The Secretive Goshawk of the Uintas
The Forest Service has initiated a proposal to develop management direction that will maintain or restore northern goshawk habitat on Utah s national forests, the primary place where goshawk resides (see The Lynx, 12/98 and HUPC Alert 2/99). The management plan will be in place until forest plans are revised. Visit the Forest Service website for the Goshawk planning process at www.fs.fed.us/r4/goshawk, and the Wasatch-Cache National Forest website at www.fs.fed.us/wcnf/. The goshawk is a medium sized, rarely seen, forest dwelling bird-of-prey with a wing span of 38- 45 inches. Adults have a slate blue back and black head with a distinctive white line over the eye. Underparts are pale blue-gray with fine black barring.
During February, the Forest Service held a number of open houses and has made a significant effort at a meaningful public involvement process.
The issue is of deep consequence. The day of the SLC open house litigation was filed to pursue the listing of the northern goshawk under the Endangered Species Act. The attempt to protect the species while avoiding listing it under the Endangered Species Act is a positive action even though some, unfortunately, will see it, negatively, as an effort to protect goshawk on paper only. While we are hopeful of the former we fully understand the skepticism of the latter. In fact, we raised this concern with a number of Forest Service representatives at the SLC open house by noting that it appears that the management guidelines are more along the lines of timber sale prescriptions than goshawk habitat guidelines.
The assumption of the goshawk strategy seems to be the old one-- timber first, goshawk second, in that timber sales are still a dominant part of the Forest Service culture and now can be justified and pursued in the name of goshawk as long as they meet certain guidelines. There is another way to look at this issue: goshawk comes first and timber sales which alter goshawk habitat will not be placed on that landscape.
The management guidelines present a daunting implementation/monitoring dilemma for the Forest Service. As soon as the Forest Service says we can't monitor this the way it is prescribed because of declining budgets and person power the whole efforts falls apart. The first forest structure goal notes it is imperative to maintain large, intact, connecting, mature and old growth forests on the scale of tens to hundreds of thousand of acres. The next goal involves maintaining snags over each treated 100 acres. The next goal deals with retaining downed logs and debris over each treated 10 acres. Canopy closure becomes a project level goal.
Obviously, all of these standards except the first one are timber sale prescriptions. The confusion that will be associated with the cumulativeness of these goals will be profound. If every project level timber sale meets the standards noted, it is clear that the larger goshawk landscape will continue to be negatively affected because the scale of measurement is so dramatically different. We fear the Forest Service will jump at the context of removing old forest patches in each timber sale project, rather than focusing on the only important goals of maintaining large connected undeveloped forests driven by natural processes.
The fact that proposed management direction will not be applied in designated wildernesses or Research Natural Areas is another indicator of timber sale-driven goshawk management. How ironic that it has somehow been determined that wildernesses like the Uintas, Pine Valley Mountains and even some of the Wasatch Front wildernesses are outside of the analysis. Goshawks are never abundant in any landscape but they are as abundant as they can be in places like the High Uintas, Mt. Naomi, Mt. Olympus and the Pine Valley Mountains and in large undeveloped landscapes such as the Casto Bluff area, Beehive Peak, the Pahvants, the western end of the Uintas, upper Price River, etc. It is in wilderness where the natural ecological processes define goshawk existence.
Graham et al. note in The Northern Goshawk in Utah: Habitat Assessment and Management Recommendations, February 1999 that timber management represents a threat to goshawk. Clearly timber harvesting severely fragments goshawk habitat. Inherent ecological processes of wind, fire, insects, and pathogens simply don t lay the grid of human intrusions on a fragile landscape. Goshawk has evolved a remarkable dance, if you will, with those drivers of diversity, not with roads and saws. It is also important to note the value of large roadless landscapes in this management assessment as it is these areas that offer the inherent natural processes that are obviously crucial to goshawk.
The scoping document also downplayed issues dealing with grazing. Grazing in combination with fire exclusion has likely impacted aspen in specific locales which have added to the severity of goshawk habitat loss in that vegetation type. Thus grazing issues must be dealt with in a significant manner. While open understories are important for goshawk predation, this does not suggest degraded vegetation conditions resulting from intense domestic grazing and fire exclusion represent suitable conditions for goshawk, particularly maintenance of the prey base.
Old growth forests and the inherent, essential disturbance processes are crucial. Clearcutting, even aged management, intense grazing and other activities that disrupt the normal inherent processes within a forest are damaging to goshawk nesting survival. Clearly an alternative of protecting connected and large roadless areas across all of Utah s forests would be the wisest and most visionary management tactic by the Forest Service.
Most of the Uintas was identified as definitively important goshawk habitat, with much of the range considered optimum habitat. Nonetheless, we also raised concerns at the Logan and Salt Lake City meetings why the Middle Fork and upper Main Fork of the Weber River and many of the North and South Slope aspen, lodgepole pine and spruce forests were not included as optimum habitat. Numerous active nests have been confirmed on the both of the upper Weber drainages and throughout the undeveloped and wilderness portions of the Uintas, particularly at 8800 to 9800 feet where aspen and lodgepole pine and even spruce intermingle and where the lodgepole and spruce become part of the landscape matrix.