Wilderness advocates will ask the Summit County Council tonight to recommend expanding the High Uintas Wilderness Area as part of the public lands process spearheaded by Utah Congressman Rob Bishop.
A consortium of groups led by The Wilderness Society (TWS) has outlined 28,000 acres in Summit County that they say are worthy of inclusion in Utah’s largest wilderness area. These roadless lands are on the range’s north slope and eastern fringes, all the way to the Daggett County line.
The idea is to extend the wilderness boundary downslope to include several lakes and the forested upper reaches of North Fork Sheep, Burnt Fork, Kabell, Beaver and Fallow creeks, said Paul Spitler, the society’s wilderness campaigns director.
“These are some of the most spectacular lands not currently part of the wilderness,” Spitler said. “These have huge recreational values and great wildlife values, popular for hiking and hunting.”
The Uintas, Utah’s highest and most ancient mountains, form a massive range trending east-west, in contrast with most of the Rocky Mountains.
Congress must authorize any wilderness designation, which would bar mechanized equipment, vehicles, road and permanent structures. Existing livestock grazing would not be affected.
A companion proposal under consideration by Daggett County officials would expand the High Uintas wilderness boundary to the east to capture 45,000 more acres. The two proposals combined would expand the 456,705-acre wilderness area by 16 percent.
“We have yet to finalize map or legislation, but we are happy to consider anything,” said Bishop, a Republican whose district include Summit and Daggett counties. “If it can be included that would be great. We need to explore the options and make sure there are no mistakes.”
Several eastern Utah counties are crafting proposals that Bishop hopes will resolve entrenched land-use controversies that have thwarted both conservation and development for three decades. He expects to package the proposals into a bill that would be introduced in Congress early next year.
Bishop’s office this week released a letter of support for the wilderness expansion from Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf.
“I’m very supportive if he is keen to get behind it and include it in the overall plan,” said Metcalf, who lives in Summit County. “The High Uintas are a very special place offering a number a recreational opportunities. Expanding the wilderness area is just a good idea.”
As a founder of one of Utah’s premier outdoor gear makers, Black Diamond Inc., Metcalf is a vocal advocate of increased protections on Utah’s public lands.
Metcalf said he initially was skeptical of Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative, but says it can work if people on both sides of the issue work together.
“He seems to be applying a substantial amount of energy in the process and appears to have the governor’s office and county officials involved,” Metcalf said.
Source: Brian Maffly and Brett Prettyman | The Salt Lake Tribune