Clean water. Healthy forests. Acrobatic trout. Robust elk herds. Peace and quiet.
Photo: Utah Division of Wildlife resources
Utah’s roadless areas protect all of those and more.
The only thing roadless areas don’t do is keep you out. That’s part of their beauty and uniqueness.
Somewhat oddly named, Utah’s 4 million acres of roadless areas often do contain Jeep trails or other two-tracks, allowing every kind of recreation from horseback riding and hiking to mountain biking and climbing, but they come with industrial stipulations. Think of them as perfect meeting of restrictive wilderness and free-for-all national forest, helping to protect the economic and intrinsic value of Utah’s public lands.
And then imagine that two-decade compromise under threat.
The state of Utah would like a special rule put on its roadless areas, an amendment of sorts that would allow for, among other things, forest management to prevent wildfires. Except the 2001 rule already allows for management of catastrophic fire. And the Forest Service lacks funding for the millions of acres of approved fire mitigation projects.
What is the Roadless Rule?
It was created by a massive collaboration between federal officials, nonprofit groups like TU and local hunters, anglers and recreationists to preserve the pieces of roadless – or largely roadless – areas that remained in the National Forest system.
More than 90 percent of Utahns believe the outdoor recreation economy is important for the future of their state and the West. (Colorado College poll)
More than 60 percent of Utahns believe that lawmakers should place more emphasis on protecting sources of clean water, air quality and wildlife habitat.
Utah roadless areas
Protecting Utah’s heritage…
They initial idea was popular, and the result has been proven successful.
When the Roadless Rule was proposed, almost 75 percent of Utahns who commented supported the concept.
Why? Because it was way to preserve the wide, relatively untouched spaces in Utah’s high country and front country, allow for recreation and direct a limited Forest Service budget to road maintenance instead of new construction.
Roadless areas aren’t formal wilderness areas, where even mountain bikes are considered too mechanized. In roadless areas people can hunt and fish and ride ATVs and dirt bikes on established roads and trails. People can build roads for active management of wildfires and for public safety issues.
What roadless areas do prohibit is most new road construction, road reconstruction – except where it is ecologically needed – and logging. That means your favorite clear, cold spring won’t one day run dark with mud and pollutants from logging trucks and erosion. Culverts won’t prohibit native spawning cutthroat trout. And vehicles won’t race through every inch of timber.
You may not always know you’re in a roadless area, but still appreciate the benefits that come from them.
Those day hikes off of Logan Canyon to the 2,000-year-old Jardine juniper and the wind caves? Those are almost entirely in roadless areas. That world-class trophy mule deer and elk country in the high Book Cliffs area? That’s also roadless area.
They’re the places that offer peace and solitude, while at the same time protecting critical headwaters for the native trout so beloved by most Utahns.
“Many of my most memorable days on the water have been spent on nameless streams and lakes in the backcountry fishing with great friends. … Although none of our catches were record-sized, the impressions and memories of that day are engraved in our minds.”
– Lance Egan 3-time National Fly Fishing Champion and member of Team USA
So are Utah’s roadless areas, those places where so many people find their solace, at risk of going away?
Are they at risk of being chipped away, with more roads inserted and possible development allowed?
What needs to happen?
A public discussion, a compromise, and help from you.
Utah’s proposed special rule would eliminate some of the smaller roadless areas and allow for logging and roads to be built in many of the others. Forest management for fire protection is critical, but in addition to the many millions of dollars in project backload already facing the Forest Service, only 5 percent of forest fires in Utah in the last 20 years originated in roadless areas, according to Utah’s own fire data.
If Utah proceeds with a state-specific rule, public officials and the Forest Service should work together with groups like Trout Unlimited and hunters and fly fishers like you to create a stipulation that resolves wildfire concerns while still protecting wild spaces.
But instead, Utah and Forest Service officials should work with locals and regional experts through the parameters of the existing law without going through a costly and time consuming rule making process.