THE BEAVER DAM SLOPES WILDERNESS
Although the 1984 Arizona Strip Wilderness Act designated 19,600 acres of the Beaver Dam Mountains as wilderness, including 2,597 acres in Utah, it did not fully protect Utah's Beaver Dam Slopes. Our 38,400-acre Beaver Dam Slopes wilderness proposal completes what Congress began with the Arizona legislation. Our proposal includes two units: Beaver Dam Wash (24,900 acres) and Joshua Tree (13,500 acres), which is divided from the designated wilderness by a powerline.
The entire southwestern slope of the Beaver Dam Mountains is an integrated biological community embracing a portion of three life zones: the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau, and the Mojave or Sonoran Desert Provinces. With its diverse, low-elevation habitat, this area is unlike any other in Utah. Although the area offers excellent early-season hiking and camping, it is relatively obscure and shows few signs of human intrusion. When the rest of Utah is still in winter, the willows, grasses, and cottonwoods along Beaver Dam Wash are beginning to green up and attract migratory songbirds, and the higher slopes of Joshua Tree are warming to the afternoon sun.
The desert tortoise, in jeopardy of extinction in Utah, inhabits much of this proposed wilderness. A respiratory disease is believed to contribute to tortoise mortality, although competition with cattle for forage and natural predation may also be factors. Nor can the tortoise escape habitat destruction caused by urban sprawl around the city of St. George and its outskirts, or from people who -- usually innocently -- collect tortoises as pets or destroy habitat with off-road vehicles. The continued decline of the tortoise population has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek emergency listing of the tortoise as an endangered species.
The proposed wilderness is home to the endangered peregrine falcon as well as to a variety of birds that live nowhere else in Utah. Several rare lizards are also found here: the Gila monster (a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act), the Mojave and speckled rattlesnakes, the desert iguana, and the desert night lizard. Designated wilderness is an important refuge for these species which cannot tolerate human intrusions. Wilderness designation would force the BLM to prohibit vehicle access, thereby protecting sensitive species and their habitat.
JOSHUA TREE UNIT
-- The Joshua Tree unit (13,500 acres) is located in the southwest corner of Utah on the southwestern slope of the Beaver Dam Mountains, which drain into Beaver Dam Wash. Like Beaver Dam Wash, this unit contains some of the only Mojave desert vegetation found in Utah, including Joshua trees, creosote bush, cholla, barrel, hedgehog, and prickly pear cactus, agave, and Spanish bayonet. The Joshua tree forest is also home for the desert tortoise, the Gila monster, the Mojave rattlesnake, and a large population of mourning doves. Old U.S. Route 91, once the only highway from St. George to Las Vegas, provides the primary access to the area. A gravel road leads east off Route 91 to the Joshua Tree Natural Area and continues in a loop that returns hardy drivers to Highway 91 at the Shivwits Reservation to the north or at Bloomington to the east.
Plant communities -- The Joshua Tree Natural Area, a 1,040-acre island within the larger stand of Joshua trees, was designated over 20 years ago by the BLM in recognition of its unique ecological character. The Joshua tree forest with its accompanying desert vegetation is an outstanding undisturbed example of the Mojave vegetative community. Additionally, plant and animal communities in the Joshua Tree unit span three life zones, from Great Basin and Colorado Plateau in the uplands to hot desert flora and fauna nearer the Beaver Dam Wash. This habitat variety makes the area especially significant and interesting to naturalists. The Woodbury Desert Study Area, which is included within the unit, is a 3,040-acre community of creosote bush, Joshua trees, bursage, and pinyon-juniper that has been closed to grazing and is returning to its natural state. Near-relict communities such as this are important for scientific study and for their intrinsic value.
Wildlife -- The desert tortoise, the Gila monster, the Mojave rattlesnake, and a significant raptor community, including the peregrine falcon and the golden eagle, live in the unit.
Archeology and history -- The unit is historically significant as the route of the Old Spanish Trail, the first pack train trail between Santa Fe and the Los Angeles basin, which saw its greatest use in the 1820s. The road to Bloomington was used by Mormon settlers crossing from the Nevada and Arizona settlements to St. George.
Recreation -- The highlands offer excellent hiking and camping, while the lower country offers scenic walking, hiking, and horseback riding. The entire unit offers solitude only a short distance from the highway.
BLM recommendation -- The BLM recommended against wilderness designation for the Joshua Tree Natural Area and, in violation of its own rules, dropped the surrounding 12,000 acres of roadless land during its initial inventory. Damage from the Apex mine and other small intrusions, given as reasons for the BLM's decision, are excluded from our proposal. Lack of screening (requiring dense vegetation, deep canyons, etc.) was also inappropriately used by the BLM to drop the unit. Such a prejudice against the Mojave Desert terrain is unwarranted.
Coalition proposal -- Stronger protection for the tortoise and the entire Joshua tree community is needed; hence our 13,500-acre wilderness proposal. We exclude about 400 acres of old mining activities in the northeastern portion of the unit. The inclusion of the Joshua Tree unit in the National Wilderness Preservation System would add unique "hot desert" flora and fauna to the system and protect the habitat of several sensitive species, among them the endangered desert tortoise and peregrine falcon.
BEAVER DAM WASH UNIT
-- Like Joshua Tree, the 24,900-acre Beaver Dam Wash unit is exceptional for its biological and scenic diversity. The unit provides critical habitat for the desert tortoise and other uncommon reptiles including the sidewinder rattlesnake and the Gila monster. Many species of birds and large and small mammals are also found here. Beaver Dam Wash is west of St. George in the extreme southwest corner of Utah. From St. George, drive northwest through Santa Clara and Shivwits, turning south onto old Highway 91 toward Littlefield. Drive about 10 miles to the dirt road that takes off to the west, opposite Castle Cliff. This road heads toward Lytle Ranch in the Beaver Dam Wash.
Geology and landforms -- Beaver Dam Wash, at an elevation of 2,200 feet, is the lowest point in Utah. It is also some of the driest land in the state and is particularly inhospitable during summer, when temperatures regularly top 100 degrees. It is a rugged landscape with deeply incised arroyos, stark rock outcroppings, and corrugated outwash from the Beaver Dam Mountains. Beyond the wash loom the stark and angular Beaver Dam Mountains. This country's harshness makes the presence of intermittent water all the more impressive, and all the more important to wildlife.
Plant communities -- Beaver Dam Wash itself is an intermittent stream with occasional pools and riparian vegetation. Nearby hillsides support dryland forests of Joshua trees and creosote bush. Due to the diversity of habitat types, the Beaver Dam Wash unit attracts both scientific research and recreational use.
Wildlife -- Beaver Dam Wash is renowned for the variety of birds it attracts, from the showy lazuli bunting, phainopepla, and Crissal thrasher to seldom-seen cactus wrens and Says phoebe. More than 180 bird species, many occurring nowhere else in Utah, have been identified at the Lytle Ranch research station just north of the unit. Diligent observers may also see a roadrunner scurrying across the landscape or a prairie falcon diving at high speed after an unwary rodent. Many of these birds migrate along a route leading from the lower Colorado River into the Great Basin along the Virgin River and up Beaver Dam Wash (Hedges, 1985). According to Hedges, "The Beaver Dam Mountains appear to be a migration barrier to several species that occur in Utah only or primarily in Beaver Dam Wash: white-winged dove, vermillion flycatcher, brown-crested flycatcher, verdin, black-tailed gnatcatcher, and hooded oriole." In recognition of the special value of the area, Brigham Young University recently acquired the Lytle Ranch in the Beaver Dam Wash upstream of the proposed wilderness for scientific study and the preservation of unique riparian and upland habitat. The BLM portion of the wash contains habitat of similar value, although the spring-fed wash becomes intermittent below the research station. Reptiles that occur only in this area of Utah include the desert iguana, the desert night lizard, the Mojave rattlesnake, and the speckled rattlesnake (Hedges, 1985), in addition to the desert tortoise, the sidewinder rattlesnake, and the Gila monster. The unit also supports beavers, which give the wash its name, bobcats, deer, foxes, porcupines, eagles, owls, and small mammals such as rabbits and kangaroo rats.
Recreation -- During the cooler months hiking and camping are pleasant and, in the spring, colorful wildflowers, yucca, and cactus flowers are abundant. Hikes downstream of the Lytle Ranch research station will take you into the heart of this proposed wilderness.
BLM recommendation -- The BLM eliminated the entire unit from wilderness consideration in 1979 during an accelerated inventory inspired by a proposal to construct the Intermountain Power Plant. The powerline eventually built for this project lies outside of our proposal.
Coalition proposal -- We propose a 24,900-acre wilderness unit. An additional 13,300 acres of adjacent BLM wild land lie in Nevada and Arizona. Our fieldwork shows that there are two constructed roads that enter the unit and lead to regularly used stock-watering facilities. These vehicle routes total 8 miles and affect 14 acres of land. We have cherrystemmed these roads from the proposed wilderness. A third road that shows regular use enters the unit from the west and should also be cherrystemmed as shown on the map. Other range improvements in the unit do not affect the area's wilderness qualities. Our proposal excludes areas which the BLM claimed were not natural.