HUPC Action Alerts
TRAVELING ON THE ASHLEY NATIONAL FOREST
Recognizing off road vehicle use as one of the major threats facing national forests, the Forest Service produced new off road vehicle regulations at the end of 2005. To implement these regs, the Ashley National Forest has initiated a major travel planning revision (see HUPC LYNX, 8/07, 10/07 and HUPC Alert 6/07) which will result in two Environmental Impact Statements for the Roosevelt-Duchesne and Flaming Gorge Ranger Districts (2008) and the Vernal Ranger District (2009).
Soon, look for our special HUPC alert to assist in preparation of these early scoping comments. It is an understatement, even at this stage (comments will also be necessary when the draft EISs come out), that every one of your wild voices ring clear and vigorous!
Presently, the Ashley has released a scoping document with a proposed action for each district (for maps and info, see http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/ashley.) At this very early stage, comment by January 8 to:
The subject line must contain “Roosevelt/ Duchesne and Flaming Gorge Ranger District Travel Management Plan.”
Comments should be submitted in MS Word (.doc) or rich text format (.rtf).
The regulations, of course, are riddled with exceptions but clearly note off road travel must come to an end and that vehicles must be confined to identified Forest Service roads and trails with minimal environmental damage and that user-created routes are to be a thing of the past. The regs require dispersed camping be allowed no more than 150 feet from an identified route and that each forest produce clear maps of all legal routes and restrictions.
So how does the Ashley proposed action stand up to these regulations? From the proposed action for the Roosevelt/Duchesne Ranger District(R/D RD): “... the District proposes to add approximately 6 miles of existing non-system routes to the road system...and 12 miles to the motorized trails system... The District also proposes to restrict motorized travel on approximately 5 miles of NFS roads..., including the seasonal closure of 1 mile of NFS road, and 1 mile of NFS motorized trails.... These changes would bring the total NFS roads on the R/D RD to approxi-mately 540 miles and the miles of the NFS motorized trails to 53.”
The district also proposes to exceed the 150 foot dispersed camping rule by establishing “Potential Dispersed Camping Routes,” a new road category on over 15 miles of routes between 150-300 feet in length (in some cases, longer)! So it is not quite genuine when the district suggests it is adding 6 miles of new non-system roads to the road system--the fact is, at least 21 miles of new roads are being added-- all of this in light of a concern that new roads and ATV use are a threat and budgets for law enforcement and monitoring are plummeting!
How did the Flaming Gorge Ranger District do? 64 miles of new roads and 9 miles of new motorized trails. The FGRD would have 498 miles of roads and 26 miles of motorized trails.
How about the Vernal Ranger District? 9 miles of new roads, 29 miles of new motorized trails, 24 miles of Potential Dispersed Camping Routes while restricting motorized travel on 5 miles of roads and 27 miles of trails (many on the Ashley Gorge Roadless Area--congrats to the Ashley!) The VRD would end up 434 miles of roads (not counting the dispersed camping routes) and 90 miles of motorized trails.
If you ever wanted to know, that is a staggering 1,472 miles of roads on the Ashley, 169 miles of motorized trails and at least 39 miles of 150-300 foot long dispersed camping routes! Yet the Ashley balks at every step of the way when it comes to recommending wilderness or protecting roadless areas and recommended less than a quarter of the eligible wild and scenic river mileage on the forest as suitable.
While it could have been much worse, it is, nonetheless, worthy of deep pause...
WILDERNESS MANAGEMENT IN COURT
The day before Hallowe’en a federal court handed down probably the most comprehensive wilderness management decision in the 43 year history of the Wilderness Act. The case has been before the courts and the Forest Service for nearly a decade (counting the administrative appeals.) The plaintiffs-High Sierra Hikers Association, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Wilderness Watch and Californians for Western Wilderness-focussed on commercial pack stock operations within the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wildernesses.
In a firm ruling critical of the Forest Service for failing to fully and properly implement previous court rulings, the court made it very clear the agency must show an actual need for pack stock operations consistent with the Wilderness Act’s overarching context of preserving and protecting wilderness character. Need is not defined by the commercial outfitter but a broader public interest--simply desiring a horseback ride through a designated wilderness is not automatically a wilderness dependent need. Furthermore, commercial pack stock operations that haul in gear that is unnecessary for wilderness travel--radios or large, bulky furniture, for example, is not appropriate.
The Court also ruled very plainly that the Forest Service has a manifest duty to protect wilderness character and landscapes where commercial pack stock operations have degraded the environment. The agency can't rely on promises from the operators that they will improve wilderness conditions, including water quality, or postpone actions that concretely improve degraded wilderness environments under the guise of adaptive management.
Areas designated under the Wilderness Act are not passive. The Wilderness Act requires an active and responsible duty from the Forest Service to protect, maintain and preserve wilderness character. The issues raised in this litigation and ruled on by this court in 2001, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004 and again by Judge Laporte in 2007 are concerns we have raised almost yearly for decades in some fashion or another on the High Uintas Wilderness.
Is it too much to hope that wilderness managers on the Uintas will take a close look at the issues that clearly shred the wilderness fabric?
POLE MT. TIMBER SALVAGE
The first and last? Or one of many? Nothing mystical here like one-handed clapping. This is a “salvage timber sale” proposed right in the middle of the Neola North Firescape that burned this year on the South Slope of the Uintas- partly on the Roosevelt/Duchesne Ranger District.
That was the first question we posed to the Ashley National Forest on the the proposed Pole Mountain Salvage harvest.
In wonderful and predictable bureaucratic and blurred language, the answer was at this time there are no other salvage sales planned... anxiously we awaited the conclusion, and it came...but others could not be ruled out.
We mean not to cast aspersions on the good folk of the ranger district, but we honestly can’t tell whether these statements are evasive or candid. The problem is they both make for convoluted truth.
Why is this so important?
Well, there is the procedural context in that by knitting together a bunch of fragmented salvage timber sales in Neola North, arguing they are independent sales, plainly violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), not to mention good, holistic, landscape planning and evaluation. With one disjunct salvage sale at at time, it is easy for the Ashley to do the minimal review while isolating the environmental impact analysis. One timber harvest at a time and the forest can ignore the full scale of impacts.
Obviously, this salvage harvest and any future harvests are deeply related and connected, resulting from the fire. For the forest to simply say, in essence, we just don’t know how many salvage timber harvests we will do is disingenuous.
This, of course, leads to broader substantive issues. While this fire was started off-forest and not a result of a “natural” event, it was noted, nonetheless, numerous times by the Forest Service during the fire, that it would have beneficial value to the forest. Furthermore, the Burned Area Emergency Stabilization Plan clearly shows the fire burned quite “gently” on the Ashley National Forest with no need for re-planting.
The next obvious question is “Why this proposal?”
Back to an old fashioned timber harvesting context! What an irony that the Ashley talks on about ecosystem management yet falls back into stride for a timber proposal which has no ecological rationale.
Given all of these concerns, we suggested that before proceeding with this harvest, unless the forest clearly notes this will be the only post-fire salvage harvest emanating from the Neola North Fire, the Ashley National Forest proceed with a comprehensive post-fire salvage logging analysis. This would assure a systematic evaluation of whether harvesting should occur, why and where, all in one document, assuring a full environmental analysis rather than a fragmented review.
It is incumbent upon the Ashley National Forest to show post-fire salvage logging is necessary to assist in recovery of the fire impacted area and that it is ecologically appropriate to initiate harvesting within a forest system presently recovering.
While we know from the Neola North Burned Area Emergency Stabilization Plan that much of the fire area received only a light to moderate burn, it is still an ecosystem in stress and recovery is not aided by timber harvesting. Nothing in this report suggests any need for a traditional silvicultural approach. The primary reason this particular stand of trees was selected for harvesting was that the area was relatively flat, easily accessible and had a meaningful density of still-standing trees and, if not logged, their economic value would be lost. Ecological value is ignored in this calculation!
Issues dealing with biological legacies (old growth), large patches of standing dead forest and highly specific but essential habitat elements dealing with snag dependent and cavity nesting woodpeckers, small mammals and invertebrates all must be carefully analyzed. Simply attempting to dismiss them by suggesting alternative habitats exist elsewhere within the burned area is not an adequate analysis.
Over and over Forest Service management has resulted in notably dysfunctional forest ecosystems as a result of fire exclusion and even-aged timber harvesting. The Ashley now threatens to add the proverbial insult to injury by intervening with old time forestry into a system finally benefiting from a fire!
The proposal suggests no roads are necessary but allows roads to be constructed. This, of course, is exacerbated by the failure of the Ashley to firmly and honestly state whether additional timber sales will be offered in the fire area. Even temporary roads have significant impacts upon the physical habitat required by so many species, but also upon the behavior of many wildlife species. Roads have a far greater effect than the simple road prism itself as effective habitat is diminished for a considerable distance from the road--for many species this may represent a buffer from one-half to one mile.
There is simply no biological/eco-logical/ecosystem context for a salvage timber harvest.
GRAZING THE WASATCH
On the last day of September the Evanston District Ranger signed the Decision Memo allowing grazing on over 90,000 acres of the North Slope of the Uintas on the Red Castle, East and Middle Fork Blacks Fork allotments, the Gilbert and Hessie Lake and Henry’s Fork allotments-all within either the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) or immediately adjacent roadless landscapes- and on the Lyman Lake, Little West Fork Blacks Fork and Elizabeth Mt. allotments. (See details in HUPC LYNX 3/07 and 10/05.)
The decision was categorically excluded from full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and was signed under the auspices of Section 339 of the 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act which allowed the Forest Service to categorically exclude up to 900 grazing allotments from formal environmental review as long as the decision continued current grazing management and showed satisfactory movement toward desired objectives. Not surprisingly, it forbids formal administrative appeals.
As we’ve noted in past issues of the LYNX, there is nothing new here. The Ashley National Forest led this charge in early 2005, reversing promises to do Environmental Impact Statements on dozens of allotments. In one fell swoop, the Ashley categorically excluded 22 allotments (many within the HUW) and has since authorized grazing on one allotment after the next with the same Section 339 language. Promises don’t matter. Good, open, environmental analysis allowing for meaningful public review and expectations do not matter. Accountability is meaningless.
So the Evanston Ranger District isn’t charting new ground; in the same lock-step it says, at best, that grazing condition is satisfactory and will be maintained at current conditions. Of course, we’ll never really know since a meaningful analysis of data was not fully disclosed, alternatives weren’t analyzed, maps weren’t provided and accountability through an appeal is not allowed.
Satisfactory is now considered the pinnacle of achievement; current conditions (the data we have seen shows they are just satisfactory) is now top-of-the-line. Grazing in the High Uintas Wilderness is now institutionalized for decades to come, in spite of the fact that throughout the forest planning process, culminating in a new forest plan in 2003, the Wasatch noted repeatedly that grazing would remain a significant issue needing to be deeply addressed--the High Uintas Wilderness included.
“Satisfactory is now considered the pinnacle of achievement; current conditions ... is now top-of-the-line.”
We held notable expectations that reasonable and honest folks would engage in a meaningful discussion dealing with the
Simply put, we were misled! With the help of the Forest Service grazing permittees, received a slap on the back and a Cheshire grin while bighorn sheep, wildness, and predators of all stripes fall by the wayside.
A new course could have been charted.
We pleaded with powerful comments and discussion. We were simply stepped over.
WILD AND SCENIC RIVER DEIS
The Forest Service in conjunction with the State of Utah has released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Wild and Scenic River Suitability Study for National Forest System Lands in Utah. To find the DEIS, along with public meeting schedules and other pertinent information, go to: www.fs.fed.us/r4/rivers/. You can obtain a paper copy of the DEIS by contacting Catherine Kahlow, USFS WSR Team Leader, PO Box 68, Kamas, UT 84036; or 435-783-4338, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are due by February 15: Utah NF Wild and Scenic River DEIS, P.O. Box 162969, Sacramento, CA 95816- 2969 You can fax to: 916-456-6724 or comment by e-mail to: email@example.com. Numerous hearings will be held, for example, on 6 Feb. at the SLC Library, 210 E. 400 S., 7-8:30 PM and in Vernal at the Western Park Arena, same time. The first half hour will be a formal presentation.
Watch shortly for an HUPC alert to assist in preparing any concerns you may have...which we hope will be plenty. WILD VOICES ARE ESSENTIAL!
The DEIS recommendation is paltry at best. The recommended alternative is entitled, “Recommend rivers that best represent Utah Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs) while having the least affect on existing or reasonably foreseeable future water resources projects and other developmental activities.” Enough said! The context isn’t to preserve wild and scenic river values or ecosystems. That isn’t even an issue--such values and concerns have long left the Forest Service memory; they seem only to be capable of development-speak. Long gone are ecological, ecosystem, wild and aesthetic values.
The DEIS analyzes some 86 eligible river segments (840 miles) on the six National Forests in Utah. The development alternative proposed by the Forest Service recommends a suitable determination be made for 24 river segments including 14 river segments,132 miles classified as Wild (W), 9 river segments, 56 miles classified as Scenic (S), and 5 river segments, 24 miles classified as Recreational (R).
On the Uintas (Ashley and Wasatch-Cache), the DEIS recommends for the Ashley a total of 78 miles, 6 rivers:
On the Wasatch, it’s 53 miles, 5 rivers:
Putting this in perspective, the Ashley identified 24 river segments (326 miles) on the Uintas as potentially suitable for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System (NW&SRS), almost all of them in roadless areas and the High Uintas Wilderness. The Wasatch identified 171 miles on 19 river segments on the Uintas (the WCNF identified an additional 14 river segments and 95 miles on the rest of the forest). In plain language, the Uintas harbored at least 497 miles and 43 river segments that were potentially suitable for inclusion in the NW &SRS, a full half of the river segments identified in Utah national forests and nearly 60% of river miles, almost all within the HUW and the most wild roadless areas in the state.
Yet, the DEIS found only 11 river segments, 131 miles, as suitable! Say it ain’t so, Joe!
It is, well, ...lame. Sacrificing coherence and ecosystem management, the Forest Service clumsily stumbled. And they must know it! They missed the context of wildness and ecosystems. They missed the obvious roadless area rivers and wilderness rivers all to please opponents of river protection, no matter how silly and arbitrary. This proposal captures not a thread of rivers with meaningful suitability, but an isolated river here and there.
Obviously, if there is a place for your wild voice, it is in this process. Watch for our alert!
"To stick your hands into the river
Barry Lopez, River Notes,