set in motion the irreversible course of losing wild landscapes. Far from a legacy.
- There were deep concerns expressed over MANAGEMENT OF THE HIGH UINTAS WILDERNESS:
- Concerns were expressed over large groups of boy scouts, caches of equipment, consistent horse abuse in meadows and along trails, loss of vegetation in many areas due to heavy use, common scenes of heavy overgrazing by sheep, and appearance of mountain bikers.
- Continued non-native fish stocking and transplanting on other non-native wildlife such as mountain goats throughout the wilderness in complete disregard of ecological principles and wilderness policies.
An outdated and still incomplete wilderness management plan as evidenced by widespread wilderness management problems.
- Do not permit predator control within the Wilderness.
- Retire, purchase and phase out grazing in the wilderness and sensitive roadless landscapes.
- Reservoir maintenance within wilderness should be limited to human foot travel, not mechanized access.
- Significant concerns were expressed over general ATV/ snowmobile management and direction.
- Restrict snowmobile use to the "roaded" country and require the quieter, less polluting models addressed in the Yellowstone National Park snowmobile plan.
- No ATV/ORV use should be allowed in any roadless areas and any loops or new ATV/ORV trails should be thoroughly analyzed and open to public input with assurances that adequate law enforcement and monitoring are available.
- All user created trails should be closed and not considered for loops or travel. To leave them open sends a signal that it is acceptable to violate the law and travel plans. Intensify the penalties for ATV and snowmobile use to include confiscation of the machine involved. Since FS budgets limit trail patrolling, you must send the message that trespassing is not tolerated.
- A number of concerns were expressed about Forest Service priorities on the Uintas:
- The W. Fork Blacks Fork grazing plan and other wilderness grazing plans on both forests are still incomplete, after many years.
- The wilderness management plan is outdated and the monitoring plan is still incomplete.
- Yet "timber sale after timber sale" has again become the norm, many of them being on lands not appropriate for harvesting and both forests have recently done timber sales where they admit the purpose is not to enhance the environment, but to provide timber for local mills, thus excluding other voices in the process.
- Travel plans are being revised not to eliminate illegal ORV/ATV use, but to open illegal trails to enhance ATV/ORV interests. The message is clear.
- Fee demo dollars seem to reappear primarily as toilets and snowmobile access improvements and rarely to recover or restore abuses.
The Uintas stand alone in the Intermountain West as a huge, wild and intact montane ecosystem, yet that wildness and unique wildlife habitat is not being protected or seen as a priority. It is more often considered a constraint to other short term concerns.
- The Uintas are one mountain, not two national forests and a bunch of consolidated ranger districts.
- Consider the whole picture across the mountain. Every encroachment contributes to general deterioration of the ecosystem. Each must be viewed as an important impact (and avoidable problem) on the whole.
- We need to cherish as one mountain the entire range from Kamas to Flaming Gorge, not let the Uintas suffer by piecemeal projects.
It is time for the Forest Service to regain the mantle of "the worldís leading conservation organization" and meaningfully undertake these recommendations. What make the Uintas unique are not the West Trout Slope timber sale and resultant fragmentation of mid-elevation forests or the East Fork Bear Salvage timber sale or sheep grazing or ORV use or hollow oil and gas development. The uniqueness is defined by the magnificent High Uintas Wilderness and the unique existence of hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped wild lands adjacent, contiguous and surrounding the HUW.
Many of us have noticed a trend toward not responding to citizen concerns, queries and personal letters. We look forward to a meaningful, hopeful reply.
Thank you for considering our input.
Signed, Dick Carter and the undersigned members/friends of the High Uintas Preservation Council:
Patricia Andreasen, Ginger Jorgensen, Art Roscoe, Megan Barker, Karen Marshall, Jadwige F., Lois Salazar, Mark Biddle, Bill Martens, Martin Steitz, Lynette Brooks, Joyce Maughan, Rick Van Wagenen, Connie Bullis, Wayne McCormack, Bill Vogel, Mark McKeough, Donna Vogel, Lynnette Gardner, Mike Medberry, Richard Warnick, Milton Hollander, Beverly Mittelstadt, Beverly Welch, Karl C. Huffman, Charles Mittelstadt, David Jorgensen, and Margaret Pettis