The High Uintas Wilderness contains about 455,000 acres centered on the core of the Uinta Mountains in northeastern Utah. This massive mountain range — the highest in Utah — was named for the Uintaat Indians, early relatives of the modern Ute Tribe. The High Uintas contain the largest contiguous alpine tundra in the central Rockies, with lower slopes blanketed by forests of lodgepole pine, spruce, and subalpine fir.
Unfortunately, the High Uintas has more livestock grazing than any other Wilderness in the country. Years of extensive grazing by domestic sheep has displaced native wildlife, marred the landscape, compromised water quality, and negatively impacted visitors seeking solitude in a wilderness setting. Furthermore, grazing is causing growing conflicts with a slowly recovering native bighorn sheep population.
Currently, the Forest Service’s (FS) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is evaluating the future of 10 domestic sheep allotments — including one which has not been grazed in more than 40 years — covering about 144,000 acres in the Wilderness. If reissued, the 10 grazing allotments would permit over 10,000 sheep and their lambs to graze for over two months every summer in the fragile, high elevation alpine basins of the Wilderness.
Denying decades of scientific research and consensus, the Forest Service wrongly alleges that closing these sheep grazing allotments would not help native bighorn sheep despite the fact that bighorns spend almost all of their time on the National Forest (rather than nearby private or BLM-administered land). The recently reintroduced bighorn population is expanding into the area of domestic sheep allotments, which are all part of the bighorns’ native range. Bighorns and domestic sheep cannot co-exist because domestic sheep transmit diseases for which bighorns have little defense, so if domestic sheep remain in the High Uintas the bighorns are likely doomed.
The DEIS also fails to disclose how many predators, such as black bears, mountain lions, or coyotes are killed in the High Uintas Wilderness to protect domestic sheep, nor the effects continued sheep grazing has on the potential for recovering native predators such as wolves and grizzlies.
The DEIS looks at only two alternatives, the current condition (plus approving grazing on the allotment closed since 1977) and no grazing. While the Forest Service prefers the current situation, the no grazing option is best for the wildlife, watersheds, recreation and the Wilderness.
Wilderness Watch’s White Paper on livestock grazing in Wilderness recognizes that the Wilderness Act allows livestock grazing but clearly states, “Grazing is inherently inimical to the goals of the Wilderness Act. Livestock have an adverse effect on the ecology of wilderness areas, in part due to trampling, water pollution, and conflict with native species. In addition, livestock grazing diminishes an area’s ‘untrammeled’ wilderness character and the opportunity for present and future generations to experience the unique benefits that authentic wilderness provides.”
Please raise your voice to protect native wildlife and the fragile, high elevation alpine basins of the High Uintas Wilderness!
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