The Vernal Ranger District is on the roller coaster. On a hopeful but small note, the district, on something like the third try, approved the small Frenches Park Timber Sale, in the upper headwaters of the Black Canyon, without any intrusions into the Ashley Gorge Inventoried Roadless Area. While this is a nice gesture, the fundamental issues surrounding this small timber sale - the actual technical timber harvesting and growth issues are left unaddressed and ignored. It meets no meaningful goals. It proposes two small timber harvesting areas for no other reason than harvesting two small areas!
On the other hand, the Vernal Ranger District has been trying to produce a grazing analysis for the Black Canyon allotment since the late '90s. The analysis of this allotment started back in 1999 with scoping for the Black Canyon Allotment. An Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared but a Decision Notice (DN) was never issued. The EA was withdrawn to allow for an updated analysis and additional public comment, something we urged and fully supported. Eventually the district ranger consolidated additional allotments and proposed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) specifically because of the additional allotments, size and scope of the project, including increasing concerns noted for riparian areas and imperiled species either listed as threatened or managed under specific conservation agreements. We have actively supported all of these efforts. Furthermore, the district up to now has made a sincere attempt to update and keep this process open and accountable.
Up until now. Out of the blue the district withdrew the EIS proposed to analyze the consolidated allotments (now called the Ashley-Dry Fork Grazing Allotments, consisting of over 60,000 acres of public land, including quality roadlessness). In its place is the determination that the district will now simply prepare a categorical exclusion (CE) - a process used to bypass preparation of formal NEPA documents and environmental reviews, analyses and public input. This comes over a year after the scoping process for the draft EIS was completed and many months into actual preparation of the draft EIS.
It is simply disingenuous and a significant breach of public trust. To maintain any professional integrity it is imperative that the forest proceed with the preparation of the EIS which was initiated for a number of meaningful reasons. With that process also came a deep expectation that a formal and predictable public review process would be instigated. The accountability of both the Vernal Ranger District and the project itself will be lost if the CE is pursued. If this process and commitment is so easily broken, then it is clear a deep ethical and moral dilemma pervades this forest and district and suggests public involvement is meaningless. The Federal Register announcement for this project noted, "Public participation is especially important at several points during the analysis, particularly during initial scoping and review of the draft EIS." Rather capriciously and arbitrarily the forest has short-circuited and robbed that process.
In spite of promise after promise to restrict campfires (see Lynx, 4/05) in portions of the heaviest used areas in the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW), that proposal has not yet been finalized. Promised it is signed and awaiting final printing and whatever else governments do to make decisions as slowly as possible, we can't help but find it ironic that a timber sale or grazing decision can be hustled through with about half the implementation time as a pro-environment, pro-wilderness decision. The idea and promise that the decision would be implemented and information and maps provided to wilderness users this season got lost in the shadows. Hopefully, the Forest Service will step forward next year and aggressively - without embarrassment or apology implement a meaningful conservation decision to protect a wild environment, not develop one!
As some of you read in the Salt Lake Tribune (7/30/05), the Ashley National Forest and the Rocky Mt. Mule Association joined hand to tail, so to speak, to clean up garbage in the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) in Granddaddy Basin and other spots, as well as remove the old plane wreck at the upper end of Four Lakes Basin. The news article reported that some 40 mules and 20 riders hit the wilderness trails, well in excess of the HUW Management Plan standards. We queried the Ashley and learned that indeed 40 mules and riders (9, not 20) camped each night at the Grandview Trailhead, not in the wilderness, and were spaced 2-6 miles apart along the trail all the way to Four Lakes Basin. While it proved to be a successful weekend we are still concerned with the large number of mules. The Ashley's wilderness manager and wilderness rangers heard few complaints about the project but numerous concerns about the sheer number of people heading into the wilderness. This, indeed, remains a singular problem facing the HUW and one which the agency seems unable and unwilling to address in spite of a long history recognizing the problem and equally long history of wilderness rangers, wilderness managers and the occasional district ranger troubled by these use patterns and pleading for meaningful direction.
The Kamas Ranger District on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest persists in pursuing a salvage timber sale to remove hazardous and dead/ dying trees along the Mirror Lake Highway and other undetermined and undefined "higher standard roads on the District..." Sounds innocent enough but it appears to be tied to an ever increasing timber program being built back into the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. This proposal will remove thousands of trees along the highway (some 150 feet from the highway) to reduce the number of beetle infested trees, reduce fire hazard and protect us from having a tree fall on the road. We raised a number of concerns ranging from why the district is using a categorical exclusion and preparing only the most cursory analysis (and not seeking broad public input) to an actual documentation of the threat that these trees will fall on the highway and how often that actually happens and causes problems. Obviously this will have no effect upon fire hazard or beetle infestations, thus we have asked for rationale and documentation. It seems the single most important public safety issue will be the actual logging along the highway (starting after Labor Day.) This is being largely dismissed by the Forest Service!
The Evanston/Mt. View Ranger District recently released the West Fork Bear River timber sale proposal stepping up its in-your-face and get-out-the-timber sales attitude. More information on this timber sale to follow in the form of an action alert. Look for it soon!