THE BOOK CLIFFS-DESOLATION CANYON WILDERNESS

North of Green River, Utah, the 2,000-foot-high escarpment of the Book and Roan cliffs marks the southern perimeter of a million-acre wilderness of exceptional geographic and biological diversity. Abundant wildlife and rugged beauty have made the Book Cliffs wilderness one of Utah's most popular backcountry destinations. Each year the region draws more than 6,000 hunters, and an equal number of river runners make the float trip through Desolation Canyon annually. But the BLM's wilderness proposals would leave half of those wild lands open for the development of coal, petroleum, and natural gas. The Utah Wilderness Coalition's 718,600-acre proposal would protect the region's nationally significant wildlife and recreational resources.

Cliff, Plateau, and River

Between Price, Utah and Grand Junction, Colorado, Highway 6 and Interstate 70 cross 170 miles of barren and windswept terrain. The drive would be lonely but for a constant companion: the thousand-foot-high wall of the Book Cliffs that parallels the highway just to the north. Winding for 250 miles across Utah and Colorado, it is the longest continuous escarpment in the world.

Near the town of Green River, Utah, a second escarpment, the Roan Cliffs, rises above the Book Cliffs, and together the two climb a vertical mile above the desert. From a distance the double rampart appears to be a smooth, unbroken wall, but on closer inspection it resolves into a complicated network of spurs, ridgelines, and canyons. The ridges climb steeply, collect, and finally join to form a long, unbroken crest called "The Divide."

The Divide is a seam between worlds, a shoreline where the earth meets the sky. To the north lies the vast, gently north-sloping surface of the Tavaputs Plateau. Hanging at elevations between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, the Tavaputs is as cool and moist as the Roan and Book cliffs are rugged and dry. Its ridgelines are covered with forests of spruce, aspen, and fir. Its narrow, north-trending valleys are carpeted with grass and watered by perennial streams.

The Tavaputs Plateau is a monument to the battle between uplift and erosion. This two-mile-thick block of sedimentary strata was uplifted directly in the path of the Green River; as the land rose the Green scoured its channel deeper, gradually cutting the Tavaputs Plateau in half.

Between those two halves -- the East Tavaputs and West Tavaputs plateaus -- the Green winds for 80 miles in a gorge nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon. "...the river is very rapid," wrote the explorer John Wesley Powell, "and many lateral canyons enter on either side....crags and tower-shaped peaks are seen everywhere, and away above them, long lines of broken cliffs; and above and beyond the cliffs are pine forests, of which we obtain occasional glimpses as we look up through a vista of rocks....We are minded to call this the Canyon of Desolation."

One-hundred and thirty years have passed since Powell made his voyage of discovery through Desolation Canyon -- a century of development and progress. Yet the canyon and a large region surrounding it remain as wild as they were when Powell explored them.

In 1936, 67 years after Powell's voyage, Wilderness Society founder Bob Marshall identified the region surrounding Desolation Canyon as the fifth-largest desert wilderness in the nation. Marshall called it the "Book Cliffs Roadless Area" and estimated its size at 2.4 million acres. In the 50 years since Marshall's 1936 survey, mineral development and road construction have reduced the size of this roadless area by more than 60 percent. Even so, the core of the region -- nearly a million acres of extremely rugged canyon country -- remains today, one of the largest unprotected wilderness areas in the West.

Three Worlds

The Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness is a merging of three different worlds: the great rampart of the Roan and Book cliffs, the high alpine forests and meadows of the Tavaputs Plateau, and the inner world of Desolation Canyon. Land ownership in the region is likewise tripartite. The East Tavaputs Plateau, a traditional hunting ground for the Ute Indians, lies within the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Reaching east from the Green River and north from the Roan Cliffs Divide, the Ute reservation encompasses over 200,000 acres of wild land. East of the reservation and north of The Divide lies a 48,000-acre tract of roadless land owned by the state of Utah. South of The Divide and west of the Green River, the remaining 720,000 acres of the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness are BLM land.

It is all marvelous wilderness. The region is one of Utah's most popular backcountry destinations. Each year some 6,000 visitors make the 6-day float trip through Desolation Canyon. The trip features 60 rapids and one of the most impressive river gorges in the country. Equally challenging, though less well known, are the hundreds of miles of pack trails that wind through the canyons. The Outlaw Trail, used by Butch Cassidy's gang, runs the entire length of Desolation Canyon, providing an 80-mile trip for adventurous riders or hikers. Four private lodges located around the perimeter of the wilderness offer starting points for guided horsepack trips.

Big Game Sanctuary

Because of its size, the lack of human intrusions, and the diversity and abundance of its habitat, the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness is an important sanctuary for wildlife. The region between Interstate 70 on the south and the White River on the north harbors an estimated 375 vertebrate species of wildlife -- half of the number found in Utah (UDWR, 1977, Appendix H). Wildlife inventories have identified 50 species of mammals on the East Tavaputs Plateau alone; as many as 14 threatened, endangered, or candidate species of wildlife may exist in the area (BLM, 1986). The Green River in Desolation Canyon is a major migration route for waterfowl and a favorite winter roosting site for the endangered bald eagle. As many as 38 bald eagles have been sighted on a winter day in the 15-mile stretch of river between Chandler Creek and Rock Creek (UDWR, 1977, p. 53).

The area provides a wide variety of habitat for big game. The quiet forests and lush meadows of the Tavaputs Plateau are ideal summer habitat for elk, deer, cougar, and bear. During the winter, deer and elk move away from the Roan Cliffs Divide, seeking forage at lower elevations both to the north and the south. The canyons that head just south of The Divide, within the Desolation, Floy, and Coal Canyon WSAs, all provide critical winter habitat for elk. Some elk remain year-round in Rattlesnake, Floy, Cottonwood, and Diamond canyons, which provide critical year-round elk habitat. Deer moving down off the Tavaputs Plateau follow these canyon bottoms like highways. Desolation Canyon and the lower elevations of the Book Cliffs also provide critical winter habitat for deer.

Though hunting and livestock grazing caused the virtual extirpation of elk and bighorn sheep from Utah by the turn of the century, both species have been reintroduced successfully in this large roadless region. Introduced on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in the 1930s, elk quickly repopulated their traditional summer range on the East Tavaputs Plateau. Today the Book Cliffs elk herd numbers well over 400 animals and continues to grow and to expand its range.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which were reintroduced on the Ute reservation in the early 1970s, have spread rapidly throughout the region, ranging east as far as the Utah-Colorado border and crossing the Green River on winter ice to roam south to the Beckwith Plateau and west into Range Creek Canyon. The bighorn population is estimated at nearly 100 animals, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) is planning additional transplants of desert bighorn sheep, with the hope of reestablishing a hardy desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn crossbreed once abundant in the region.

Deep and abrupt canyons are seen to head back on the plateau and run north toward the Uinta and White rivers. Still other canyons head in the valleys and run toward the south. The elevation of the plateau being about 8,000 feet above the level of the sea, it is in a region of moisture, as is well attested by the forest and grassy valleys . . . . On these high table lands elk and deer abound; and they are favorite hunting-grounds for the Ute Indians.

John Wesley Powell
Canyons of the Colorado (1895)

Utah's Serengeti

Superb habitat and wise stewardship have made the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness one of the few places in Utah where one can find wildlife in numbers approaching those described in history books. An evening walk on the Tavaputs Plateau is the Utah equivalent of an African big game safari. In summer herds of deer roam the long, grassy valleys like wildebeest, and in the fall the air is alive with the music of bugling bull elk.

The area offers excellent opportunities for hunting. In the state-owned Book Cliffs Roadless Area, where bull elk permits are limited to 30 per season, the hunter success ratio is 75 percent. The quality of the hunt is reflected in the heavy demand for permits. In 1986, there were 29 applications for every permit issued, according to the UDWR.

The Book Cliffs deer herd is one of the largest in Utah. It is also one of the most popular, drawing over 4,500 hunters each year. The large deer herd, in turn, supports a healthy population of cougar. During the past decade more cougar were taken by sportsmen in the adjacent Range Creek and Book Cliffs cougar management units (which together span the wilderness) than in any other single cougar management unit in Utah. Bear, too, are unusually abundant in the area. "The black bear in Utah is rapidly facing extermination," the UDWR reported (Ranck, 1961). "A few scattered populations still exist in...those areas that are inaccessible and rarely frequented by man. The boreal sectors of the East Tavaputs Plateau represent one of these last remaining sanctuaries. The unspoiled regions of upper Willow Creek and Hill Creek and the high escarpments of the Roan Cliffs...support what is probably the largest population of black bears in Utah."

Protection Incomplete

Recognizing these superb wildlife and recreational resources, both federal and state agencies have taken measures to prohibit development in the region. As early as 1974, BLM planning documents identified up to 250,000 acres of lands qualifying for primitive area designation and recommended the entire length of the Green River in Desolation Canyon for Wild and Scenic River designation. In 1975, the State of Utah took the unprecedented step of creating a 48,000-acre roadless area on state-owned land in the Book Cliffs, closing the entire area to development to preserve wildlife habitat. In 1978, the Secretary of the Interior established a 61,000-acre Desolation Canyon National Landmark, and in 1983 the BLM identified the 40,000-acre Beckwith Plateau as a second candidate for National Landmark designation.

Wildlife richness and diversity is directly correlated to this area's roadless condition . . . intrusion of roads and increased human activity will have a detrimental effect.

UDWR Director Tim Provan
@sourcexx = [speaking of the Book Cliffs State Roadless Area]

Thus, when the BLM began its wilderness inventory of the Book Cliffs region in 1978, public expectations were high. Surely the agency would recognize the value of protecting one of the largest roadless areas in the intermountain West. Yet by November, 1980, when the inventory was complete, something had gone wrong. While the BLM had identified a total of 362,000 acres in five WSAs in the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs area, it had omitted nearly as much wild land from wilderness study. The lands dropped were among the most rugged and beautiful in the region. They included the Nutters Hole roadless area, a 61,000-acre tract spanning the wildlife-rich bottomlands of the Green River just upstream from Desolation Canyon; 18,500 acres at the headwaters of 900-foot-deep Jack Creek Canyon; 13,000 acres on Big Horn Mountain bordering the west rim of Desolation Canyon; the entire 40,000-acre Beckwith Plateau; and 150,000 acres in the rugged canyons and ridgelines of the Book Cliffs east of the Green River.

Eager To Develop

Each of these huge tracts of roadless land is an integral part of the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness. By dropping them from its wilderness inventory, the BLM dropped nearly 40 percent of the area's wild lands from further review. Why would the agency refuse even to study the wilderness character of lands with such outstanding recreational, scenic, and wildlife resources?

The answer can be found by looking at an energy resources map of Utah. The Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness contains coal, oil, and natural gas. In 1979 and 1980, even as the BLM's wilderness inventory was under way, a half dozen major energy companies, including Tenneco, Gulf, and Getty Oil, were pushing new roads into the lands under study. Instead of blocking this development, as required by law, the BLM seemed to be encouraging it. Indeed, even after large portions of the area's wilderness were identified as WSAs, the BLM continued to allow oil and gas exploration on lands under study for wilderness designation. In 1980 and 1981, the BLM authorized the drilling of at least 17 exploratory wells and the construction of 14 miles of seismic drilling inside its Book Cliffs WSAs.

In its eagerness to open the wilderness to energy development, the Utah BLM had repeatedly violated its own wilderness inventory regulations. Utah conservationists challenged the agency's inventory decisions in a series of protests and appeals. In 1983, the U.S. Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) ruled that the BLM's inventory omissions had been in error on 92 percent of the land under appeal, and directed the agency to conduct a second study of lands improperly omitted. By 1984 protests and appeals had forced the BLM to add nearly 180,000 acres to its Book Cliffs WSAs.

What it had failed to do during the inventory phase of its wilderness review, the BLM again recommended in its February 1986, draft wilderness recommendation for Utah. Claiming that the value of potential mineral development outweighs wilderness values, the BLM recommended against wilderness designation for nearly 400,000 acres in the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs area. The final recommendation is expected to be only 328,000 acres, with additions in the eastern Book Cliffs but further deletions in Desolation Canyon and Turtle Canyon.

The BLM's wilderness recommendations thus represent a highly development-oriented plan for the future. We are losing this wilderness, and we are losing it fast. In a single lifetime -- the 50 years since Bob Marshall's 1936 roadless area inventory -- we have lost more than half of the region to development. The BLM's recommendation would open to development half of the remaining wild area.

Although the energy resources of the entire Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs area are marginal, and energy prices are temporarily depressed, it is likely that prices eventually will rise high enough to make some oil, gas, and coal production in the Book Cliffs economically viable. Should that happen, the consequences for recreation, scenery, and wildlife will be severe. Mineral development will require the construction of hundreds of miles of new roads, most of them following the canyon bottoms which have traditionally served as a migration corridor for deer and critical winter and year-round range for elk.

Elk are especially sensitive to such intrusion. "Elk use is primarily in the canyon bottoms where water is available," says UDWR Director Tim Provan. "Canyon bottoms would also be the easiest and most logical place to develop access roads. Research has demonstrated that elk will abandon habitat 0.6 mile on either side of a road. This could preclude elk from areas they now inhabit."

Deer, too, would be affected by energy development. Virtually all of the critical deer winter range in the Book Cliffs east of the Green River lies on roadless land omitted from the BLM's draft wilderness recommendation.

Robbed of Their Beauty

Today, the numerous canyons that cut deeply into the Book and Roan Cliffs are remote, solitary, and wild. But if energy development should once again boom, they will rapidly change from scenic pack-trails and wildlife migration corridors into heavily traveled haul routes bristling with pipelines, powerlines, and pumping plants. The new roads will do more than drive wildlife from the region. They will also rob the canyons of their silence and beauty.

Developers argue that the area contains mineral deposits that are important to Utah's economy. Yet wilderness, too, is a powerful economic asset. Commercial river running in Desolation Canyon generates direct sales of over a million dollars a year and accounts for $460,000 of earned income and 40 jobs in Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties (BLM, 1986, p. 43).

Even by the BLM's generous estimates, the total recoverable resources of oil and natural gas in the area's seven WSAs would meet the nation's demand for less than one week. The total coal recoverable from the Sego Coal Field, the largest in the area, represents less than one-tenth of one percent of total U.S. proven recoverable reserves (BLM, 1986, p. 18). Even these figures, however, are generous, because of economic and environmental constraints on coal recovery.

While the BLM's wilderness recommendation is a mandate for such development, the Utah Wilderness Coalition's 718,600-acre Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness proposal is based on a sharply different philosophy. While the mineral and energy resources of the area are of marginal importance, its wildlife, scenic, and recreational opportunities make it one of the most important blocks of public wild lands in the nation. Recognizing that the sheer size of the Desolation Canyon-Book Cliffs wilderness is one of its most important assets, the Coalition proposal would protect all BLM lands that today remain wild.

Ray Wheeler

DESOLATION CANYON UNIT

Highlights

At more than half a million acres this is the largest block of federal wild land in the Lower 48 states not designated as a park or wilderness area. Another 200,000 acres are managed as wilderness in the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. The Green River twists through this 25- by 60-mile tract in a canyon that is up to 5,000 feet deep. Whitewater float trips (including day trips in Gray Canyon) draw 60,000 visitor-days of use annually. This is an outstanding wildlife area with growing herds of mountain bighorn sheep and elk, critical winter range for deer along the river and canyon bottoms, and excellent habitat for black bear and mountain lion. Five endangered species are present: bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and three species of fish. The BLM initially recommended 265,140 acres for designation while excluding a nearly equal acreage in 13 separate parcels including: Nutters Hole (an excellent canoeing section of the river), Bighorn Benches (leaving a protected corridor just one mile wide at the center of the unit), and most of the Floy Canyon area (important wildlife habitat with high scenic values). The final BLM recommendation is expected to omit an additional 17,150 acres. The Coalition proposes a 527,100-acre wilderness unit to protect the entire BLM portion of the wild area.

Geology and landforms

The Green River forms the eastern boundary of the unit through Desolation Canyon. Named by Powell during his 1869 journey, this canyon is cut into light-colored Tertiary sediments. The river then cuts directly through the unit in Gray Canyon, named on Powell's second trip, which is carved into darker Cretaceous sandstones and shales. The long, steep slopes of the canyons in these relatively soft formations present a different aspect from the vertical cliff-forming slickrock sandstones farther south in the Colorado Plateau, although arches, alcoves, fins, and spires are common here, too. Rising above the river to the isolated Beckwith Plateau and the huge expanse of the Tavaputs Plateau are the nearly impenetrable Book Cliffs and the intricately eroded, little known Roan Cliffs.

Plant communities

Diverse plant communities are found here, ranging from high desert shrubs to Douglas fir and aspen in the higher mountains. Thick pinyon-juniper forests cover the ridges and lower slopes. Riparian habitat is found along about 200 miles of perennial streams. The threatened Uinta Basin hookless cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus) is found on the north edge, and in the northeast is the endangered toadflax cress (Glaucocarpum suffrutescens). The BLM also lists Graham catseye (Cryptantha grahamii) and Graham beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii) in the Nutters Hole area (BLM, 1980). The Beckwith Plateau has been proposed as a National Natural Landmark area (Welsh and others, 1980). This mesa has several relict plant areas, as well as the rare Jones psorothamnus (Psorothamnus polydenius var. jonesii).

Wildlife

Because of its vast size and remote location, the unit has a number of sensitive species that benefit from a large area to roam in. Elk herds have been reestablished and are growing. Mule deer make use of critical winter habitat along the bottomlands; the eastern edge of the unit is critical deer summer range. Black bear, mountain lion, coyote, and bobcat are common predators in the unit. The BLM notes historic reports of the extremely rare black-footed ferret adjacent to its WSA; the Fish and Wildlife Service has identified potential ferret habitat within the unit. The FWS also lists three endangered fish residents in the Green River (bony-tail chub, humpback chub, and Colorado squawfish). Rock and Chandler creeks support trout, and the Green has catfish. Due to the wealth of riparian habitat, a number of songbirds and migratory ducks and shorebirds inhabit or frequent the unit. Several birds that are candidates for threatened and endangered status are potentially in the unit, including the long-billed curlew, Southern spotted owl, Western yellow-billed cuckoo, ferruginous hawk, and white-faced ibis. The endangered bald eagle and peregrine falcon are known to inhabit the unit. The FWS has identified wintering bald eagle populations in the northern part of the unit along the Green River.

Archeology and history

The unit is rich in cultural resources of the Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, and Ute cultures, including rock art, rock shelters, campsites, and burial grounds. Castleton (1979) notes that there are "numerous rock art sites along the river...several are large and impressive." The French trapper Denis Julien carved his initials on a rock near Chandler Creek (Aitchison, 1987). Other remains include the historic Rock Creek cabin and ranch and the Outlaw Trail along the Price River and up the Green. The Green River corridor is a designated National Historic Landmark commemorating Powell's explorations. The Flat Canyon Archeological District, located in the northern part of the unit, was established to protect significant Fremont cultural sites (BLM, 1986, p. 36).

Recreation

Desolation's superb recreation opportunities include boating the Green and Price Rivers, trophy deer and elk hunting in the high plateaus, and hiking the numerous drainages, including historic Rock Creek. Desolation Canyon is one of the premier whitewater rivers in Utah and helps support two dozen river outfitting businesses. Gray Canyon, above the town of Green River, is an enjoyable day outing for novice boaters trying their skills. Many horseback riders and hunters enter the unit from four guest lodges on the west boundary. Hiking the rugged drainages is made easier by excellent streamside campsites. Kelsey (1986a) and Hall (1982) list hikes along the Green River and in sidecanyons, and the BLM has noted more than 140 miles of trails. The Green River, Price River, and Range Creek were identified as candidates for wild and scenic river status in the Nationwide Rivers Inventory.

BLM recommendation

In 1986, the BLM recommended 265,140 acres as suitable for designation as wilderness -- barely half of the qualifying wild lands. (The final recommendation is likely to omit an additional 17,150 acres). The BLM improperly excluded 280,000 acres from WSA status during the wilderness inventory, partly as a result of dividing the unit into three separate WSAs: Desolation Canyon, Floy Canyon, and Jack Canyon. The agency then omitted more than 100,000 acres from its 1986 wilderness recommendation for those WSAs. Most of the excluded lands are in less steep areas on the margins of the unit which are proposed for resource development. By allowing this development, the BLM would eliminate much of the topographic, ecological, and recreational diversity of the unit.

Lands excluded from wilderness study by the BLM:

Nutters Hole (60,700 acres) -- Upstream from Sand Wash, at the northern end of the Desolation Canyon unit, the BLM omitted 11 miles of the wild Green River from its wilderness inventory. The agency claimed that 10 miles of vehicle ways on the ridges east of the river rendered the area unsuitable for wilderness. These vehicle ways are two-wheel tracks with mature shrubs growing between them; they occupy a total area of eight acres. Use is infrequent and serves no established need. A fence and oil facilities at the northeast edge are excluded from the Coalition proposal. The BLM claimed that lands west of the river, although natural, lacked outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation -- despite herds of antelope and deer, numerous bird species, great scenery, and the wild and scenic Green River. New roads built in this area could have been excluded from the wilderness as the Coalition has done.

Nine Mile Canyon (22,700 acres)The lower reach of this major drainage flows through wild land before entering the Green River. A well-used vehicle route forms the northern boundary and a pipeline along a ridge forms the southern boundary; it is connected to Nutters Hole and the main Desolation Canyon unit by undeveloped private lands along the Green River.

West Tabyago Canyon (26,000 acres) -- The BLM failed to inventory these lands in the Naval Oil Shale Reserve, thereby isolating the Nutters Hole inventory unit from the main body of Desolation Canyon. Within this area are eight miles of the Green River, the first part of the Desolation Canyon trip thousands enjoy each year. Oil shale reserves managed by the BLM in Colorado were inventoried for wilderness; with oil shale development halted nationally by high economic and environmental costs, this reserve should not block wilderness designation.

Horse Bench (6,000 acres) -- The BLM claimed that this area in the northwestern side of the unit lacked outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, although it gives access to several canyons and has spectacular vistas of Maverick Canyon, Ninemile Canyon, and the Bad Land Cliffs. Horse Bench, high and relatively flat, adds recreational and ecological diversity to the unit.

Face of Book Cliffs (27,000 acres) -- These lands on the southwestern side of the unit (around Beckwith Plateau) were dropped in the initial inventory for "lack of naturalness." They are badlands and cliffs free from significant human imprints. The BLM violated inventory policy by not drawing the WSA boundary to the edge of physical disturbance. The Mancos Shale badlands along the cliff face are a scenic backdrop for Interstate 70 and Highway 6.

Big Horn Benches and Xmas Canyon (13,000 acres) -- This pocket of land in the southwestern part of the unit is surrounded by the Desolation Canyon WSA on three sides and by the Turtle Canyon WSA on the fourth side. The BLM exaggerated the impacts of old, inaccessible mineral exploration roads that are largely unnoticeable even from the air. The scenic, broken topography of the area should be closed to further mineral exploration to protect wildlife, scenery, and recreation.

West Suluar Mesa (3,000 acres) -- The BLM (1980) claimed there is a five-mile-long way on the lower bench above Tusher Canyon. Our field work indicates no such way.

Tusher Canyon (6,000 acres) -- The BLM (1980) separated a large natural mountain between Left and Right Hand Tusher canyons from its Desolation Canyon WSA along a "traveled way" to the head of Left Hand Tusher Canyon that "then follows a bench to the boundary road in Right Hand Tusher Canyon." Our fieldwork indicates that only the first few miles of this way are actively used; accordingly, we cherrystem that part and include the remainder in our proposal.

WSA lands not recommended suitable by the BLM:

Floy Canyon (49,465 acres) -- The BLM designated the 72,605-acre Floy Canyon WSA only after conservationists filed an administrative appeal. It then divided Floy Canyon from the Desolation Canyon WSA to the north along a post-FLPMA road. Now the agency recommends only 23,140 acres as suitable for wilderness designation. The southern two-thirds of the WSA would be dropped because of coal, even though the BLM (1986) states that "It is questionable that coal development would occur in the WSA in the foreseeable future due to more favorable areas located in the region near the WSA." Outstanding wilderness qualities of the WSA, which the BLM recognized in its 1986 DEIS, include solitude, primitive recreation, and scenery. The BLM and the UDWR have identified 56,575 acres of the WSA as "crucial winter habitat for black bear, cougar, deer, and elk" (BLM, 1986, p. 18).

Head of Right Hand Tusher Canyon (430 acres) -- Three oil exploration wells were drilled on this parcel and an adjacent state section to the east in 1981. One and a half miles of new road were built from the end of the existing road in Right Hand Tusher Canyon to reach the drill sites. Post-FLPMA impacts were not supposed to be considered in drawing WSA boundaries.

Suluar Mesa (23,250 acres) -- This parcel in the southeastern part of the Desolation Canyon WSA was made part of the WSA after an appeal filed by conservationists. The BLM claimed a lack of outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation as a pretext for releasing these lands, which it considers to have relatively high potential for oil and gas. However, numerous wells adjacent to the unit in the Tusher canyons have failed to establish commercial production (BLM, 1986, p. 58). There is riparian habitat in Winter Camp, Bobby and Naylon canyons on the south side of Suluar and outstanding opportunities for hiking, backpacking, hunting, photography, rock climbing, and cross country skiing throughout.

Cherrystemmed way on the Beckwith Plateau

The BLM excluded this impassable, 18-mile-long mineral exploration route along the Price River and on the Beckwith Plateau from the Desolation Canyon WSA. It does not meet the definition of a "road" since it is not maintained or regularly used. Except for a few cuts and the drill pad, the way is substantially unnoticeable from the ground. It should be designated wilderness with the rest of the Beckwith Plateau to protect important bighorn sheep range and a spectacular, isolated expanse of wilderness.

Little Park (13,400 acres) -- The BLM excluded this area on the west tip of the Desolation Canyon WSA from its recommendation because of coal reserves and a proposed 350-acre chaining. But Little Park is critical winter range for deer and should not be sacrificed for possible coal development. A five-mile-long way which the BLM says is not noticeable is used for maintenance of small stock reservoirs; this use would be allowed to continue under wilderness designation.

Jack Canyon and Cedar Ridge (18,500 acres) -- This parcel on the northwest side of the unit includes the 7,500-acre Jack Canyon WSA and 11,000 acres in the Desolation Canyon WSA. Jack Canyon is separated from the main WSA by a four-inch surface pipeline that is difficult to see and could be removed easily when production ceases. It should not have been used as a WSA boundary. This scenic area is important habitat for mountain lion, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, bear, sage grouse, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, golden eagle, prairie falcon, and wild horses. Although oil and gas are present, short cherrystemmed roads would permit their extraction. A proposed chaining of about 1,000 acres would harm naturalness and wildlife habitat in this parcel.

Coalition proposal

Our 527,100-acre wilderness proposal would include the wild lands listed above that the BLM omitted as well as those the BLM recommends for wilderness. Here is an opportunity to protect one of the nation's largest and most spectacular roadless areas intact, without the fragmentation and loss of wildness that characterizes so much of our treatment of the original frontier.

TURTLE CANYON UNIT

Highlights

The rugged, scenic terrain of the 36,900-acre Turtle Canyon unit supports diverse plant and animal communities and offers exceptional opportunities for solitude, hunting, and primitive recreation. The unit exemplifies the topography and ecology of the Roan Cliffs. Turtle Canyon is located about 30 miles southeast of Price.

Geology and landforms

Alternating soft and resistant layers of sedimentary rocks have been deeply dissected to form a rugged landscape with 4,500 feet of vertical relief. A high, notched ridge runs across most of the unit at elevations generally above 8,000 feet, reaching 9,300 feet in the north. From this ridge precipitous canyons drop into Range Creek and Turtle Canyon. The southern part is more gentle, but virtually all of the unit is sloping.

Plant communities

Pinyon pine, juniper, and Douglas fir cling to the slopes, while grasses and sagebrush line the drainages. Species more typical of mountains than desert are found here, including mountain mahogany, serviceberry, and snowberry. Several candidates for threatened and endangered status may grow in the unit, including yellow blanketflower (Gaillardia flava), canyon sweetvetch (Hedysarum occidentale var. canone) and Jones psorothamnus (Psorothamnus polyadenius var. jonesii), (BLM, 1986).

Wildlife

Dramatic variations in topography and the presence of springs and streams provide diverse habitat for wildlife. Large mammals include Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, mountain lion, and black bear; the BLM (1986) lists significant summer and winter range for both deer and elk, and almost a third of the unit is bighorn habitat. Birds include blue grouse, ruffed grouse, golden eagle, and prairie falcon. Other nesting raptors thought to be present, according to the BLM, include the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and ferruginous hawk. The BLM also lists the Western snowy plover, the white-faced ibis, and the long-billed curlew, all candidates for protection.

Archeology and history

Early settlers homesteaded along Range Creek at the edge of the unit; this drainage was also visited by people of the ancient Fremont culture, who left their rock art and other artifacts. The BLM notes that the Pillings Collection of Fremont figurines at the College of Eastern Utah was collected from along Range Creek, and that based on such occurrences, as many as 30 archeological or historical sites could be found within the unit.

Recreation

The ruggedness and remoteness of the unit provide excellent opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. Few visitors get beyond the side drainages on the edge of the unit. Although the steep terrain borders on requiring technical rock climbing, views from the ridge crests are rewarding. Hunters make use of guest lodges along Range Creek, and the BLM notes that some hunting occurs in the lower, more accessible reaches of the unit. A light-duty road through Horse and Little Horse canyons, which has a marked exit from Highway 6, passes along the northern boundary of the unit and connects with an unimproved dirt road along Range Creek, the unit's eastern boundary. Private lands along Range Creek may require permission for entry.

BLM recommendation

The BLM initially recommended designating all 33,690 acres of its Turtle Canyon WSA as wilderness, but is expected to reduce this to 27,960 acres in its final EIS, omitting wild lands in the northern part of the unit. Its final boundary would slice across hills and buttes, leaving land open to speculative oil and gas exploration. The BLM describes the terrain as the most rugged and scenic in the Roan Cliffs region and recognizes the varied topographic features and wildlife habitat as highly unusual for an area the size of the WSA. The BLM (1986) concluded that there are no substantial human intrusions in its WSA. Vehicle tracks run a short distance up the canyon bottoms adjacent to Range Creek, and the remains of two seismic tracks, covering fewer than 30 acres, are returning to nature. Wilderness values exceed mineral potential in the WSA. Commercial grade coal underlies a small portion of the unit on the northwest, but if it were mined the surface facilities would probably be outside the unit. About 80 percent of the WSA is under lease for oil and gas (BLM, 1986, p. 16). However, nearby exploration has not shown commercial quantities at current prices (BLM, 1986, p. 15).

Coalition proposal

The Coalition seconds the BLM's initial all-wilderness recommendation but recommends additions to the west of the WSA that would form the 36,900-acre Turtle Creek unit.

EASTERN BOOK CLIFFS UNIT

Highlights

The Eastern Book Cliffs, a 10- by 20-mile expanse of forested mountains and canyons, provide important habitat for elk, black bear, mountain lion, and other wilderness species. The unit is part of the larger Book Cliffs ecosystem, one of Utah's most important wildlife areas. Adjacent lands in the Book Cliffs State Forest form a combined roadless area of 190,000 acres that is separated from the main Desolation Canyon roadless area to the west only by the dirt road up Sego Canyon. The BLM initially recommended just 30,000 acres for wilderness designation, but following public review of the draft EIS it apparently will recommend 52,000 acres. The Utah Wilderness Coalition proposes a 154,600-acre wilderness unit to protect wildlife, watershed, and scenic values.

Geology and landforms

The intricately interlocking ridges and canyons of the Book Cliffs rise 3,000 feet in 10 miles from the Grand Valley of the Colorado River on the southeast to the 8,500-foot-high rim of the Tavaputs Plateau on the northwest. Cottonwood Canyon and its major sidecanyons (including Coal, Spruce, and Flume) run through the central part of the unit; Nash and Sagers canyons through the southwest, and tributaries of Westwater Creek through the northeast. Cottonwood Point and Westwater Point are high ridges that extend from the plateau rim to divide the major drainages. Strata of the Mesaverde and Wasatch groups predominate: thin, cliff-forming sandstones alternate with sloping softer sediments. The Flagstaff Limestone of the Wasatch Group is found at higher elevations with colorful outcrops reminiscent of those in the same formation in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Plant communities

A fifth of the unit is covered by Douglas fir forest and three-fifths by pinyon-juniper, Douglas fir, aspen, and mountain shrubs, reflecting relatively high elevation and precipitation compared to most Utah BLM lands outside the Book Cliffs. The remaining fifth of the unit is covered by pinyon-juniper, mountain shrub-grassland, and riparian communities.

Wildlife

The mixture of productive plant communities and diverse topography provide excellent wildlife habitat. The BLM (1986) estimates that 160 elk inhabit the three WSAs in this unit during at least part of the year. That is nearly 40 percent of the estimated 425 elk in the South Book Cliffs herd (BLM, 1983a, p. 3-11). The northwest side of the unit is elk winter range, and the entire unit is yearlong habitat (BLM, 1983a, p. 1-9 and 1-16). Black bear and mountain lion find crucial habitat in the East Book Cliffs, and like elk, are sensitive to human activity and disturbance. Nearly the entire unit is winter range for deer (BLM, 1983a, p. 1-16). Four candidate endangered species may inhabit the unit: ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, Southern spotted owl, and Western yellow-billed cuckoo. Common species include coyote, bobcat, cottontail rabbits, other small mammals, lizards, snakes, blue and ruffed grouse, golden eagles, great horned owls, and many other birds.

Recreation

The Eastern Book Cliffs offer outstanding hunting, hiking, backpacking, and wildlife viewing in a highly scenic area. The unit is reached by the Sego Canyon road north from Thompson, the Cottonwood Canyon road (north from I-70 at an exit 5 miles northeast of Cisco), and the Hay Canyon road on the northeast boundary.

BLM recommendation

In its 1986 DEIS, the BLM recommended wilderness designation for only 30,000 acres out of the 132,400 acres in three WSAs (Coal Canyon, Spruce Canyon, and Flume Canyon). The final recommendation is slated to include some wilderness in each WSA for a total of 52,000 acres, but would move the wilderness boundary to an average of six miles from the WSA's southern boundary, protecting only the highest area and omitting some of the most important wildlife habitat. In addition, more than 20,000 acres were improperly excluded from WSA status. A block of natural land at the north end around Preacher Canyon should have been included in wilderness study by placing the boundary at the Hay Canyon road and cherrystemming the Westwater Creek trail. Other small parcels at the base of the cliffs on the southeast side should have been included as well.

Coalition proposal

Our 154,600-acre wilderness unit would retain the natural integrity of these scenic, wildlife-rich lands. Unlike the BLM, which divided the unit into three WSAs, we would cherrystem roads in Cottonwood and Diamond canyons. The BLM drew its boundaries across natural terrain from the end of the roads to the northwest boundary. The Coalition proposal would block these roads where they become impassable. In Diamond Canyon there is a gate a few hundred yards above the mouth of Halfway Canyon. Vegetation is growing waist-high beyond the gate, and the way is not negotiable. In Cottonwood Canyon, the road shrinks to a track too narrow for a four-wheel-drive vehicle just above the mouth of Horse Canyon. The road used to go another five miles to a gas well in Bear Canyon but is now completely washed out in the southeast corner of Section 32. The BLM did not recommend most of its WSAs for designation because of claimed oil and gas potential, although its consultants rated the likelihood of large deposits as low. Watershed rehabilitation structures are planned for the major drainages in the unit but if designed properly would be allowed within the wilderness.

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