THE STANSBURY MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
- Away from the Crowds
- One Wilderness
- The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal
- NORTH STANSBURY UNIT
- BIG HOLLOW UNIT
Away from the CrowdsThe existing Deseret Peak Wilderness is a popular destination for backpackers, day-hikers, and hunters from the populous Wasatch Front. Immediately north and south of the designated wilderness is land managed by the Forest Service that qualifies for eventual wilderness designation but that was not protected by the 1984 legislation. The proposed BLM wilderness units are at the extreme ends of the range: North Stansbury (18,300 acres) on the north and Big Hollow (4,200 acres) on the south.
In 1982 the Department of Interior released from further study 18 WSAs around the West that are adjacent to Forest Service roadless areas. These 18 areas were considered for but not designated as wilderness under the RARE II process. According to the Department of the Interior, they were of insufficient size to be managed as wilderness independent of the adjacent USFS areas. Since the 1984 Utah Wilderness Act released land between the Deseret Peak Wilderness and the BLM-managed Big Hollow WSA, the latter was dropped from wilderness review. The North Stansbury WSA escaped such treatment because the BLM considered it to be more easily managed as wilderness independent of the USFS land.
One WildernessThis piecemeal approach to wilderness on the part of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture fails to respond to the need to protect natural ecosystem boundaries, and shows an unwelcome deference to political rather than resource-based decision making. Both departments missed the point that these lands are integral parts of a single mountain ecosystem surrounded by desert flats. One county official admitted at a public hearing that the national forest wilderness boundary had been shrunk six miles back on the north and one and a half miles on the south to prevent future designation of BLM wilderness. The deleted lands included three major mountain peaks and 13 drainages.
The Utah Wilderness Coalition ProposalInstead of dropping the Big Hollow unit from further study, the BLM and the USFS should collaborate in evaluating the entire mountain range as a single wilderness area. Congressional designation is needed to ensure that these wild lands are not compromised by agency politics.
NORTH STANSBURY UNIT
HighlightsThe northern 18,300 acres of the Stansbury Mountains are a logical part of the proposed Stansbury wilderness. Expansive views of the Great Salt Lake, the West Desert, and the Wasatch Mountains are but one mark of excellence for this unit; it also contains crucial summer mule deer habitat and is home for cougar, bobcat, golden and bald eagles, and a wide variety of other species. The UDWR has identified the area for reintroduction of bighorn sheep. Vegetative cover includes fir, aspen, pine, and juniper. There are no substantive conflicts standing against wilderness designation. Vehicle access to the North Stansbury Mountains is easiest from Interstate 80 heading west out of Salt Lake City. Take the Rowley Junction-Timpie Springs exit six miles east of Delle and follow the road six miles south to a dirt road that heads up Muskrat Canyon. After about a mile the road degenerates, and good hiking begins. The central and southern portions of the Stansbury Mountains are more easily reached from the east side of the range, south and west of Grantsville.
Geology and landformsThe ridgeline of the North Stansburys is steep, grassy, and cut by rugged canyons. Views across the West Desert from the many ridgetops in the North Stansburys are outstanding.
Plant communitiesAt elevations below 7,500 feet juniper forests dominate, while the higher ridges and mountain tops are dominated by shrubs, mountain mahogany, and grasses. Cottonwood, choke- cherry, and aspen are commonly found in the drainages; the northern exposures of the unit are forested with conifer and aspen. During spring the mountainsides are aglow with early wildflowers, and the entire area is surprisingly lush.
WildlifeAccording to the BLM, there are approximately 180 species of wildlife in the unit: 114 are bird species, 51 are mammals, and 15 are reptiles. The game species include deer, grouse, chukar, and cottontails. Mountain lion, bobcat, and 17 species of raptors frequent the area. Both the golden eagle and bald eagle are commonly found in the North Stansbury Mountains. The area contains superb habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and the UDWR plans re-introduction of these animals in the near future.
RecreationThe area is used extensively by hunters during deer and upland game bird seasons and by hikers and sightseers at other times of the year. The North Stansburys offer an excellent opportunity to escape the crowds while remaining within easy reach of the Salt Lake area.
BLM recommendationThe BLM in 1986 recommended that 10,000 acres of its 10,480-acre WSA be designated; it claimed that 480 acres contain potential for recovery of copper and disseminated gold. There are no data to support the occurrence of either mineral within the WSA (BLM, 1986, p. 17). The BLM's final recommendation is expected to reinstate the missing acreage. According to the BLM's intensive wilderness inventory, the WSA is essentially pristine. The BLM found an old mining road, an adit shaft, and two miles of ways to be "substantially unnoticeable."
Coalition proposalWe propose that 18,300 acres of the North Stansbury Mountains be designated wilderness. Our proposal includes benchlands west of the BLM's WSA and the steep lower mountainsides north and east of the WSA.
BIG HOLLOW UNIT
HighlightsAt the southern tip of the Stansbury Mountains the 4,200-acre Big Hollow unit completes the proposed Stansbury Mountains wilderness. The unit is bounded on the south by Utah 199 where it passes near Johnson Pass. Travelling south of Tooele on Utah 36, take Utah 199 west towards Clover and Dugway. About a mile and a half east of the pass, a narrow dirt road cuts north for just over a mile to Vickory Canyon, where visitors may begin an uphill walk into the higher mountains.
Plant communitiesWith more than 3,000 feet of vertical relief, this unit embraces the transition zone from alpine vegetation to a drier pinyon pine and juniper woodland habitat. Above 6,500 feet aspen and Douglas fir grow in the shaded valleys.
WildlifeMountain lions find their way down from the more rugged peaks of the Stansbury Mountains, following deer to gentler winter habitat in the Big Hollow unit. Many smaller mammals are year-round residents, and serve as prey for hawks and both types of eagles.
RecreationDeer hunting, hiking, and horseback riding are the main recreational uses of Big Hollow.
BLM recommendationThe BLM initially recommended the area for wilderness study because it makes a logical component of a larger adjacent national forest roadless area. But the agency later dropped the area from further study. The BLM acted outside its legal authority; Congress reserves the right to determine the wilderness suitability of BLM lands.
Coalition proposalOur boundary takes in fewer than three miles of vehicle ways that occur in the unit, and these are largely reclaimed and unused. Mineral conflicts are minor, and there are no other known conflicts with wilderness designation. Big Hollow deserves to be protected as part of a unique West Desert range encompassing both BLM and National Forest lands.