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West Bear Timber Sale

The Evanston Ranger District on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest is proposing yet another major timber sale from Humpy Creek/Whitney Reservoir on the West to the Mirror Lake Highway on the East, the West Bear Vegetation Management Proposal! (See HUPC email alert, 2/28/05.)

While we are appreciative of the district's proposal to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and not to allow harvesting in any inventoried roadless area (the area is on the northern edge of the Lakes Roadless Area), considerable portions of the harvesting area are within undeveloped stands of timber, will require a large investment and mileage in road construction, and have enhanced environmental impacts on these undisturbed areas.

This sale re-animates a massive 2002 timber project (see HUPC LYNX, 6/02), itself re-animated from a proposal dating back to 1988 and proposes to: a) harvest about 1,500 acres of old growth and mature spruce, fir, aspen and lodgepole pine over many years, possibly a decade; b) burn about 130 acres of aspen; c) construct over 9 miles of new, "temporary" roads; and d) harvest almost all of this timber in a Lynx Analysis Unit (remember, lynx are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act) with a high proportion of good quality lynx habitat.

The basis of this proposal is the forest stands are not within a "properly functioning condition" (PFC). The primary reason offered is the lack of fire, particularly in the lodgepole pine and aspen stands. For decades the Forest Service has recognized this problem and, instead of allowing fires to burn, they have continued the old "put 'em out" mentality, thus enhancing fire intensity beyond the natural historic variation. And with a deep and notable irony, this proposal doesn't introduce a fire regime. Rather it builds roads and harvests timber - two activities that clearly enhance fire intensity. To suggest timber harvesting mimics fire is a concept and context long outdated. It is simply not accepted in the scientific literature.

Additional fragmentation of this landscape and loss of biodiversity and ecological integrity is a crucial issue (along with the loss of old growth and mature forest stands which provide such important and undisputed values.) Obviously the issue and concern over further denigrating, fragmenting and isolating late successional habitat for forest specialist species is notable.

We strongly suggested two alternatives to be considered:

  1. Harvest only within the identified suitable land base in the project area and utilize only from one quarter to one acre patch cuts to minimize fragmentation and to more closely replicate natural forest openings.
    • Utilize only the extant Forest Service road network in the project areano new road construction, temporary or not. This would assure no additional habitat fragmentation from roads.
    • Over the life of the project close the project area to all motorized use, including snowmobiles, to minimize impacts to wildlife.
    • On all unsuitable forest stands allow wildland fires to burn in order to meet forest goals and objectives. This will meet the broad goal of allowing fire back into this system which is likely dysfunctional for the primary reason that fire has been prohibited.
  2. Utilize a prescribed and wildland fire combination only to meet the goals and objectives of the project. Prescribed ignitions would be utilized using the extant forest road system no new road construction. Wildland fires would be utilized for all areas off the forest road system.

These two additional alternatives actually meet the context of the forest plan objectives and goals, minimize environmental perturbations, minimize Forest Service expenditures, more closely represent ecological functioning, and do not get tempted by and lost to the timber output based concerns that eventually drive these projects, taking them even further from the ecosystem management direction in the forest plan

Pine Marten by M. Pettis

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