The Fish Springs Range rises like an enormous dorsal fin out of the flat desert. Steep, dry, craggy, and remote, bisected by rugged canyons, the range offers solitude just a short distance from good roads. The Utah Wilderness Coalition is proposing that 55,200 acres be designated wilderness. Such designation would protect roughly four-fifths of the range, which measures 6 miles wide by 16 miles long.

The Fish Springs Range is best reached by good dirt and gravel roads leading southwest from Salt Lake City or southeast from Wendover. From Salt Lake City take Interstate 80 west to the Tooele exit. At Faust Junction, 28 miles south of Tooele, turn west off the pavement onto the Old Pony Express and Stage Route. This road takes you to the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, which lies at the base of the range, and continues around the northern end of the range toward Callao and on to Wendover.

About two miles before the refuge, a dirt road leaves the Pony Express road and travels south along the eastern edge of the mountains, providing hiker access. A hike to the top of the main ridgeline, 3,000 feet above the desert floor, gives unsurpassed views: range after range recedes into the distance, clear to the Wasatch Mountains.

Wildlife and Cultural Resources

The Fish Springs Mountains offer opportunities for hiking, backpacking, hunting, rock collecting, photography, and rock climbing in a primitive setting. Solitude is easily found and seldom interrupted even a short distance from access roads.

Because it is adjacent to plentiful water in the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, the proposed wilderness is an excellent area in which to find wildlife. Two endangered species live here: the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. The entire area is crucial yearlong habitat for golden eagle. Also present are deer, pronghorn antelope, cougar, coyote, badger, bobcat, and many bird species. More than 800 acres are identified as crucial deer summer range. Although desert bighorn sheep were long ago extirpated from the Fish Springs Mountains, good habitat exists, and the UDWR is contemplating reintroducing them.

The range is dominated by shrubs and grasses at lower elevations and pinyon pine and juniper trees higher up. At the highest elevations the juniper trees grow to an uncommonly large size, some with trunks exceeding eight feet in circumference.

Several limestone caves on the northern tip of the Fish Springs Range were surveyed for archeological resources in 1978 and found to have been occupied by Archaic and Fremont/Sevier peoples for nearly 5,000 years. Artifacts included textiles, projectile points, bone tools, and pottery; a burial site was also found. These sites have provided important information about the lifestyle of ancient humans in the Great Basin (Madsen, 1979). While the caves are outside the proposed wilderness, it is likely that there are other archeological sites within the area. Thorough inventories of cultural resources and threatened and endangered species are needed.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal

We propose that 55,200 acres of the Fish Springs Mountains be designated as wilderness, in contrast to 33,840 acres proposed by the BLM. The agency's analysis speaks for itself: "The main portion of the Fish Springs Range is in a completely natural condition with no human intrusions. Lower slopes on the margin of the 52,500-acre WSA have a variety of vehicular ways in various stages of rehabilitation by natural processes. These are substantially unnoticeable in the area as a whole" (BLM, 1986, p. 15).

The BLM's use of the term "substantially unnoticeable" is telling; that is precisely the criterion Congress stipulated in the Wilderness Act to determine the suitability of land for wilderness designation. The lower slopes should be included to give integrity to the entire area rather than allowing them to be further scarred by encroaching roads and ways. Moreover, the benchlands on the lower slopes provide important habitat for such animals as pronghorn antelope and badger.

Livestock are limited by rugged terrain to the lower lying and more gentle benchlands. Competition between wildlife and livestock for scarce forage is currently a problem but will be unaffected by wilderness designation. Local ranchers occasionally use some of the existing ways to herd and feed their animals but could continue to do so by horse.

Other conflicts with wilderness designation are minimal. Few off-road vehicles use the area. No leasable or locatable minerals are known to occur in commercial quantities. There are hard-rock mining claims and mineral leases (both pre- and post-FLPMA) within the area, but none has produced commercially. The northern tip of the range, outside of our proposal, contains proposed sites for electronic facilities for law enforcement and military use.

Mike Medberry