Hello Fellow Wasatch Backcountry Enthusiasts!
In these scorching days it seems hard to remember the many days of cold smoke this past fantastic winter, but we hope you are still getting up into the cooler mountains this summer. As always, the issues surrounding wintertime access of our beloved Wasatch range continue to swirl even in high summer, and we want to give you an update on what’s been happening.
Roadless Rule Exemption and the Recent Forest Service Action
As we told you this spring, UT Governor Herbert sent a petition in to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (Dept of Agriculture oversees the Forest Service) to exempt UT from an 18 year old rule that severely limited the USFS’s propensity to build roads using fire fuel suppression as the rationale. This would not have affected the Central Wasatch but would have opened the door to road building and development in many other ski zones in Utah. Many of you submitted comments, and a month ago Sec. Perdue announced that his department was allocating $20M to Utah for fire suppression efforts in two specific areas (the Upper Provo area and on the Manti Skyline). There was curiously no mention of the Roadless Rule exemption, so the many nationwide groups opposing this precedent-setting exemption were cautiously optimistic that this had been resolved.
However, we now realize that there is a much larger plan afoot that could accomplish the same goals of Forest Service land development across the country on a much wider scale, including lands in the Central Wasatch. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been in place for 40 years and mandates much scientific review, including Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) that MUST include public comments. Last week Perdue announced that they are moving toward suspending much of the entire NEPA process, including public comments, and are going to work towards making all sorts of pro-development decisions – including road building – as “categorical exclusions” that would bypass any EIS and/or public comments. This (and $20M from the federal government) is why the Governor didn’t need to push any more on his Roadless Rule exemption.
Not to overstate it, but this is a huge deal. WBA has worked with our local USFS offices a lot and they are very helpful and dedicated foresters, but as they say, they have do what they are told, and if this goes through they will have little choice but to abide. Ironically, or maybe not, the public comment period to stop public commenting is short: only two weeks … DEADLINE EXTENDED until August 26. For more info on this and to submit a comment, we encourage you to visit the good web page our friends at the Winter Wildlands Alliance have created.
Alta Ski Lifts (ASL)
ASL has not moved from their stated intention to develop their lands in Grizzly Gulch, create a BCC/LCC connection, and try to get a special use permit change on Patsy Marley from avalanche control to one that would allow chairlifts. WBA continues to work with ASL to explore solutions that benefit all users of upper-LCC, and we will keep you updated as these discussions progress.
Central Wasatch Commission (CWC)
The CWC has been working hard on tidying up the bill that Rep. John Curtis has said he will introduce to Congress to establish some permanence to the future of the Wasatch. ASL and the Town of Alta are still (awkwardly) left out of the bill due to ASL’s actions listed above. The CWC is headed by Ralph Becker and the board consists of mayors and councilors from the Wasatch Front and Back; their meetings are on the first Monday of the month at the Cottonwood Heights City hall and are open to the public. We encourage our members to attend these meetings so you can stay informed as to what is happening with CWC.
In terms of the land bill, a recent sticking point has been the value of lands that could be traded for public lands, which is a key part of the bill. The value of resort base lands (which are USFS lands currently leased by the resorts) is coming in orders of magnitude higher than, say, the slopes of Superior (owned by Snowbird) that have virtually no development potential or water rights, which in turn makes the land trades difficult. This is not surprising to WBA and other stakeholders, who have been saying for years that the valuation of the land trades would likely be an issue, but we remain hopeful that this and other issues relating to the land trades can be
resolved so they can move forward.
The CWC also has a broader stakeholder council, which is supposed to act as an advisory council. WBA has a seat at this table and has been active there. At recent meetings there has been a lot of discussion regarding the carrying capacity of the canyons, which is proving to be a complex issue. Just how many people can/should live/work/recreate in the canyons? How do we determine when the canyons are “full?” Additionally, UDOT has been working closely with the CWC and the Stakeholder Council in its efforts to alleviate the dreaded red snakes that plagued the canyons this past winter, and WBA looks forward to seeing what ideas it has for resolve the short and long-term traffic issues that continue to plague LCC and BCC.
Finally, WBA is also participating on a committee that is looking to do a pilot program for a privately-contracted shuttle up Mill Creek Canyon. This would be a great way to see how a shuttle program works on a regular basis, so we will keep you updated as this process moves forward.
In the meantime, we are trying to run and ride as much as possible to stay in shape for when the snow does fly! Don’t forget the Best Party of the year happening in mid-September: the annual fundraiser for our friends at the Utah Avalanche Center, where we will have a booth this year. You can also look forward to another member meeting this fall and another lineup of great presentations at the Utah Adventure Journal’s speaker series this winter.
Pray for more snow (and less wind) this winter!