Despite the heat, Christmas has come early for environmentalists concerned about the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains.
The U.S. Forest Service has decided to withdraw 80,000 acres of roadless areas from consideration for oil and gas leasing.And Chevron has decided not to drill a controversial wildcat well in a roadless area not far from the High Uintas Wilderness Area.
"Both (of the decisions) are very good news both for us and for the Uintas," said George Nickas of the Utah Wilderness Association.
The association has been extremely critical of an earlier Wasatch-Cache National Forest decision to allow oil and gas leasing on some 240,000 acres on the Uintas' North Slope, which is one of the state's largest forested regions.
In May, the Forest Service whittled the acreage down to 219,000, but that was not enough for the UWA, which along with three other environmental groups filed an appeal.
After considering that appeal and three others, Bill LeVere, deputy supervisor of the Wasatch-Cache, decided to withdraw all of the roadless areas, or about 80,000 acres total.
That leaves about 160,000 acres open for oil and gas leasing.
Nickas praised the decision. Protecting the roadless area from further degradation is essential to the entire Uintas ecosystem, he said.
"(The roadless area) in many ways is ecologically more important for wildlife species than the wilderness area because it's lower-elevation country, which is usually more productive."
But Wasatch-Cache spokeswoman Julie Hubbard said the 80,000 acres were withdrawn only for further analysis. In other words, those areas could be opened to leasing, depending on the findings of a supplemental environmental impact statement.
In an unrelated decision, Chevron, which had a permit to drill in the Stillwater Fork of the Main Fork of the Bear River, has decided not to drill the well, apparently for economic reasons, Hubbard said.
Nickas said he was "ecstatic" to hear the news because the Chevron well, which would have required the construction of a well pad and several miles of roads, would have degraded a pristine area.
If the Wasatch-Cache decides once and for all that no more roadless areas are open to leasing, then controversies such as the Chevron well can be prevented, Nickas said.