HUPC Logo
HUPC Home Page Fare Thee Well! HUPC
Issue Updates
Contact
HUPC
About the Uintas
We Are HUPC Our Reflections What You Can Do Join HUPC HUPC Archives

PRESERVING A WILD LEGACY: THE HIGH UINTA MOUNTAINS

The next few issues of THE LYNX will contain segments from a document we have entitled, PRESERVING A WILD LEGACY: THE HIGH UINTA MOUNTAINS. We envision compiling all of this material in a booklet so our members and others will understand our vision of High Uintas protection and management. In this issue, we present the second
four sections: timber, minerals, grazing, and developed/ motorized recreation.

TIMBER

Mountain by M. Pettis"Tie-hacked" for the railroad at the turn of the century, Uintas timber resurfaced as an issue in the 1950s, with the
Forest Service looking for companies to harvest the Uintas for pulpwood. By the early 1960s this issue was resolutely
dead, yet the agency had allocated much of the Uintas to timber harvesting. By the 1970s extensive harvesting was
occurring in the area. At the same time, concerns were growing about the impacts of timber harvesting.

In 1986 the Wasatch-Cache National Forest estimated acres suitable for timber harvesting in mature stands were 80% less than forest plan predictions on the roaded areas. In unroaded areas, the mature timber base was estimated at only 40% of what the plan predicted. This systematic overharvesting was excused by the Forest Service as a response to a forest health crisis. By 1991 the Wasatch-Cache National Forest finally proposed to reduce the timber harvest by over 50% because of concerns for wildlife, watersheds, roadless, wilderness values, declining timber inventories, and regeneration difficulties associated with high elevation forests.

Backtracking on this, the new Wasatch Forest Plan (2003) allows significantly more harvesting with much of the North Slope roadless country specifically allocated to timber harvesting, much of it occurring on lands not even suitable for timber harvesting as defined by their own forest plan!

Commissioned by the Utah Wilderness Association in the mid '80s, Cascade Holistic Economic Consultants (CHEC) prepared a report showing the Ashley National Forest overestimated its volume of timber and that within three decades all old-growth lodgepole pine outside of the High Uintas Wilderness would be liquidated. Just in the last half decade the Ashley has completed two massive timber sales, East and West Trout Slope, admitting they are enhancing the already severely fragmented, dysfunctional forests on the Uintas' South Slope.

The "forest health" crisis was initiated, literally invented, by the Forest Service following World War II when the agency escalated its attempts to circumvent the natural processes that built forests over eons of time. Wild fires and parasitic insect outbreaks create gaps in the forest which allow for regeneration, assist in nutrient recycling, enhance wildlife habitat, and create the patchiness that adds to the vertical and horizontal diversity inherent to natural forests. Natural disturbances are agents of creation. Step by mysterious step, the forest builds itself in places and falls apart in others due to beetles, mistletoe, fire, and wind, moving vertically, horizontally, forward and backward through time.

Disturbances highlight the difference between a "productive" forest and an "integral" forest. According to the Forest Service, healthy forests are those that efficiently produce lumber. Trees grow rapidly and are of the same age and structure. But timber plantations do not mimic nature. The integral forest is diverse in age, structure, and composition. It is a new-old, scraggly-straight, stunted-tall forest. It is a diverse forest defined by what species, communities and processes occur there.

Hiding behind the metaphorically incorrect concept of "forest health," the Forest Service sought and President Clinton and Congress gave them the 1995 Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Programthe infamous "salvage rider" which expired at the end of 1996. Its real goal was to curtail environmental laws and meaningful public involvement to get on with massive timber harvesting. Even though a directive from the Secretary of Agriculture removed roadless areas from the salvage rider, significant timber harvesting occurred on the eastern South Slope of the Ashley, further fragmenting those forests. While North Slope harvesting on the east end of the Uintas was stymied for the time being, it is now imminent.

In part, this was due to new Forest Service whining that environmental laws and public involvement were forcing them to comply with the best science and ecological literacy. The Forest Service commenced the Healthy Forest Initiative and Congress passed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (2003), making the salvage rider of the late '90s look like kids' stuff. Environmental laws and public involvement were permanently altered - not just for a year.

In a 1993 Landstat satellite photo, Forest Service clear cuts on the Uintas are easily seen and more are planned - many in roadless areas. The Forest Service has admitted that most future timber harvesting will be in currently roadless areas simply because other timber potential has already been overharvested. Salvage or not, the Forest Service has shown no inclination to chart a fresh course allowing wildness to define the Uintas.

HIGH UINTAS PRESERVATION COUNCIL VISION
  • There should be no timber harvesting on any roadless area.
  • Close all logging roads to motorized travel and rehabilitate them within 3 years.
  • Conform all timber harvesting operation with broad landscape and ecological principles, allowing natural ecological disturbance regimes such as fire, insects, pathogens and other natural events to define timber management goals and forest succession.

MINERALS

Oil and gas leasing means development. Early in 1994 Amerac Energy Company was authorized to construct a road and well four miles into the roadless Main Fork of the Bear River at about 10,000 feet elevation. The proposal called for a 138 foot high rig to drill 17,000 feet below a three acre well pad, with an attendant toxic mud pit. A crew of 55 would drive 15 loads daily for four weeks; diesel engines would run the drilling rig and generate halogen light. The Utah Wilderness Association appealed this decision, but it was denied. The roadway has been cleared into the wild Main Fork. The roadless area is now marred by roadcuts, trucks, graders, fences and culverts. The lease was suspended in the late 1990s, pending completion of the forest plan with the oil company suggesting their development would come to a halt unless the Wasatch-Cache National Forest leased the small areas still unleased within the leasing unit. The Wasatch, never to disappoint an oil company, leased these roadless lands with few stipulations in the revised forest plan, the same one authorizing new roadless area logging, and has now re-authorized drilling!

There are already two oil/gas fields on the North Slope. In 30 years, the Bridger Lake Field has produced 12 million barrels of oil (approximately 20 hours of US demand). In 1987 development of the Hickey-Table Mt. Gas Field in lower Henry's Fork forever fragmented this drainage with drilling pads, roads, and collection plants.

Yet most geologists generally feel that the Uintas' Precambrian origin precludes significant oil reserves. US Geological Survey reports in 1983 and 1988, the 1994 Forest Service North Slope Oil and Gas Leasing EIS, and the 2003 Forest Plan revision note the vast majority of the mountain range has low potential for oil and gas discovery, with estimates ranging from nine minutes to two days of oil at present US consumption rates. One study noted that a tiny field of 35,000 barrels might be found on the North Slope roadless area and that over 90% of the proposed exploratory wells on the North Slope will occur on the northern fringe of the forest, well north of any of the undeveloped/roadless landscape. Nonetheless, the Forest Service allowed leasing on almost 200,000 acres of already roaded National Forest lands and in the 2003 Forest Plan revision - yep, the same one authorizing roadless area logging and access into the roadless Main Forkallowed leasing to occur on tens of thousands of acres of the roadless North Slope!

Once again, the Forest Service has shown no inclination to chart a fresh course allowing wildness to define the Uintas.

HIGH UINTAS PRESERVATION COUNCIL VISION
  • No leasing on roadless lands.
  • No surface drilling permits or surface occupancy should be allowed on any extant leases within roadless areas.
  • As leases terminate, they should not be re-offered.
  • No surface drilling permits or surface occupancy should be allowed on established or suspected wildlife corridors.

GRAZING

Livestock grazing poses another threat to these mountains. The Uintas are marked by about 43 cattle allotments and 34 sheep allotments, with over 12 allotments and 13,000 sheep munching and trampling primarily within the High Uintas Wilderness and adjacent unroaded terrain. Because of this, it is estimated that most of the Uintas are in less than good ecological condition! The victims include native Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (susceptible to diseases spread by domestic sheep), coyote, cougar, and the ghosts of grizz and gray wolf targeted because they are predators.
We have seen and had some success on grazing issues on the forest. Notably both the Ashley and Wasatch have ended grazing due to concerns that grazing threatened wildlife values on the eastern end of the Uintas (North and South Slopes), within the HUW on portions of the Beaver Creek Drainages, Thomson, Kabell and Burnt Fork drainages, and the contiguous roadless area on much of the Bollies.

Only a few years back, the Wasatch National Forest was allowing a permittee to use his truck in the HUW to disperse salting blocks for his cattle. After a series of tense meetings with the High Uintas Preservation Council, the Forest Service finally conceded this was inappropriate and ended the activity!

On the other hand, areas that need immediate attention because of acknowledged and serious grazing problems East Predator by M. PettisFork Blacks Fork, Hessie Lake, Henrys Fork, and West Fork Blacks Fork have simply been intentionally and consciously ignored by the Forest Service. In fact, for almost a decade now, the Forest Service has promised to complete the analysis of grazing in the High Uintas Wilderness on the West Fork Blacks Fork. One promise after another, literally, has been discarded because the agency knows grazing practices have been improper and must be altered/ ended, but fears the permittee and the precedent this may eventually have on ending livestock grazing across the High Uintas Wilderness.

The Forest Service has now been allowed to analyze grazing allotments without the benefit of detailed environmental reviews and public involvement if they think the allotments are stable or trending toward some distant desired future condition. Of course, they are taking full advantage. On the Ashley, the Roosevelt Ranger District has proposed clumping some 220,000 acres on over 20 allotments, some of them within the HUW, into one environmental document without benefit of a formal environmental analysis or public comment and prescribing the same broad-based management standards for wildly different allotments. Of course, the analysis of no grazing on these allotments is not conducted or even allowed!

HIGH UINTAS PRESERVATION COUNCIL VISION
  • Phase out all livestock grazing in the High Uintas Wilderness
    and contiguous roadless areas over the next ten years to maintain
    wild characteristics and natural ecological flows.
  • Maintain all ungrazed areas on the High Uintas Ecosystem.
  • Eliminate all predator control within the High Uintas Wilderness and
    contiguous roadless lands. Focus predator control as non-lethal actions or on
    "offending" individuals" on the rest of the ecosystem. Conform all range management with broad landscape and ecological principles allowing natural ecological disturbance regimes such as fire, insects, pathogens and other natural events to define range management goals and vegetation succession. All grazing conflicts with native wildlife should be resolved in favor of native wildlife viability and ecological integrity.

DEVELOPED/MOTORIZED RECREATION

Of late, off highway/all terrain recreational vehicles, including snowmobiles, simultaneously road and vehicle, have come to dominate recreational use on much of the Uintas. While the issue of OHV/ATV has risen to the surface, the Forest Service readily admits it has no handle on the issue. Illegal routes are common, resource impacts the norm, and both OHV/ATV and snowmobile machines are produced and advertised as more vigorous, going further and faster, needing more terrain. The hallmark is not restraint, but pure abandon. These machines bring a racetrack, industrial mentality to a forest. Once on a trail, legal or not or in an area, they have proven unable to be controlled or restricted.

Snowshoes by M. PettisAnd their use is increasing. Machines are being sold and licensed at a rate far exceeding predictions. The Forest Service has stooped to the level of these uses, unfortunately, by accommodation, more often than not. Loop trails have become the buzz word, assuring ATV/OHV users have large interconnected trails throughout the forest landscape. Time after time, on every ranger district on the Uintas, forest managers have decided the best strategy is to tie legal trails to illegal, user-created trails to satisfy motorized users. And to satisfy snowmobilers, the vast majority of each district outside of designated wilderness is open to snowmobiles. Even the Forest Service proposed wilderness on the Lakes roadless area is open to snowmobiles!

HIGH UINTAS PRESERVATION COUNCIL VISION
  • ATV/OHV use should be confined to inventoried backcountry roads and the already existing designated ATV/OHV trails. Roadless areas should be off limits to all snowmobile and ATV/OHV use.

HUPC Home Page Our Reflections HUPC
Issue Updates
Contact
HUPC
About the Uintas and Lakes Roadless Area
We Are HUPC Fare Thee Well! What You Can Do Join HUPC HUPC Archives