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Boulder Mountain Lakes - Is Access Too Easy?

Fishermen like good access most of the time. It's nice to be able to drive up to the shore of a lake, reservoir or stream and start fishing.

But not every body of water in the state should be that accessible. It's also nice to be able to get away from the crowds and have a high mountain lake mostly to oneself.

It's nice to know that there are pristine lakes in the high country where you have to exert some energy — strap on a backpack and hike a few (or more) miles to enjoy their charms.

State fisheries managers believe that on the Boulder Mountain, access may be getting too easy. After all, the southern end of the state has a number of fine, large lakes and reservoirs with excellent fishing (Piute, Otter Creek, Fish Lake, Panguitch, etc.) where you can drive right to the shore.

It makes sense that some lakes ought to be more remote and hard to reach.

With that intent in mind, Dale K. Hepworth, who is wildlife program manager, and F. Clair Jensen, regional wildlife supervisor, recently wrote a letter to Hugh C. Thompson, Dixie National Forest supervisor. It is the U.S. Forest Service that manages the Boulder Mountain area and sets policy on matters like road-building and access.

Hepworth and Jensen work out of the southern Utah region of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. They are worried that so many roads exist in the Boulder Mountains that access to lakes is too easy, increasing pressure on the fragile alpine lakes and eventually hurting the fishing resource.

Following are excerpts from the letter:

"In general, I feel we are rapidly losing a valuable and unique resource that will be difficult to replace," said Hepworth. "The uniqueness of the Boulder Mountain results from two aspects: (1) unusually fertile alpine waters located in basalt or lava rock formations, and (2) fairly remote lake locations which limits total fishing pressure.

"Compared to other western mountain ranges with high elevation lakes in granitic or shale formations, the Boulder Mountain lakes are much more productive. However, the lakes are not productive or large enough to maintain high fishing pressure with a fingerling stocking program when easy road access is available. The combination of remoteness and high fertility has produced excellent fishing with large and sometimes trophy trout located in very esthetic surroundings. This situation is exceptional and occurs in few other areas anywhere in the United States.

"Recent land management practices in the area have included some road closures to certain lakes. DWR has been very much supportive of such closures. However, the overall trend in the history of the area has been increased use and easier access. Even in cases where roads have been closed, other main access roads to trailheads, etc., have been improved to the extent of making overall access better. Timber sales have been particularly instrumental in improving access along with paving of major roadways around the base of the mountain. At the same time, fishing interest on the Boulder Mountain is expanding yearly.

"There also appears to be a general misconception that the Boulder Mountain is a vast, almost limitless area. I have read several popular articles referring to 'thousands' of lakes in this area. In actuality, we are managing about 78 lakes that provide fishing. Recreation, timber sales, and cattle grazing have combined to the point that we have realistic concerns that siltation from erosion caused by overuse has possibly impacted some lakes to the point that over-winter survival of trout has been reduced. Such areas need to be treated with respect to their sensitivity and limited numbers. The 'limitless, back-country' concept of the Boulder Mountain is fast becoming a myth.

"Restricting access is an emotional issue. It is, nevertheless, apparent that a certain segment of the public wants opportunities where they can 'get away' and be in a 'back-country' location. In contrast to managing each southern Utah mountain range separately without regard for adjacent locations, an entire regional concept needs to be looked at to understand what is ordinary and what should be managed differently. We should not try to provide the same set of opportunities on each mountain range. Where special opportunities exist, they should be protected.

"Southern Utah, including the area from Richfield and Price south, contains over 53,000 square miles and preciously few remote lake fisheries. Within the DWR Southern Region boundary (about 27,000 square miles), there are about 121 fishing lakes that have vehicle access. An additional 49 lakes are either easy walk-in or accessible by ATVs (about 30 of these are on the Boulder Mountain). Most importantly, there are practically no lakes that require over a one-mile walk. In addition, many of the walk-in lakes are small ponds and marginal as fisheries.

"Many fishermen like conditions the way they have been — 4-wheel drive access and good fishing. Many oppose proposals for more road closures, but are also opposed to a decline in fishing quality. I do not think we can continue to have both easy access and good fishing. Trade-offs need to be explained with intent to protect high quality fishing and provide remote locations. Much public support could be gained with a good information and public relations program for more road closures. It might be important to recognize that the Boulder Mountain is important to a wide range of citizens other than locals or even northern residents. Mountains in southern Utah represent one of the closest areas people from Las Vegas, Arizona, Southern California can go to find relatively uncrowded alpine environments.

"Most important about the Boulder Mountain is that we have a choice. Access on other mountain ranges is so far developed or resources so limited that little potential for remote fishing exists. With continued good management of the Boulder Mountain, a variety of opportunities can be provided. Most major access areas have nearby catchable stocked waters with easy vehicle access. Differing degrees and distances of walk-in lakes could be managed from certain key access areas. ATV use could be designated in some areas, but current use of ATVs is a problem. Leniency toward ATVs has reduced walk-in areas and threatens to expand to other areas.

"DWR would greatly support a management plan to review fishing access on the Boulder Mountain. I wish this issue could have been brought to light earlier and developed in current plans, but I hope it is not too late."

In concluding the letter, Hepworth and Jensen commended Thompson for his interest in fishing and his willingness to listen to their concerns. "I hope you can understand the special feelings expressed about the Boulder Mountain," the letter said.