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WEST FORK BLACKS FORK ALLOTMENT MANAGEMENT PLAN AND PREDECISIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT

COMMENTS ARE NEEDED BY AUGUST 9 for the West Fork Blacks Fork (WFBF) Allotment Management Plan and Predecisional Environmental Assessment (EA), known otherwise as sheep grazing on the West Fork Blacks Fork all the way up to Deadhorse Lake and Red Knob Pass. Send your comment to:

Steve Ryberg, District Ranger, Evanston Ranger District, P.O. Box 1880, Evanston, WY 82930

A WORD ABOUT COMMENTS

Comments are needed. They do help. Our collective cynicism can’t be allowed to override the only process available to us to set the record, to set the direction, to build the common theme of wildness, of life, not resources. Your vigorous and wild voice is needed. Whether we step forward believing from experience, from commitment or simply to bear witness, we must step forward.

A BIT ABOUT THE WEST FORK OF THE BLACKS FORK

Most agree the West Fork is one of the most stunning drainages on the North Slope of the Uintas. From the trailhead the willow-covered river runs north about 10 straight miles through classic wet and dry meadows and parklands flanked by steep slopes of old growth lodgepole pine. Mt. Beulah, one of the craggy Uinta peaks, dominates the early skyline as lodgepole pine drifts into spruce forests, subalpine benches and true small alpine cirques. All the while upstream beckons the castle like Deadhorse Pass and the pyramid of Red Knob and its huge alpine basins. Moose, elk, great gray owl, goshawk, lynx, black bear, coyote and cougar call this place home. Not too long ago, grizz was here along with wolf, wolverine and bighorn sheep. Coyote is still the target of the sheepmen, while wolf, wolverine, grizz and bighorn were all "moved" out of the way by sheepmen.

Domestic sheep have been a part of the West Fork for 100 years; albeit in ever decreasing numbers. Today about 1250 ewe/lamb pairs graze the West Fork from mid-July to mid- September. Another herd trails through the West Fork over to the Ashley National Forest in about three days. Even though sheep numbers have been declining the impact upon wildness, ecosystem sustainability and wilderness values have been increasing, particularly in the so-slow-to-recover alpine areas around Deadhorse Lake and Red Knob.

WHAT THE EA PROPOSES:

Three alternatives are analyzed: existing situation, no grazing and the Forest Service proposal (which reduces the number of sheep to 1075 ewe/lamb pairs, but continues grazing for the same length of time which puts the sheep in the alpine areas from the end of August to mid September). The EA also proposes to split the alpine unit of the allotment (see map, Unit 4) into two sub-units and one year graze the western unit and rest the eastern and do the opposite the next year.

WHAT THE EA SAYS:

As EAs go, this is a good one. The literature relied on is contemporary and speaks to the inherent problems of grazing sheep in wild and sensitive areas. The data collected on WFBF by the Forest Service over the years is provided and clearly ADMITS sheep grazing has consistently exceeded all recognized and acceptable standards, particularly in alpine areas. The EA also notes alpine grazing problems are persistent and slow to recover. Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between what the EA says and what the Forest Servcie proposes.

So what does the Forest Service proposed alternative do about this documented and significant problem? Almost nothing. It rests 1/2 of the alpine area one year while exerting tremendous pressure on the other half. The EA offers no evidence except best guess that ground cover standards will be met. In fact, the EA notes if the minimum improvement necessary to meet alpine vegetation standards is met, it is likely to take 40 YEARS to reach the standard of 85% ground cover. Ironically, the alternative is built to barely meet minimum standards.

The Forest Service proposed alternative concedes that lower elevation grazing problems to subalpine meadows, the riparian area and stream/streambanks is occurring from onsite and upstream grazing but does nothing to address these problems, preferring to initiate formal monitoring of these impacts with actions implemented at some later date! The EA does require sheepherder camps to meet leave-no-trace standards and randomly move salting areas.

The proposed alternative notes wilderness users and the wilderness experience is only slightly better than the existing situation. The effects upon sensitive species such as Colorado River cutthroat trout, lynx, wolverine and others are about the same as the no action alternative because of the presence of sheep and human actions associated with sheep grazing. The EA notes under the proposed alternative no meaningful economic impacts will occur to the rancher and none to the rural lifestyle of western WY.

So what does the EA conclude about the NO GRAZING alternative? Not surprisingly, the EA notes the alpine areas would immediately begin to recover and proceed much faster that 40 years. Stream conditions, bank stability, riparian conditions and fisheries all improve dramatically. Wilderness values are enhanced. Sensitive wildlife species face no threats. The EA also notes that even with a no grazing alternative the rancher will experience only minimal economic problems and impacts to the local economy will be nil. The EA is faulty in that the permit could easily be phased out over a 5-10 year period making the economic impacts even less noticeable. The EA is also faulty in that it doesn’t even analyze an economic value or quality of life value placed on the wildness of the West Fork by wilderness enthusiasts--this is equally important to the immediate gain by a rancher.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:

1-COMMENT BY AUGUST 9: Steve Ryberg, District Ranger, Evanston RD, P.O. Box 1880, Evanston, WY 82930

2-Use the information in this alert, the EA, your experience and knowledge, or simply bear witness to the wildness of the West Fork of the Black Fork by urging the Forest Service to choose the most sensible NO GRAZING alternative to solve the extant problems. The evidence and literature in the EA notes plainly that any grazing will simply prolong these problems. The evidence provided and the actions taken must be stitched together.

3-Let the Forest Service know it is nonsense to select an alternative that allows a minimum 40 year recovery! Whether pen to paper or finger to keyboard, it matters that your voice, your wild story, is raised. Don’t hesitate.

High Uintas Preservation Council
P.O. Box 72
Hyrum, UT 84319

WEST FORK BLACKS FORK GRAZING PLAN--COMMENTS DUE AUGUST 9..."DON’T HESITATE"


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