The desert area known as the San Rafael Swell in Southern Utah should be made a national park to preserve its natural integrity, said a local environmental reporter and author.
Joseph M. Bauman Jr., environmental specialist for the Deseret News for 15 years, spoke recently to the Utah Wilderness Association at Westminster College on the special reverence he has for the wild, deep desert."For me, the San Rafael possesses some of the most beautiful canyons left unprotected on the Colorado Plateau," he said, and acknowledged that "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder."
"But I think we can accept standards that define integrity, and I think we agree that it should be trea-sured. . . . In landscape, it is the original character that we ought to prize.
"In other words, protect and cherish integrity. It's always valuable. It is scarce today - I mean integrity in politics, writing, daily life and landform," he said.
Major threats to the integrity of the San Rafael Swell are ranching and mining interests and off-road vehicle users, according to Bauman.
Off-road vehicles are a scourge to the desert environment, said Bauman, scarring the landscape, destroying the fragile "living layer" of cryptogamic soil that holds water, and giving vandals access to ancient pictographs drawn on the canyon walls.
The Bureau of Land Management has issued a proposed resource management plan for the San Rafael Swell, an area centering mostly in Emery County and stretching from the Wasatch Plateau east to Green River. I-70 runs through the middle of the parcel.
The domestic animals are also a threat to the bighorn sheep herd that has been thriving in the Swell, said George Nickas, assistant coordinator for the association. The bighorn sheep are very sensitive to disruption in their environment, and are susceptible to parasites carried by domestic sheep. The herd was introduced in the mid '70s by the Division of Wildlife Resources.
While mineral and natural gas potential for the area is minimal, and uranium claims have long since been mined out, the mining leases and roads into the desert remain, said Nickas.
The wilderness association does not want to force ranchers off the San Rafael Swell, said Nickas, but they would like to see the number of grazing permits reduced by retiring inactive ones and managing the land more effectively.