With roadless and unroaded areas becoming more important all the time, and the fact that they also create a great deal of controversy particularly in rural areas, Governor John Huntsman's office has drafted a petition to the Department of Agriculture concerning the states part in managing those types of locales.
The issue of roadless land is a hot one in many places and the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments discussed the petition in their regular quarterly meetings in Price on Sept. 28.
However the petition itself deals very little with roadless or unroaded areas as far as passageways, but concerns itself a great deal with the health of the forests and lands in those areas.
Almost anyone who drives through a lot of the national forest areas in eastern Utah can see some of the problems. Many trees are dead or dying and in some areas away from where roads are located the situation is even worse.
The petition basically requests that the federal government stay in touch with the state concerning decisions in national forests, and in fact asks to be part of the process in making determinations.
It says the state wishes "to become active partners with the forest service in the effort to restore and maintain the health and diversity of the national forests, enhance recreational activities within the forests, and help support state and local economies from the resources found in the national forests."
The petition goes on to say that in many places the states forests are not healthy and that there are "numerous challenges facing the forests within Utah today."
One of the points it makes is that urbanization of the forest is a problem, along with "the absence of active restoration and maintenance actions on most lands, prolonged drought, and major insect infestations."
The state points out that they are concerned the condition of the forests in the state could "constitute the recipe for an ecological disaster."
If such a disaster were to occur it could affect Utah's future because the high elevation forests are the source of much of the state's water, wildlife, recreational activities, and local economic growth potential.
The state goes on to point out that cooperative efforts between the state and the federal agencies could help to avert such a disaster. "The State of Utah is committed to fostering cooperative efforts to restore and rehabilitate the lands of the national forests, and other governmental and private lands in the state. These efforts require joint funding by and the work contribution of diverse interests, and require the various contributory parties to work on specific plans depending upon the local situation concerning vegetation, wildlife, livestock, recreation, and land ownership. The state also believes that predetermined restrictions on access or forest resource uses are far less effective than the ability to choose a solution using cooperative efforts and the best fit resource management tool."
In the petition the state says it recognizes the right of the federal governments officers to manage the land, but ask that such agencies "be required to conclude all decisions concerning the status and need for all roads on national forest lands, as requested by state and local officials, prior to initiating any inventories for the roadless or unroaded nature of national forest lands." It also states that the state "requests the forest service insure that any area identified as roadless, unroaded or any similar term, is an area which contains no roads, as resolved above, and meets all of the qualifications for wilderness as defined in the Wilderness Act of 1964" and "that all previous inventories of roadless or unroaded lands in the national forests be obsolete, moot and of no further legal effect."
In the petition the state also requests "that the forest service consult with state and local governments about decisions affecting the management of the land and natural resources within the national forests, and make those decisions consistent with the laws, plans, programs and policies of the State of Utah, to the maximum extent consistent with federal law. The requirement of consistency will ensure that the two major multiple-use land management agencies managing federal lands in Utah - the Bureau of Land Management and the forest service - operate under parallel consultation requirements."
In the petition the state also listed some goals and activities that it feels will lead to better forest management, which will result in better watersheds, more recreational opportunities and the chance for the people of the state to benefit from the economic opportunities afforded by the forests. The list includes the following.
Restore forest health, restore the diversity of tree species, and reduce fuel loading.
Allow treatment of insect infestations and other diseases which may affect the forest.
Allow fire suppression activities.
Enhance recreational activities.
Enhance and protect watershed health and productivity.
Define the extent and economic feasibility of solid and fluid mineral resources.
Allow the reasonable development of mineral and energy resources.
Support local, state and national economic needs, including timber and grazing.
Enhance habitat for wildlife species, including those listed under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
Allow reasonable access by temporary or permanent roads or trails sufficient to support the mentioned activities.