Logan River cries out for Wild and Scenic River protection

Published February 12, 2008 12:00 am
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What might we have heard? The bass groan of shifting rock as uplift occurred? Before that the sound of inland seas, Paleozoic waters filled with life we know through fossils?

What was the sound of mountain water cutting through quartzite over eons, creating the entrenched meander we call the Logan River?

Sometimes when I'm in Logan Canyon, I imagine more recent events: the mute snowfall of ice ages, the creep of glaciers, their retreat. I wonder if I might have discerned the scrape of ice and rock, the thump of glacial erratics dropped.

Wild, vast forces created these rocks, these mountain rivers. Today beside mountain water live humans, deer, willow. Hermit thrush, yellow warbler, American dipper live above the mountain water, and cutthroat and browns live in it. The Logan River is a thread of dark water, sometimes placid, sometimes rumbling with melt, rapids white as snow, white as a bufflehead's chest in summer.

It's also a river that 80 years ago some folks studied for dams, studies that seem to be at the heart of the U.S. Forest Service's baffling refusal to grant the Logan River - most of which runs wild - the status it deserves as a Wild and Scenic River.

Yes, there are dams on the Logan. Anyone who has visited the lower reaches of Logan Canyon knows them, and their ponds are popular with mallards and students, mergansers and swimmers.

No one is saying those dams should go. But some of us are incredulous that minor dams conceived nearly a century ago may be keeping the Logan from getting its due designation as a Wild and Scenic River.

All that is required for a river to be so defined is a stretch of free-flowing water and one or more "outstandingly remarkable values." Logan Canyon and Logan River are wildlife havens, recreational magnets and geologic wonders. The river runs through a canyon whose road has been designated a National Scenic Byway. How ironic that the road would be called scenic but not the river itself.

Of course, this is because of the sounds behind mountain water: the sound of calculators, the sound of faxes from - I can imagine - the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration and real-estate developers, and the sound of whirring computers on which, perhaps, blueprints are drawn.

Wallace Stegner once wrote of how stunned he was by his first encounter with a river in the Rockies, "how it sped by and yet was always there." Again and again, we can experience such wondrous encounters. But for how long?

Including only 24 stretches of river out of 86 potential Wild and Scenic listings in Utah, the Forest Service plan for Utah Wild and Scenic designations falls woefully short. Although the recommendations are better than the current number of Wild and Scenic river miles in Utah - which is zero - many waterways are not part of this plan.

From the Logan River to Bunchgrass Creek, from the Stillwater Fork in the Uintas to Yellowstone Creek, long stretches of eligible creeks and rivers are excluded from the Forest Service draft Environmental Impact Statement's recommendations. If we wish to keep more Utah waters free of dams, we need to convince the Forest Service to cast its net more widely.

The Forest Service will take comments by Friday at utahnfwsdeis@fscomments .org.

In a March 2006 issue of Rocky Mountain Game and Fish, a Utah wildlife official says that the Logan River is "unique." "It's the only major river in the state with no major dams on its headwaters or tributaries." The magazine calls the Logan "untamed." And it notes that through this canyon, beside this river, the Shoshone traveled and camped, frontiersmen such as Peter Skene Ogden brought furs for trading in Cache Valley.

Before that, what was the sound of ancient water, the deep-time symphony of currents, deposition of shells that became accumulations of rock - the mountains we see outside our subdivision windows and on which we hike?

At Tony Grove, I sit beside such boulders, staring at wind-tossed Indian paintbrush. I've driven through Logan Canyon countless times now, and I've stopped beside the Logan River to bird, to watch, to read. To breathe.

History's river is our river.


* CHRISTOPHER COKINOS is the author of Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds and of a forthcoming book on meteorite hunters. He lives in Logan, where he teaches English and natural resources at Utah State University.

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