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THE NOXIOUS INVASION

The Wasatch-Cache National Forest has initiated a proposed action to control noxious weeds on the forest. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is in preparation after an autumn scoping period. Much of the scoping document was meaningful and hopeful, with some notable concerns.

Invasive/weed species are a deep concern and threat to inherent ecological diversity on the forest and action must be taken not only to control the individual populations of invasive plant species (the stated primary purpose of the scoping document), but, even more important, to focus on and control the processes of how these species have become so profoundly established. It is here the data is replete with pleadings and warnings that it is only at this level that invasive plant establishment will be controlled. While the purpose and need for this action are clearly noted, the simple matter of fact is the scoping document, proposed action and subsequent Environmental Impact Statement must broaden the analysis from attacking populations to both attacking extant populations AND preventing the processes and conditions that allow for easy and broad access for invasive species. Among these conditions are grazing and roads.

There is no dispute that one particularly insidious result of grazing on Western ecosystems is the spread of exotic grasses and weeds. Ironically, biodiversity is recognized as a meaningful barrier to non-native plant invasion. Grazing is one of the chief actions that alters and reduces native biodiversity at many levels. Weed infestations, then, further reduce biodiversity.

The literature is replete with evidence that roads, including primitive roads, are one of the most significant conduits for invasive plant species. Not at all surprising, much of this same research notes protection of roadless areas reduces the likelihood of exotic plant invasions and thus needs to be an integral discussion in exotic plant invasions.
The scoping document also notes that biological is a potential agent to minimize invasive species. Considerable doubt exists as to the long term safety of using biological agents to control invasive species and, at the minimum, biological control should undergo a scientific peer review process with very tight guidelines, protocol and clear expectations before being implemented.

A couple of issues of note should focus on designated wilderness as well as wilderness recommended through the revised forest plan. Clearly invasive species threaten wilderness environments while at the same time the management actions prescribed by wilderness properly restrict the methods of control. In many ways wilderness and invasive species are foundational to the broad effort to control invasive species because of the realistic restrictions on management techniques and importance to the landscape. It is obvious that wilderness issues require a broad, landscape approach not simply focused on wilderness. At the same time, the wilderness forces us to focus on the issues as to whether the management actions specific to removing an infestation are worth the effort and donít actually enhance the problem.

The point is that while the scoping document and proposed action offer one small facet of controlling exotic plant invasions, it is imperative they be broadened to reflect a much deeper approach.

Dick Carter

Mountain Scene by Margaret Pettis


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