ACTION UPDATE: Projects of the High Uintas Preservation Council
High Uintas Wilderness Reservoirs to be breached and stabilized!
A good decision, although a long time in coming, has been rendered by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD) with the support and guidance of the Ashley National Forest and Utah conservationists! Finally, after decades of work the 13 small high mountain reservoirs on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone River within the High Uintas Wilderness, all established 70, 80, close to 90 years ago in some cases, and in all cases by horse and buggy, will be breached and stabilized as the natural lakes they once were! (See HUPC LYNX 8/01, 4/01 and HUPC Newsletter, 4/98.) Numerous comments were received (see HUPC Action Alert, 2/01) and strong guidance by the Ashley National Forest along with a willingness by the CUWCD to look creatively at ways to stabilize these reservoirs and still meet instream flows and downstream contractual water requirements resulted in a truly good decision! Congratulations!
It is now up to the Ashley National Forest to prepare a minimum tool analysis and an environmental review to determine how these reservoirs will be breached, stabilized and rehabilitated. The main questions will deal with the use of motorized eq uipment, the time frames involved in stabilization and whether and how much vegetative rehabilitation is needed. But, at least, the first hurdle has been crossed!
More High Uintas Wilderness Reservoir issues... not so hopeful!
And while the Lake Fork/Yellowstone decision is one of hope and good decision making and policy, the reservoir issue within the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) is not over with the potential for just the opposite of the Yellowstone and Lake Fork decisions. On the upper Uinta River squat two 70 year old reservoirs, Fox and Crescent Lakes, in various tastes of disrepair (see HUPC LYNX 8/01, 4/01 and HUPC Newsletter 4/98).
The local irrigation company has requested the Forest Service to allow motorized access to repair/replace much of the dam-works on both reservoirs. They have argued that they the reservoirs and the Forest Service can't prohibit access and repair/reconstruction. The Forest Service has twice scoped the proposal in 2001 and we now wait for the Environmental Impact Statement to determine the direction the Forest Service is going to take. Are they going to maintain the hopeful direction set forward on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone drainages or slip backward? A slip backward (allowing motorized equipment to repair and reconstruct these reservoirs) will set in motion for the foreseeable future a course of motorized access and private ownership of a reservoir in the High Uintas Wilderness, something totally foreign to the very concept to the Wilderness Act!
A decision to work with all concerns to stabilize these reservoirs is the only direction that in the long run will serve the integrity of the wilderness and the long term contractual water requirements.
Evanston/Mt. View, North Slope Uintas Travel Plan
An eight year comment period? Well, not exactly but that is how long we've been waiting for the latest version of the Evanston/Mt. View Ranger district's travel plan for the North slope of the Uintas (see HUPC LYNX, 8/01, 6/01). The comment period on this iteration ended in October and we now anxiously await a decision, a map and vigorous enforcement of the travel plan. While we are all appreciative of the open process and generous comment period(s) and understand the context of the decision making process, decisions like this can't be put off for this length of time regardless of their complexity and controversy.
At the Evanston and Logan Forest Plan hearings we heard over and over again threats from motorized users that no matter how many times the Forest Service closes trails to vehicles or areas to snowmobiling they will routinely and intentionally violate them. (At the October monthly WCNF breakfast meeting the Kamas Ranger District noted numerous problems with enforcing vehicle closures as well.) Some were brazen enough to speak of their known intrusion into designated wilderness and other closures; at least one person even flaunted a photo of such an intrusion.
Thus it is true that simple closures will not immediately stymie the obnoxious. But over time experience has taught us that policy direction and logical closures provide a bearing and become institutionalized, thus the need for a decision and implementation by the Evanston/Mt. View Ranger District!
West Fork Blacks Fork Sheep Grazing
Not to pick on the Evanston/Mt. View Ranger District but they also have had the West Fork Blacks Fork sheep grazing decision (see The Lynx, 12/00, 8/00, 4/00, 8/99, Special HUPC Alert, 7/99, 4/99, 6/98) sitting on the proverbial desk for a long time. Comments were due in August 1999! The importance of this decision is obvious and hotly contested by the permittee. The Forest Service analysis clearly shows serious problems exist on this allotment and most other sheep allotments on the North Slope. The question is whether the allotment(s) will be brought into compliance with grazing standards now or within the next 40+ years! That is the crux of the decision. It is not that the forest or district have been stalling, but that they have been trying to obtain meaningful data and move a bit too conservatively due to the obvious impacts upon local concerns and the broader ecological values. But it is time for a decision!
Well, it is still tangled in a mess (see HUPC LYNX, 8/01).The numerous anti-roadless review court cases led by Idaho and appealed by conservationists have moved much slower than anticipated with most of the spin coming to a halt, pending a few decisions some time in the future. Meanwhile, the administration and the new version of the old Forest Service have set forth an interim directive that roadless areas will be analyzed and protected through the forest planning process and that the Chief of the Forest Service will make all decisions on timber harvesting and road building in roadless areas.
Like it or not, roadless area decision making will be a forest plan issue for some time to come-- neither the anti-roadless forces nor conservationists have yet to find a way to decide roadless area allocation at a national level despite our joint but antagonistic efforts! The simple matter of fact is while the national direction is needed and hopeful and will likely guide the inventory definition of roadless areas, the allocation will come as a forest by forest process!
New Chief of the Forest Service
Back in April, Dale Bosworth, former Wasatch-Cache National Forest Supervisor (late 80s and early 90s) and later Intermountain Regional Forester for a short time, was named Chief of the Forest Service. Dale was a good Forest Supervisor and fond of talking about the importance of not what resources were taken off the ground, but what was left on the ground to assure functioning ecosystems. It was clear to many of us that early in his career he was aiming for the top (he was the Northern Regional Forester when selected as the Chief). We wished him well and figured the lofty and visionary talk would likely subside.
And indeed it has-- he has been at the front of dismantling former Chief Dombeck's roadless review and has talked often about the need to enhance productivity on the nation's national forests. It is hard to hear our old friend Dale Bosworth talk this way and hope he can find his way back from the new version of the old Forest Service to a truly new Forest Service-- one of ecosystems, not resources!
More administrative changes: Jack Blackwell, former Intermountain Regional Forester who replaced Dale Bosworth, was just transferred to California as the Pacific Southwest Regional Forester. No replacement for the Intermountain Region has been announced.
North Slope Seismic Line
Back in August the Evanston/Mt. View Ranger District authorized a series of seismic lines running off the North Slope of the Uintas on into Wyoming. While the Forest Service portion of this massive proposal was small compared to the lines throughout southwestern Wyoming, it was nonetheless of concern for a couple of reasons. A little over 30 miles on five lines were proposed on the North Slope of the Uintas. One line was originally proposed to start within the High Uintas Wilderness-- that was quickly dropped by the Forest Service after a hue and cry by HUPC and other conservationists. About seven miles of line would be in roadless areas, almost five miles of that in the Little West Fork Blacks Fork Roadless area, an isolated roadless area on the WY/UT border. About two miles of line was on the edge of the Middle Fork Blacks Fork and north end of the East Fork Blacks Fork near the North Slope Road.
Helicopters were proposed to lower portable drill rigs to drill 3 1/2" holes sometime during the late fall before the proverbial flying snow! However, no road construction was permitted and vegetation removal was severely prohibited with no trees larger than 3 in diameter removed from roadless areas. The Forest Service categorically excluded the analysis from preparation of an Environmental Assessment of Impact Statement for the obvious reasons-- Anadarko, the exploration company, wanted this done quickly and the public be damned! At least the Forest Service was reasonably sensitive and firm in where the lines were to go and how they would be managed.
Slate Creek Mining
The Duchesne/Roosevelt Ranger District on the Ashley National Forest just released an Environmental Assessment detailing a proposal to allow continued exploration of a series of established hardrock mining claims on Slate Creek a couple of miles west of Moon Lake and two miles south of the High Uintas Wilderness. No roadless country is impacted and access would be by an established 6.5 mile rough dirt road to the claim site. No new road construction or reconstruction would be allowed. The exploration is for hematite, used in artist paint and cosmetics!
The primary problem with the proposal is that mitigation requirements are often conditional upon the company's (Uintah Mt. Copper Co. of Price) status! Mitigation must be unconditional. If they can't meet reclamation issues the Forest Service has a legal obligation to prohibit the action.
And the EA offers an unusual insight to alternative analysis, which is a bit frustrating. Alternative B, the more restrictive alternative, would have absolutely no impacts upon the proposal, no impact upon the effectiveness of the proposal, and produce similar consequences in terms of environmental impacts, but goes the few extra steps to assure a higher level of landscape integrity. It is the proposal developed by the Forest Service Interdisciplinary Team, yet it wasn t identified as the p roposed action.
Given the ability of Alt. B to add slightly to landscape and ecological integrity and the reasonableness of the ID Team recommendations, while having no effect upon the ability to proceed with the proposal, we strenuously urged the District Ranger to adopt Alt. B.
And in-between all of this...
have been the normal meetings with the Forest Service, the keynote luncheon speaker at the Ogden Exchange Club, and classroom presentations!