He is a representative whose district covers nearly 400 square miles in southern Utah, but his name has never been on the election ballot.

Bill Patric doesn't speak for any legislative district. He goes to no rubber-chicken dinners at the Elks Club, and he doesn't slap the president of the Lion's Club on the back. The elks and lions he is concerned with are a considerably wilder variety.His unofficial title is "national forests advocate."

Since June, he has been the representative for Boulder Mountain - the mountain itself, located in Wayne and Garfield counties. He stands up for its varied ecosystems, its remote lakes, meadows, isolated stands of spruce and the overlooks that show off the red rock desert thousands of feet below.

"Essentially, what I'm looking at is called the Greater Boulder Mountain Ecosystem," said Patric. The ecosystem is about 250,000 acres, covering the entire Teasdale Ranger District of Dixie National Forest and the eastern half of the forest's Escalante Ranger District.

A focus of several environmental controversies is at the summit of Boulder Mountain, which is really more like a flat plateau than mountainous peaks. This area, called Boulder Top, is about 50,000 acres. At 11,000 feet elevation, it is one of the highest forested regions in the United States.

Patric, 33, originally from the Adirondack Mountains area of upstate New York, is in Utah on a one-year grant funded by the Outdoor Industry Conservation Alliance - outfitters, clothing suppliers, equipment dealers.

He works directly for the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which is made up of 37 environmental groups that together claim around 2 million members throughout the nation. When he's not at Boulder Mountain, he works in the cramped office of the Wasatch Mountain Club, a member of the coalition, 177 E. 900 South.

That is where the Deseret News found Patric, who was surrounded by a clutter of maps, pamphlets and environmental impact statements.

Before he took on the job as the environmentalists' advocate for Boulder Mountain, he lived near Portland, Maine, where he was vice chairman of the Maine Group of the Sierra Club. He has held many other jobs, including a Forest Service post near Manti.

When Patric found out about the Boulder Mountain job, he was quick to apply. It was a chance to "be outdoors - that's definitely where I'm at home."

So what's so hot about Boulder Mountain?

"Abundant lakes and ponds, literally more than a hundred," he said. "World-class fishing, including record trout. Views, as you can imagine, that are beyond description. Capitol Reef (National Park) lies just to the east; the canyons of the Escalante border it to the south."

Boulder Mountain itself has "fabulous eco-zone transitions, from Arctic-like tundra habitat on top, into spruce and fir; and then the aspen belt. And of course, old-growth ponderosa pine, down to the pinyon-juniper, and then out into the red rocks and slickrock."

On top, the plateau seems like a chunk of Alaska floating above the Utah desert. There are meadows, lakes, stands of Englemann spruce.

The plateau top is high-priority summer range for deer and elk. In addition to coyotes, bears, cougars and other wildlife, Boulder Mountain has seven rare plant species found nowhere else, he said.

Patric quickly shifts the conversation to protecting the mountain. "The Boulder Top has never had a commercial live-timber harvest. Now, there has been salvage cutting of dead timber over the years . . .

"Despite an abundance of off-road abuse and the presence of the evidence of salvage cutting, and a proliferation of logging-type roads, I would say Boulder Top still offers a tremendous opportunity for solitude."

But he believes a set of five timber sales the Forest Service is planning - about 16 million board feet altogether - threatens the solitude of Boulder Top. "For a place like Boulder Top, that is an awful lot of timber."

The slow-growing spruce on top is marginal quality, "really small stuff."

To encourage timber cutting, the Forest Service pays for road-building and administration needed for sales. Because the trees must be hauled a long way to the mills, the Boulder Top sales will cost the agency money, Patric predicts.

"This is our money you know," he said, a hand gesturing to the side, "and I think we have to ask some pretty hard questions here. We're literally losing money on this forest."

Another threat to that quality is the proliferation of off-road vehicles on Boulder Mountain. Even the Forest Service would admit they are "out of control" on Boulder Top, he said.

Forest regulations say vehicles must stay on trails. The catch is, if somebody drives a truck out across a meadow, another follows. "An off-road abuse eventually becomes another vehicle way."

The vehicles rip up grasslands, causing erosion and siltation of nearby streams and lakes, and "it's so unnecessary," he said.

"They have their place, but, boy, ripping through the pristine meadows is not the right thing to do. It's an insult. It's a thoughtless desecration of the landscape."


(Additional information)

Protesters not at fault in mill woes, activist says

Stories that environmentalists are shutting down southern Utah sawmills are false, says Bill Patric, the "national forests advocate" for the area.

Over the 20 years that the National Environmental Policy Act has been in effect, only three proposed timber sales have been appealed in the region's two national forests, he said.

They were the Windmill Ridge sale on the east slope of Boulder Mountain in 1988; the Casto Canyon sale, also on Dixie National Forest; and the Hancock sale in Fishlake National Forest, on Thousand Lakes Mountain. Environmentalists lost the Hancock appeal, while the other battles are still unresolved.

"The three appealed sales totaled 4.1 million board feet, and that was over a three-year period," Patric said. "During that same three-year period, 103.1 million board feet of timber was harvested from those same forests."

Environmentalists are blamed for recent sawmill layoffs, with claims made that virtually all timber sales in southern Utah are being appealed by special interest groups, he said. "The facts put it in perspective and show otherwise."