BOARD MEMBERS MEET WITH THE ASHLEY NATIONAL FOREST: A MIXED BLESSING
by Board Member Connie Bullis
At the end of June, HUPC board members Dave Jorgensen, Margaret Pettis, and I traveled to Vernal to meet with Ashley National Forest representatives at their bi-monthly meeting with environmental organizations. The meeting provided an opportunity to listen to current projects, share information, ask questions, and engage in meaningful discussion.
Much of the meeting revolved around the current forest planning effort and the potential for Wild and Scenic River designation on the Ashley National Forest. HUPC will continue to work with the forest to encourage Wild and Scenic River designation. Utah holds a unique dishonor - there is not a single river designated as Wild or Scenic. On the other hand, as of January 2002 just over 11,300 miles of Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers have been designated nationwide since the 1968 passage of the Wild and Scenic River Act. The Ashley National Forest has identified 320+ miles (about two dozen segments) of river that are eligible for further consideration as planning proceeds. It is a long way to actual designation, but we are hopeful that at least a few of these extraordinary Utah waterways will be protected.
As much as we have to applaud from the careful analyses the Ashley has provided, their willingness to engage in discussion, and their attention to the land, this meeting also reminded us how much intense vigilance it takes on our part to protect the High Uintas. We must watch how particular local decisions are made that can lead to protection or destruction of the places we treasure.
As reported in the last issue of the LYNX, the forests responsible for the High Uintas assured us that the wilderness was to be protected from wood-based campfires. Monitoring showed that building campfires had left the ground devoid of natural dead wood that is an integral part of a healthy natural system. The Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forests had pledged to respond with a prohibition of wood fires for the 2005 summer season. We were very disappointed that the prohibition had not been put into force by the end of July.
We were also able to discuss grazing allotments. We learned that 22 allotments on the Ashley are being handled through the "Categorical Exclusion" designation. In other words, the opportunities for the public to participate in the reallocation of these allotments are so constrained as to be nearly meaningless. The Ashley assured us that their monitoring is excellent and that they have adequate data to make decisions on grazing allotments without going through the public involvement processes they have used in the past. But we are disturbed by the routine use of Categorical Exclusion in cases that were once far more open for public input.
Other items discussed were oil and gas development south of the Uintas and the Frenches Park timber sale.
We hope that an ongoing participation in meaningful dialogue will yield better decisions in the future.