- WHAT IS A WILDERNESS AREA?
- MINERAL RESOURCES AND WILDERNESS
- GRAZING IN WILDERNESS
- OFF-ROAD VEHICLES
- STATE LANDS
- WILDERNESS WATER RIGHTS
WHAT IS A WILDERNESS AREA?
|In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.
The Wilderness Act of 1964
In 1984, while the BLM wilderness review proceeded, Congress designated two small BLM wilderness areas along the Utah-Arizona border: the Paria River-Vermilion Cliffs and the Beaver Dam Mountains. Studies and debate continue over how much of Utah's remaining BLM wild lands should be protected.
The wilderness areas we propose in this book can be designated only by Act of Congress following extensive study by the managing agency, formal public hearings, and extensive written comment from citizens. Public debate over wilderness legislation ensures that Congressional leaders consider all the facts and varying viewpoints.
Wilderness is a key part of the multiple use idea, which does not mean--nor has it ever meant--every use on every acre. Beyond that, the uses of wilderness itself are multiple. Among those allowed in wilderness areas are:
- Foot and horse travel; hunting and fishing; backcountry camping
- Float boating and canoeing
- Guiding and outfitting
- Scientific study; educational programs
- Livestock grazing, where previously established
- Control of wildfires and insect and disease outbreaks
- Mining on pre-existing mining claims
In order that natural forces can operate free from man's interference, and to preserve opportunities for solitude, certain uses are not allowed in wilderness areas:
- Use of mechanized transport (except in emergencies, or such vehicles as wheelchairs)
- Roadbuilding, logging, and similar commercial uses
- Staking new mining claims or mineral leases
- New reservoirs or powerlines, except where authorized by the President as being in the national interest.
When wilderness opponents claim that wilderness is "locked up" from multiple use without considering the views of local residents, look again. This myth dies hard. Logging, mining, and motorized vehicles, if not carefully regulated and limited, can monopolize the public's land for the benefit of the few. These are the real single-use lockups of public land, and they usually occur without much public debate.
The Question of PurityWe have carefully drawn the boundaries of our proposed wilderness areas to exclude maintained and traveled roads, heavily used vehicle ways or off-road vehicle routes, active mines, most developed livestock facilities, and developed recreation sites. But where the intrusions are crumbling back into the landscape, or could be restored to a near-natural condition, we have included them within our wilderness boundaries. As the BLM has, we have included a few old mining scars, little-used jeep tracks, and stock facilities such as fences, spring improvements, and gully check dams if they are located within an otherwise wild area and cannot reasonably be excluded by boundary adjustments. Existing commercial uses of stock facilities and mines would be allowed to continue within wilderness areas, subject to reasonable regulations designed to protect wilderness values.
Congress has made it clear that such intrusions do not disqualify an area from wilderness designation if they are "substantially unnoticeable" in the context of the whole area. This does not mean that such imprints must be invisible, only that the land retain an overall sense of wildness. Few desert lands are totally untouched by man. Too often, the BLM has allowed mineral exploration or off-road vehicle use to intrude into large wild regions. The agency often dropped those areas from its wilderness inventory. In many cases the roads were illegal in the first place, the mineral exploration proved fruitless, or the jeep trails served no important purpose. The legislative history of the Wilderness Act makes it clear that a few such imprints do not disqualify entire wild areas from protection.
Some people ask why, on the one hand, conservationists include jeep tracks and other human imprints in wilderness proposals, but, on the other hand, object to constructing such facilities within designated wilderness areas. The answer, quite simply, is that the primary goal is to prevent further damage to natural areas. Within limits, nature can heal old scars, but this cannot be used to justify further damage. Once an area is designated wilderness, it is the responsibility of the managing agency to prevent further impairment of the area's wild character.
Fire, Insect, and Disease ManagementWildfire is an important part of natural ecosystems. Fires remove debris, recycle soil nutrients, and encourage new plant growth. Fires caused by lightning within designated wilderness can be allowed to burn if there is no threat to life and property. Decisions related to wilderness fire management should conform to a fire management plan, adopted following comments from the public.
Fires are generally detected through the use of aircraft overflights and fire lookouts located outside the wilderness. If necessary, however, lookouts may be located within the wilderness. Fire suppression techniques must use minimum tools (e.g., avoid bulldozers where hand work is sufficient) and they must prevent unnecessary degradation of the land.
Prescribed burning may be permitted to restore and maintain the natural condition of a fire-dependent ecosystem. This can help perpetuate habitat for certain threatened and endangered plants or animals.
Insects and disease outbreaks, like fire, are normal events in natural ecosystems. Our use of the term "infestation" only shows how little we know of these natural processes. Still, insects and disease may be controlled within designated wilderness areas if not to do so would threaten endangered plant or animal species or other resources outside the wilderness.
MINERAL RESOURCES AND WILDERNESSEditor's Note: Would wilderness designations lock up vast quantities of minerals? And would employment in the mineral industries suffer as a result? Hard data on mineral potentials in candidate wilderness areas are scarce. But claimed mineral potential led the BLM to recommend against wilderness designation for many of its wilderness study areas (WSAs), as well as eliminate many WSAs from study. The Utah Wilderness Coalition asked Dr. W. Thomas Goerold, Chief Economist for Energy and Mineral Resources at The Wilderness Society, to make an independent assessment of the importance of the mineral industry to Utah's economy. His report is summarized below. A more detailed analysis can be found in The Energy and Mineral Sector in Utah, available from The Wilderness Society, 900 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Following his report is a brief analysis of specific minerals found within our proposed wilderness areas. This analysis is summarized from comments the Utah Wilderness Coalition submitted to the BLM on its 1986 draft wilderness EIS.
THE ENERGY AND MINERAL INDUSTRIES IN UTAH
Composition of Energy and Mineral Production in 1977 and 1987Production of energy and mineral materials in Utah totalled $1.847 billion in 1977. [Totals reflect adjustments for inflation to 1989 dollars unless otherwise stated.] Slightly more than 50 percent of total energy and mineral revenues were obtained from energy commodities (oil, gas, coal, and uranium).
Copper production made up 25 percent of total energy and mineral production in 1977. Other metals produced in 1977 included minor amounts of silver, iron ore, zinc, magnesium, tungsten, zinc, and vanadium. Construction materials, commodities used primarily in the building industry such as limestone and sand and gravel, comprised about 13 percent of state output of total mineral materials.
In 1987, mineral firms in Utah produced approximately $1.982 billion worth of energy and mineral commodities, about 7 percent more than output in 1977. Approximately 62 percent of industry production in Utah was attributable to sales of energy commodities. The remaining 38 percent of minerals output was dominated by the "other" class, largely non-metallic materials not counted in the construction materials grouping and including gypsum, phosphate rock, potassium salts, sodium sulfate, and stone.
A comparison of mineral output in the two years shows the share of production from energy commodities increased from 53 to 62 percent in the 10-year period. Oil and gas and coal production values each expanded during this time. The large growth in energy prices since the mid-1970s resulted in greater exploration for energy commodities. Though energy prices have now decreased to near mid-1970s levels, energy deposits found in the last decade are still in production. In contrast to the increases in other energy commodity production shares, the uranium industry has struggled to maintain a 5 percent share of total commodity production values since 1977. Although the share claimed by the copper sector declined to just 5 percent in 1987, this was largely because of diminished production resulting from modernization of Utah's largest copper mine.
IMPACT OF THESE INDUSTRIES ON UTAH'S ECONOMYA common index of economic impact, the contribution of the industry to the Utah Gross State Product, identifies the total amount of goods and services produced by industries. Gross State Product measures an entire state's industrial output and standard of living--analogous to Gross National Product. A second measure of the effect of the energy and mineral industries on the state is the employment impact.
Utah Gross State Product
|By 1986, natural resource extraction industries represented just over 3 percent of the Utah Gross State Product, a drop of approximately 75 percent over the quarter century. The oil and gas industry decreased its share of the Utah economic activity from 8 to less than 2 percent. Metals producers also showed a similar decline.
In 1963, the share of Utah Gross State Product of all energy and mineral producers was approximately 13 percent. The oil and gas sector alone represented almost 8 percent of economic activity in Utah. Since 1963, even through the oil and mineral price escalation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the relative contributions to the state economy by these commodities steadily declined. The almost total collapse of these markets in the early to mid-1980s aggravated this already negative trend.
By 1986, natural resource extraction industries represented just over 3 percent of the Utah Gross State Product, a drop of approximately 75 percent over the quarter century. The oil and gas industry decreased its share of Utah economic activity from 8 to less than 2 percent. Metals producers also showed a similar decline--from over 3 to under 1 percent of state economic activity.
In dollars, the cutback in the economic activity of the natural resource extraction sector was not as dramatic as the decrease in the share of the energy and mineral sector. From 1963 to 1986, the years available for analysis, the oil and gas and metals industries showed very large declines, but the non-metals and coal sectors grew faster than inflation. Though the coal and non-metals sectors indicated absolute dollar growth in state economic activity, the Utah economy as a whole grew faster than these sectors of the mining industry.
The services sector, one of the sectors exhibiting the most dramatic growth in the Utah economy, increased from about 9 to more than 13 percent of the Utah economy from 1963 to 1986. In dollars, this sector, covering a host of businesses including tourism and recreation, tripled during this period--from $1.11 to $3.33 billion. Most recent data show that services sector economic activity contributes approximately four times as much as the energy and mineral extraction industry to the Utah economy.
Employment in UtahAnother measure of the evolution of Utah's economy is found in employment trends. There was a near doubling of the number of jobs in Utah in the last 20 years, from about 430,000 in 1969 to slightly more than 800,000 in 1987. While total state employment has been increasing, the energy and mineral sector employment is actually lower now than in 1969.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that the mining industry employed approximately 13,000 people in 1969, but just under 9,000 workers collected paychecks from the industry in 1987. The share of total state employment attributed to energy and mineral firms declined 63 percent, from more than 3 to about 1 percent of total Utah employment. Simultaneously, total employment in the services sector increased by 180 percent--from 74,000 to 207,000 workers--representing a growth of from 17 to almost 26 percent of the Utah workforce.
The metals mining sector has experienced the largest job loss of any segment of Utah's mining industry during this interval. In 1969, metal mining firms employed almost 10,000 people, but by 1987 the employment in these firms totalled only about 3,000. Much of this decline can be attributed to the virtual extinction of the state's uranium industry, but some effects have also been caused by the cyclical market-related cutbacks in employment used in mining at Bingham Canyon's copper facilities.
CONCLUSIONSEnergy commodity production continues to dominate the mining industry in Utah. Oil, natural gas, and coal production contribute the largest revenues to this sector. Significant revenues are also generated by copper and gold mining operations in the state, with most of state production of these commodities coming from two sites in Utah.
The economic and employment trends for the energy and mineral sector show the effect of the long-term decline of the sector aggravated by the extreme recession of these markets during the early to mid-1980s. Since 1963, the share of Utah's economy contributed by the natural resource extraction industry has decreased by 67 percent--from 13 to 3.4 percent. Oil and gas and metals industries have borne the greatest losses, and the coal industry has shown a modest gain. Employment in the energy and mineral industries has also decreased, from 13,000 in 1969 to less than 8,000 in 1987. This translates to an aggregate employment share for the energy and mineral industries of approximately 1 percent of the total statewide labor force in 1987, compared with more than 3 percent in 1969.
In marked contrast to the declining trends seen in the energy and mineral sector, the Utah economy as a whole has generally shown healthy growth. The services industry in Utah has increased from 9 to 13 percent of the Utah Gross State Product and from 17 to almost 26 percent of Utah employment in the last 20 to 25 years.
|Current and future oil and gas operations in Utah are handicapped by very high drilling costs associated with petroleum operations in the state. Due to the high cost of producing petroleum in the state, even a large increase in the price of oil is unlikely to yield considerable additional reserves of petroleum.
Although the tonnage of coal produced in Utah is at or near an all-time high, the value of coal production lies somewhat below levels seen in the early 1980s. The price paid for Utah coal has continually declined due, in part, to large quantities of lower cost production from Montana and Wyoming. Resources of Utah coal are abundant, but the high cost of extraction and huge reserves of less expensive coal in nearby states may hamper large scale expansion of coal mining in Utah. Nevertheless, most currently producing coal mines in the state contain enough reserves for a long period of continued production at current or even increased rates of output.
The continued production of uranium in Utah, and even the United States as a whole, is in doubt. After reaching a peak of more than $45 per pound in 1981, the uranium price now hovers near $9 per pound. One active mill remains in Utah, and most of the ore that is processed at this location comes from production obtained from the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Reduced domestic demand for nuclear power combined with less costly foreign sources of uranium indicate that future production of this commodity from Utah mines is questionable.
Metal production in Utah is dominated by copper production from the Bingham Mine. Steel, gold, beryllium, and magnesium are also important commodities produced in the state. With a few notable exceptions, the pattern of production at metal mines in the state has followed the trend seen for the energy commodities--a production and price peak in the early to mid-1980s followed by a major collapse of the markets. Although copper production is likely to continue into the next century, barring any significant new finds, most of it probably will come from the Bingham Mine. One mine, the Brush Wellman beryllium mine, contains strategic minerals of national importance. Many other mines, such as the Escalante silver mine and Burgin base metal mine, have closed or are scheduled to close due to depleted reserves and continued low mineral prices.
Using almost any economic measure, most sectors of the energy and mineral extraction industries in Utah have become less important during the last quarter century. Although oil, gas, coal, and copper producers (to name the most prominent industries) remain viable in the state, they no longer hold the economic or employment influence they wielded as recently as two decades ago.
W. Thomas Goerold, Ph.D.
MINERALS IN PROPOSED WILDERNESS AREASSome of Utah's wild lands contain deposits of coal, tar sands, oil and gas, uranium, and potash. The mineral industry opposes wilderness designation for lands containing such deposits. But few of these deposits are likely to be developed in the foreseeable future owing to economic, technological, and environmental problems not related to wilderness designation. With few exceptions, the lands within our proposal have remained wild because of the lack of economically feasible mineral deposits. Repeated investigations by exploration geologists have uncovered few real opportunities for mineral development. Further information is contained in the publications of the U.S. Geological Survey on individual BLM wilderness study areas.
Tar SandThe BLM states in its draft wilderness EIS (1986) that tar sand development in Utah is unlikely, yet the BLM recommended against wilderness designation for parts of the North Escalante Canyons and Fiddler Butte units on the basis of possible tar sand development. Development of these areas is unlikely because of the low quality of the deposit, the lack of water, and limited access. The Circle Cliff deposit in the North Escalante canyons is ranked by the energy industry as very low on the list of developable resources in Utah and the United States. Wood and Ritzma, in a 1972 Utah Geological and Mineralogical Survey Special Study (#39), tested 12 Circle Cliffs deposits and found that "the tar sand is poorly saturated with oil, the oil is unusually heavy, and the oil contains a high percentage of sulfur."
In 1986, the BLM recommended that two parts of its Fiddler Butte and French Spring-Happy Canyon WSAs not be considered for wilderness designation in order to "avoid conflicts with potential tar sand development" (BLM, 1986, p. 12). This runs counter to the BLM's own analysis that the "probability of development is low due to topographic and economic constraints" (p. 20). Ritzma, in "Commercial Aspects of Utah's Oil-impregnated Sandstone Deposits" (1973) downgrades the Tar Sand Triangle deposits that underlie these two WSAs because "the area is exceedingly rugged and the deposit extends downdip beneath an intricately dissected plateau. Access to exposed areas is difficult." A Bureau of Mines report (Glassett and Glassett, Eyring Research Institute, 1976) concludes that "the deposit is quite lean," and states, "the relatively high sulfur content of the Tar Sand triangle bitumen may be a significant deterrent to . . . development of this huge deposit."
Though in-place resources of tar sand may be extensive, their commercial viability in the foreseeable future is nil, and no adverse effects on U. S. hydrocarbon availability can be expected to result from their inclusion in wilderness areas.
CoalAlthough Utah WSAs do contain large deposits of coal, these deposits generally are too remote from markets, too difficult to reach, and present such extreme problems of mining and reclamation that few are likely to be mined in the foreseeable future. Most WSAs with substantial coal deposits lie in the Kaiparowits, Book Cliffs, and Henry Mountains coal fields. Of these, only the Book Cliffs has significant current production, and only the southern tip of that field is within the Utah Wilderness Coalition proposal. That part of the field has up to 200 million tons of coal reserves, of which up to 70 million tons are minable (based on data in Atlas of Utah, 1981). In contrast, the remainder of Utah's producing coal fields (the rest of the Book Cliffs as well as the Wasatch Plateau and Salina Canyon fields) contain more than 3.3 billion tons of minable reserves. Current production could be sustained from these proven reserves for nearly two centuries.
Oil and GasAlthough the BLM states that 80 of its WSAs could contain oil and gas, it acknowledges that this is "very speculative for most WSAs" (BLM, 1986, vol. 1, p. 129). The BLM rated 19 of its WSAs as having a medium to high potential for oil and gas, based on ratings provided by its consultant, Science Applications, Inc. (SAI). But the BLM bases its resource estimates on only part of the SAI analysis--the "favorability" rating. That rating projects the size of any oil and gas reservoir that might be found beneath a WSA. This rating does not take into account the likelihood of finding such deposits, for which SAI assigns a separate "certainty" rating. Both ratings must be taken together to assess the likelihood of finding a resource of a certain size. For example, the Paria-Hackberry WSA was assumed to have a potential resource of 3-15 million barrels of oil. However, the likelihood of finding deposits of this size was rated as low.
We examined drilling records in the vicinity of three representative WSAs (Grandstaff Canyon, Mill Creek, and Behind the Rocks) to determine whether the SAI ratings themselves were reasonable. The lack of significant discoveries suggests that the favorability ratings for these areas are exaggerated, hence are suspect for other areas as well.
The BLM's DEIS states that "the potential for oil and gas within the [Behind the Rocks] WSA is believed to be moderate for Mississippian-aged rocks and lower for Pennsylvanian-aged rocks." (BLM, 1986, vol. V, Behind the Rocks analysis, p. 11; similar statements for Mill Creek and Grandstaff.) Over 70 wells have been drilled within a radius of about 15 miles of the center of the three areas. Nearly half of the wells tested Mississipian or older strata. Nine wells produced some oil, but only two were producing as of 1986. None of the 70-plus wells had significant shows in or produced from Mississipian-aged rock. The nearest wells with good shows or production are all 5 miles or more west or southwest of the Behind the Rocks WSA. Each of these wells produced from or had shows in Pennsylvanian-aged strata.
Recent exploration in southeastern Utah suggests the possibility that deeply buried Precambrian rocks may be a potential source of hydrocarbons. Oil and gas potential in Precambrian source rock is generally considered very low and is unlikely to ever generate meaningful quantities of oil. Even in the remote possibility of an occurrence, the depth of the deposit would exceed that of existing Utah oil fields; thus, extraction costs would be substantially greater. As is, Utah has the second-highest drilling cost per barrel for any state containing significant oil and gas reserves.
The BLM states in its DEIS (1986, vol. 1, p. 71) that "the projected amount of oil in Utah BLM WSAs (total estimated in-place resource) is less than four-tenths of one percent of the projected U.S. proven and indicated reserves and 12 percent of the estimated Utah proven and indicated reserves." Even this is an apples-and-oranges comparison, since the proven reserves in the WSAs are likely to be much less than the BLM "projected amount of oil."
UraniumThe BLM identified 22 WSAs as having potential uranium resources. Sixteen of those WSAs are either not recommended for wilderness or are only partially recommended. For example, 19,000 acres in the North Escalante Canyons/The Gulch WSA were left out of the BLM's wilderness recommendation presumably because of uranium deposits. Inferred and known uranium deposits in that WSA could be as much as a few hundred tons, but most of this material is currently not economic to extract.
The BLM estimates total reserves of uranium oxide in Utah WSAs as 70,343 tons (BLM, 1986, vol. 1, p. 75). However, this estimate was based on studies conducted for the Department of Energy in the 1970s. At that time there were considerably better prospects for uranium recovery in Utah at the then-current price of $30 per pound for uranium oxide. Demand has fallen considerably with the long term slackening of electric demand and the problems besetting the nuclear power industry. The current price of under $9 per pound has rendered many deposits uneconomic. Moreover, huge deposits of uranium ore have been opened in Australia and Canada. U.S. production is more likely to come from the lowest-cost uranium reserves in Wyoming, New Mexico, and northern Arizona, not from wilderness deposits in Utah.
PotashUtah wild lands are unlikely to be significant producers of potash because of much larger known deposits closer to transportation and markets. The BLM's analysis of its Mill Creek WSA is illustrative. Mill Creek was assigned a moderately favorable rating for potash for both size of deposit and likelihood of occurrence. But the ratings do not take into account the depth of the potassium-bearing strata--at least 7,000 feet. Moreover, the deposit is likely to be small--1 to 10 tons. This may be why none of the WSA is currently under lease for potash. As the BLM states, "The likelihood of the area being explored or developed is remote due to more favorable areas elsewhere" (BLM, 1986, p. 22). Despite a favorable geologic rating, an economic analysis suggests that no resources of significance are present.
ConclusionA meaningful analysis of minerals in wilderness areas depends on the distinction between deposits of minerals, which may or may not be economic to mine, and mineral reservesthat meet economic criteria. If a mineral deposit is unlikely to be developed because of basic economic or environmental constraints, it is dishonest to claim that wilderness designation would cause the loss of that resource. Mineral deposits on most of Utah's BLM wild lands are too remote from markets to be economically feasible to devolop, or have other severe constraints on development such as lack of water, rugged topography, and difficult reclamation. Thus, wilderness designations will probably have much less effect on mineral availability than industry advocates claim.
GRAZING IN WILDERNESS
|. . . the grazing of livestock, where established prior to the effective date of this act, shall be permitted to continue subject to such reasonable regulations as are deemed necessary by the Secretary of Agriculture.
The Wilderness Act of 1964
This report specifies that wilderness designation cannot be used as an excuse to reduce or phase out grazing. Grazing levels may be allowed to increase if there would be "no adverse impact" on wilderness values. However, no new permits can be issued. New improvements such as fences and spring developments are permissible, but should be aimed at protecting resources, rather than increasing grazing levels. Livestock permittees cannot be compelled to use natural materials in the construction of facilities if doing so would impose "unreasonable" costs.
The Utah Wilderness Coalition's wilderness proposal would further minimize impacts to livestock permittees by "cherry-stemming" roads needed by ranchers for access to stock watering ponds and other range developments.
Wilderness designation can benefit a livestock operation by eliminating conflicts between off-road vehicles and livestock, including vandalism, open gates, and harassment and theft of livestock.
Livestock grazing, if improperly managed, can lead to soil erosion, competition for forage with wildlife species, the introduction of non-native plant species, the spread of disease to wildlife populations, damage to riparian areas, and deterioration of water quality. These problems must be dealt with regardless of whether an area is designated wilderness. To oppose wilderness because it might affect livestock operations shifts attention from the real issue--the desert's fragile soils and vegetation that must be protected at all costs.
Livestock Forage Values in BLM Wild LandsWilderness designation would limit the potential to increase grazing above current levels. In most cases grazing levels are already at or above the natural carrying capacity of the land; further increases would require significant range modifications such as new stock reservoirs, road access, chainings, and seedings. Such developments rarely bring returns commensurate with their cost because of the inherently poor forage values found on most arid lands.
Existing livestock grazing within our proposal would, of course, continue. But even this use is not a significant part of Utah's economy. As part of a landmark 1987 study of public attitudes toward wilderness protection in the state of Utah entitled Non-Market Valuation of Wilderness Designation in Utah, Dr. C. Arden Pope, Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University, established a relative value for livestock forage within the 3.2 million acres of WSAs to be about $500,000. And the sad state of the range itself precludes any significant increases. When the value of these wild lands for other uses is measured, livestock grazing appears even less significant. Dr. Pope's study showed that in terms of people's willingness to pay for recreation and other wilderness values, the BLM's WSAs alone would have a total relative value of $27 million to $47 million.
Manipulating the Range--The Chaining BoondoggleOne of the most objectionable practices still used on public lands is chaining. In this operation, two large bulldozers drag a ship-anchor chain through stands of trees and sagebrush, ripping them out. Chaining destroys stands of pinyon-juniper to encourage the growth of grass for livestock.
All too often, however, chaining destroys resources at tremendous cost to the taxpayer. Chainings eliminate thermal and hiding cover for big game. Undiscovered archeological resources are destroyed as the chain is dragged across the ground. Desert soils can take thousands of years to develop; chaining not only disturbs the topsoil, but permits erosion as water is allowed to run unimpeded across the newly barren ground.
The economics of chaining are also notoriously poor. Proposed range improvements in the Henry Mountains, for example, would cost $94,000 to increase forage by some 540 AUMs--a cost of $175 per AUM. Contrast the $1.81 per AUM fee paid in 1990 for public forage.
The abrupt, unnatural clearings created by chaining are similar to forest clearcutting, and just as esthetically offensive. In many instances, uprooted trees and shrubs are left in unsightly windrows to decay.
Much as with clearcutting, chaining proponents claim that the practice mimics natural processes such as wildfire that perpetuate grassland ecosystems by clearing off sagebrush and pinyon-juniper forests. But the shrubs and trees may simply be recolonizing their former habitat following severe grazing disturbance during the late 1800s. Chaining is a destructive way to create livestock forage, and is not permitted within Congressionally designated wilderness areas. A sound fire management policy, coupled with proper grazing management, can do more to perpetuate natural grassland ecosystems than intensive scarification practices such as chaining.
OFF-ROAD VEHICLESOff-road vehicles (ORVs), which include four-wheel-drive pickup trucks, three-and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles, and trail bikes, are commonly used on BLM lands. State of Utah data from 1980, cited by the BLM (1986), indicate that off-road vehicle use was the 17th most popular recreation activity on all Utah lands, with a total of 2 million visits in 1976. (Hiking and backpacking was the 14th most popular with 2.3 million visits.) Utah has ample opportunities for vehicular recreation with thousands of miles of dirt roads outside of UWC's wilderness proposals.
Off-road vehicle users often ask why their form of recreation is not allowed within designated wilderness areas. Vehicles are essentially incompatible with wilderness and conflict with other users. When an ORV intrudes into a wild place, the solitude sought by the visitor on foot or horseback is lost as the natural silence is suddenly shattered.
|The deleterious effect of ORVs on native plants and animals is undeniable. Where their use is heavy, virtually all existing life is ultimately destroyed. As matters now stand, a form of play has joined with other destructive human activities in degrading the Earth's wild and unspoiled places.
Impacts and Management of Off-Road Vehicles The Geological Society of America and National Science Foundation, Report EAR75-16285, May 1977, 8 p.
The damage from vehicles is often irreparable. Cryptogam, the dark-brown or grey soil crusts formed by living organisms, is particularly susceptible to damage. Cryptogam evolves over many years to stabilize sandy desert soils. Once crushed by vehicles, it can take decades to become reestablished, if at all.
In 1977 the National Science Foundation and the Geological Society of America published a detailed analysis entitled Impacts and Management of Off Road Vehicles. This report found that ORVs disturb soils, increase erosion, damage water quality, destroy plants and adversely affect animals.
The analysis also raised concerns about long term effects of ORVs. In discussing impacts on plant communities, the study said: "Indeed, it seems certain that many delicate interdependencies between organisms and their habitats, having been obliterated by ORVs, can never be restored."
ORV use requires specific management by the BLM, especially in light of technological advances in the last few years. These newer vehicles have more power and better gear drives than their predecessors. With these advances comes an ability to generate more damage in less time on larger tracts of public land.
Some ORV users complain that they are willing to share their routes with hikers, so why can't hikers accept vehicles? The problem is that vehicles have an impact out of proportion to their numbers. One motorbike or ATV can destroy the deserts silence for miles around, interrupting the solitude for dozens of hikers. Yet that many foot travelers, properly dispersed, will not disturb each other.
Many ORV users desire easy access to scenic places. And Utah's desert lands have thousands of miles of highways, secondary roads, and backcountry jeep routes that will remain open even if our wilderness proposal is enacted. At no point in any of our proposed wilderness areas is one more than 7 miles from a road. Unless additional lands are placed off limits to vehicle use, the solitude, silence, and opportunity for physical challenge--so long a part of the American West--will become a thing of the past.
STATE LANDSScattered evenly throughout the Utah Wilderness Coalitions's 5.7 million acres of proposed BLM wilderness are about 630,000 acres of land owned by the State of Utah. (State lands are not included in our acreage totals.) Every ninth square mile (four sections in every township) was given to the state by the federal government under the Statehood Act of l894. Nearly half of the state's original holdings have been sold. But the state still holds sections 2, 16, 32, and 36 in every township of BLM land. (Much of its scattered holdings in national parks, national forests, Indian reservations, and military installations has been exchanged for large blocks of BLM land.) The state currently holds a total of 3.7 million acres.
The state was given the lands as a trust to help support the public schools. The Governor's Wilderness Subcommittee reports that the school trust lands generate about $12 million per year, which is only 2 percent of the uniform school fund. The Division of State Lands and Forestry (DSLF), which manages these lands, has tried to raise more money by emphasizing immediate economic return rather than sustained yield management.
The Public Trust For SaleTellingly, the state attempted to raise revenues by pressuring the National Park Service into exchanging the remaining scattered state sections in Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) for prime development property on Lake Powell. The state planned to sell or lease these newly acquired lands--still within the NRA--to private developers for marinas, condominiums, and airports. Although these lands would be located within Glen Canyon NRA, the Park Service would have no control over their commercial use.
The Park Service, in fulfilling its trust obligations, could only answer with a resounding "no." Commercial development of such newly created inholdings would seriously compromise the Park Service's ability to manage the natural and recreational values of the NRA. Accordingly, it asked the DSLF to resume negotiations to exchange the inholdings for BLM lands outside of the parks as it had agreed to do in a l987 memorandum of understanding. But instead the DSLF announced in mid-1989 that it would put the park inholdings up for sale to the highest bidder. This position has more to do with fulfilling the anti-park and anti-wilderness sentiments of some county commissioners than with protecting the school trust.
Strong protests by Utah citizens forced the DSLF to halt its land disposal plans, at least temporarily, but the state's willingness to make such a threat is disturbing, and does not bode well for BLM wild lands so long as they contain state inholdings. In addition to commercially developing the state sections themselves, the state may attempt to block wilderness protection by claiming a right to build roads to each section.
Minimal ReturnsIf state lands were retained within our proposed wilderness areas, what would be the effect on the school trust? The Governor's Wilderness Subcommittee found that the average annual rents for state sections within or adjacent to areas the BLM recommended for wilderness are $l per acre. At this rate, the state lands within or adjacent to the Coalition proposal would generate about $630,000 per year. This is only one-tenth of one percent of the uniform school fund. Yet even these small returns would not be lost under wilderness designation. The DSLF would still rent the lands for grazing, and it could exchange its scattered sections for non-wilderness BLM lands (as the states of Arizona and Oregon have done with hundreds of thousands of acres in recent years).
Alternative SolutionsGiven the DSLF's short-sighted, environmentally destructive management, the members of the Utah Wilderness Coalition are unwilling to see the state receive large blocks of public land with wilderness, scenic, or wildlife values. Any exchange program must include the safeguards contained in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to retain lands with significant public values in public ownership. More than 1.4 million acres of state land have been exchanged under FLPMA in other western states since 1983.
Another possible solution would be for the federal government to purchase some state inholdings within designated wilderness areas through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was authorized in l964 to use some of the revenues from offshore oil leasing to purchase lands for conservation and recreation purposes. Acquisitions through the LWCF have been limited, however, because of the failure of recent administrations to request full funding for the program.
Estimated values for recently proposed Utah BLM acquisitions through the LWCF range from $50 to $100 per acre for properties without high development potential to as much as $2,000 for prime recreation land in the St. George area. Because many state sections are isolated and have limited development potential, the lower figures are probably closer to the average. Even so, public purchase of the state inholdings in BLM wilderness lands could provide the school trust with more money than it would receive from grazing and mineral fees.
In other states, exchange and acquisition of state lands has been a part of the BLM's efforts to block up and improve management of its holdings. Management of both BLM and state lands would be simplified, and citizens could be assured that designated wilderness areas would be free of the pressure of inappropriate commercial uses.
WILDERNESS WATER RIGHTSWater is a critical component of desert ecosystems. If wilderness streams and wetlands were to dry up or diminish significantly due to their diversion and drainage, then water would not be available for wildlife, riparian plants, and recreation. Clearly, wilderness legislation must include a reserved water right if it is to include all the major elements of wild ecosystems in the protective umbrella.
The courts have consistently held that Congress intends to establish a federal reserved water right when it sets aside public land for special protective purposes. Thus, all federal reservations, such as Indian reservations, military reservations, national parks, and wilderness areas have federal reserved water rights. These federal water rights are administered by states and are determined on the basis of the principle, "First in time, first in right." This means that all water rights applicants line up behind all others whose rights have been previously established. A newly established wilderness area will have a recent priority date and be "junior" to all other existing water rights holders.
Most of the areas proposed for wilderness by the Utah Wilderness Coalition contain the middle or lower courses of the streams that flow through them. Though none of Zion National Park has been designated as wilderness, it stands as a good example of the need for a federal reserved water right for wilderness and parks. Few would argue against the proposition that the water of the Virgin River, which carved much of the spectacular scenery of Zion, is an essential component of the park and its ecosystem.
There are no serious proposals to locate water projects within the park. There are, however, designs to build a dam on the North Fork of the Virgin River above the park. The diversion of water from the reservoir behind such a dam would have obvious negative effects on the river downstream in the park. There would be less water to support riparian vegetation along the stream. Water diverted by the proposed project would not be available to support fish such as the endangered woundfin minnow, the Virgin River chub, or the Virgin River spinedace. In addition, less downstream water would detract from the experience of the thousands of park visitors every year who wade the Virgin River Narrows. Such damage could be avoided if the federal government were to claim a reserved water right for the park.
Courts have defined the quantity of a reserved water right for public land as the amount necessary to carry out the purposes for which the land was protected. Thus, a wilderness water right is the amount of water needed to ensure the integrity of wilderness values. The use of water in wilderness is nonconsumptive. Wilderness streams capture precipitation and contribute to groundwater recharge, and the primary users of water within wilderness are plants and animals. Water that flows into a wilderness flows out of a wilderness and is still available for downstream uses.
Due in part to unresolved legal battles on the issue of water rights, it is necessary for Congress to assert a reserved water right for each wilderness area it establishes. But some members of Congress from the West persist in their attempts to strip water rights from wilderness areas by attaching inappropriate language to wilderness bills under consideration by Congress. Moreover, an Interior Department Solicitor's opinion issued in the waning days of the Reagan administration officially denied the existence of wilderness water rights.Therefore the responsibility has fallen on Congress to assert such rights and Congress has done so repeatedly in recent years--with the Nevada wilderness bill in 1989, the El Malpais, New Mexico, legislation in 1988, and in the Arizona BLM wilderness bill in 1990. Each of these states is as arid as Utah and its citizens no less concerned about future economic growth.
In order to protect wilderness water resources for Utah BLM wilderness, legislation will need to follow these guidelines:
- An express reservation of water for the amount necessary to protect wilderness values...
- ...with the priority date as the date of enactment.
- Wilderness water rights are subject to all valid existing water rights and...
- ...are in addition to any other water rights already reserved by the United States.
- The federal government must promptly claim a wilderness water right for each of the areas designated as wilderness by the Utah BLM Wilderness Act.
Some federal land managers claim that they cannot be compelled by the courts to assert and defend wilderness water rights. Therefore, wilderness legislation should include a statement which ensures that the federal agency responsible for managing the new wilderness will not treat the assertion of a wilderness water right as discretionary and will enter without delay into the state's water rights adjudication process.
It would be difficult to find anyone who would seriously propose that after a wilderness is established, its forests could be clearcut, its most impressive geologic features stripped away, or its wildlife exterminated. Likewise, a wilderness would be greatly diminished with its water siphoned off. We must ensure, then, that legislation which establishes BLM wilderness in Utah includes measures necessary for the protection of wilderness water resources.
Maggie Fox and Lawson LeGate[ Main_Page] [Join_Email_Alert_List] [What_YOU_Can_Do] [Join_SUWA] [Send_Comments] [Photo_Exhibit]