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Fire by M. Pettis

The Ashley and Wasatch National Forests are still attempting to write a monitoring plan for the 1996 High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) Management Plan (see HUPC Review/Lynx, 1/97, 8/97, 12/97, 6/98, 6/01, 12/01, 1/04). The management plan is dependent upon the monitoring plan and is so long overdue that we have argued consistently it is wiser to re- initiate the wilderness planning process.

While many on both forests care deeply about the High Uintas Wilderness, the fact that it took twelve years to prepare a High Uintas Wilderness Management Plan and still, seven years later, the monitoring plan remains incomplete (the rest of the wildernesses on the Wasatch, for example, fair not a bit better!) suggests the lack of commitment to wilderness that still runs deep within the Forest Service. It goes without saying that in this time frame, timber sale after timber sale, oil and gas proposal after oil and gas proposal, grazing development after grazing development, road after road, ATV/ snowmobile track after ATV/ snowmobile track have been completed and implemented.

The lack of a formal monitoring plan, in other words, has been a point of concern for a very long time. While we understand the rationale for some of the long time frame between approval of the wilderness management plan and the necessary, yet-to-be-completed monitoring plan and fully appreciate the difficulty in preparing such a plan, the period of completion has simply been too sluggish. Nonetheless, we also understand and appreciate the fact that both forests have been moving toward many positive wilderness management actions including dealing with firewood availability, campsite density, natural fire regimes and group size.

Log by M. Pettis

The primary issue is, however, to assure the High Uintas Wilderness maintains its wilderness character and, in fact, utilizing the concept of the wilderness purity scale (the management context which argues wilderness managers must always manage wilderness toward the ideal definition of wilderness), wilderness character must be enhanced.

Clearly all wilderness designated under the National Wilderness Preservation System must meet the definition of wilderness--- the basis of a monitoring plan:

  • Untrammeled--- "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man..."
  • Natural--- "protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions"... and "land retaining its primeval character and influence."
  • Undeveloped--- "without permanent improvements or human habitation"... "with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable"... "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
  • Outstanding opportunity for solitude and primitive un- confined recreation--- "Outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation..." "shall be administered such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness."

Dr. Peter Landres, Research Ecologist at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, has undertaken an effort to prepare a formal broad-based wilderness monitoring protocol (to be properly matched to the specific concerns of each individual wilderness unit). The process initiated by Dr. Landres recognizes that all wildernesses are unified within the Wilderness Act by the above noted distinct characteristics in the Wilderness Act. While the process has not yet been formalized, it is clear High Uintas Wilderness managers must focus a monitoring plan on these characteristics which include impacts on natural ecological processes, non-native species, loss of native species, natural fires, number of visitor encounters, recreation infrastructures, such as bridges, outfitter camps, grazing structures such as fences and salting facilities, predator control, and many other issues.

The more of these kinds of impacts, the more notable they are, the longer they last as impacts, the less the High Uintas Wilderness, for example, exhibits the fundamental context of wilderness as defined by the Wilderness Act and the more likely the need for management/policy intervention to remove those impediments toward wilderness character.

The HUW Management Plan seems to be seen by some in the Forest Service as a static plan, thus holding wilderness purity in place, contrary to formal Forest Service wilderness management guidance. The goal is not to have these kinds of problems/impacts in wilderness. The goal is to remove them and enhance wilderness quality. That is one significant failing of the extant HUW Management Plan and a strong reason, as we've argued for the last several years, to re-initiate the wilderness management planning process as the opportunity class schemes in this context are faulty and erroneous.

Another problem is that the Forest Service has been unwilling to engage many crucial issues such as non-native fish stocking and non-native wildlife transplants, for example. There is no dispute that these activities don't belong in
wilderness and the utter and complete failure of the Forest Service to show the moral leadership to initiate a process
which limits and eventually ends these activities is discouraging and indicative of the broader concern for wilderness.

And finally there is a very real, on-the-ground management issue as to whether wilderness managers and rangers have been given the ability to meaningfully enforce and implement the standards necessary to assure the High Uintas Wilderness remains wild. Without this commitment the monitoring plan simply becomes another level of authorization for inappropriate actions.

Let us hope both forests will find the foundation to move forward.

Along those lines early in September a group of well-meaning cops trudged a 14 pound bronze plaque of a buddy who died in Iraq along with a caulking gun to permanently install a memorial on top of Utah at the summit of Kings Peak in the High Uintas Wilderness. Having been given permission by the Evanston/Mt. View Ranger District on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and with a Salt Lake Tribune photographer in tow, the plaque was installed and the story reported in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The only problem is such activities are expressly forbidden, by Forest Service regulations, in designated wildernesses. In a short note of the same date as the article in the Salt Lake Tribune, we asked the Forest Service to clarify how permission was granted and to promptly request the plaque be removed. Permission was retracted and the plaque by now, hopefully, has been removed.

Aside from the error of judgment in granting permission, it is noteworthy these folks felt the best honor for their fallen comrade was a memorial deep within the largest wilderness and most wild place in Utah, a place as distant from roads and clutter as one can get in Utah, a place where nothing but wilderness/wildness can be seen in all directions. The depth of that wildness must be self-defined--- wildness defines wildness.

We are glad both the cops and the Forest Service understood this spirit of wildness and the Forest Service responded with vigor.

Dick Carter

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