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OUR FORESTS IN FOCUS

I do not understand plumbing. The few times I have tried I’ve always had to resort to a real and talented plumber. So while Margaret was away for a week and I was messed up with a horrific stomach flu (speaking of plumbing), I had our neighborhood plumber come over. After he had fixed the 80 year old kitchen faucet, we talked over a cup of coffee about environmental stuff. He was surprised to learn “they” harvest trees in Utah. So are we!

It was no surprise that the Forest Service denied our appeal of the West Bear Timber Sale (Evanston/Mt. View Ranger District, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (UWCNF); see HUPC LYNX 9/08, 6/08, 6/07.) Nor was it a surprise that the appeal response did not address the issues we raised. The appeal conclusion mirrored, of course, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), simply noting the appropriate procedures were met and issues discussed. And like the FEIS, the appeal response concluded the project will not meet the purposes stated or truly engage the ecological issues behind which the timber sale hides. If all goes as planned, over the next 10-30 years another seven or eight miles of roads will be built, timber harvested over dozens and dozens of acres, landscape further fragmented, and wildlife habitat lost. But “all is well; trust us,” says the UWCNF. We tried and spoke honestly.

We are still awaiting the release of the Murdock Mt. Timber Sale Environmental Assessment (see HUPC LYNX 6/08) on the Kamas/Heber Ranger District of the UWCNF. The district proposed the timber sale, just a few miles off the Mirror Lake Highway, in an area already heavily harvested and showing the consequences of past harvesting of ecological fragmentation and increase in fire potential. This was recognized over decades back when the Forest noted the area should be off limits to harvesting. The 2003 forest plan noted that the area is not a priority for future timber harvesting and, if harvesting should occur, it should have a low level of disturbance while maintaining species composition, stand, and structure. The best thing for Murdock Basin and its critters is to let the place rest and allow the beauty and dynamics of natural processes to build and shape these forests.

And we also still await the release of the Pole Mountain Timber Salvage Sale (see HUPC LYNX 12/07.) Proposed on the Duchesne/Roosevelt Ranger District, Ashley National Forest, as a single salvage sale (with possibly more later; the Forest Service insists on harvesting trees after fires!) This despite the recognized value of fires in this ecosystem type and this particular place! The fire burned within natural parameters--gently, if you will-- and it was noted there was no need for re-planting. While much of the fire area received only a light to moderate burn, it is still an ecosystem in stress and recovery and is not aided by timber harvesting. The primary reason this particular stand of trees was selected for harvesting was that the area was relatively flat, easily accessible, 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!

We have covered wild and scenic river issues since issue number one in January 1997. In the last update, March 2008, we described the sad--there is no other word--proposal by the Utah national forests and state of Utah harbored in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Of the 86 river segments (840 miles) that were eligible statewide for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System (numerous issues of the LYNX have discussed the NW&SRS in considerable detail along with our proposals), the Forest Service recommended only 24 segments (212 miles) as suitable. Not surprisingly the Uintas harbored half of the eligible segments and well over half of the eligible miles (497 miles), yet the DEIS recommended only 131 miles and 11 rivers as suitable. The final decision should be released shortly with suggestions that it will be pared back even further. What is worse than sad?

Speaking of sad and updates from Day One (one can do a search on our web site of LYNX archives and find a couple dozen articles from January 1997 until today), the Table Top Oil Drilling on the Main Fork of the Bear River (two miles north of the High Uintas Wilderness and Hell Hole Basin) is underway. That is an understatement. In 2007 February after a road was built (all of this followed appeals and litigation), some 80 truckloads of drilling equipment rumbled up the road followed by weeks of 24 hour long drilling. A well was plugged at 15,760 feet. But because the Forest Service allowed continued leasing in the area in its 2003 forest plan (that too we appealed) and due to loopholes in the mineral leasing laws large enough to drive hundreds of drilling rigs through, the unitized lease has stayed active well after its ten year term (well into two decades.) Double Eagle proposed a new well another mile or so north to be drilled down to some 23,000 feet! Drilling was supposed to commence this summer but it did not. As the Forest Service told us, “We are still waiting for them to take the next step.” Tragically, it is the Forest Service that has held their hand, helping them take every single step!

Ashley National Forest planning (see HUPC LYNX 6/08, 2/07, for example) is still on a slow simmer with a promise to move forward this winter and spring. Among other issues the forest plan will determine timber suitability,
harvesting levels, grazing suitability and roadless disposition, whether recommended as wilderness, maintained as roadless or developed. Let us hope forest planning regulations are returned to normalcy and the Ashley proceeds with an EIS and an open and fruitful, vision-seeking forest plan properly recognizing the utter need of preservation of wild landscapes.

Shortly the Ashley Travel Plan should be released (see HUPC LYNX 3/08, 2/07.) The consequences of this decision are, in many ways, every bit as important as the forest plan as the Ashley will determine whether recreational values on the forest will be defined by the run-of-the-mill- loud-industrial-motorized-once-started-never-able-to-end-always- expanding-whine-and-so-obviously- and- utterly-anthithesis-to-natural-forest landscapes-and-ecosystems. Take the motorized whine and go play in county parks, landfills, dumps, old construction sites, abandoned buildings, not wild forests!

Is the Northern Rocky Mountains gray wolf going to be de-listed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or not? As you will remember (see HUPC LYNX 6/08), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to de-list the wolf in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana in 2008 March. The court said not-so-fast and the FWS agreed not to remove the wolf from the ESA in September. But by late October FWS swiveled in its chair and re-initiated the process to de-list the wolf. Through all of this, wolves in Utah, if they are here and if they run the gauntlet and get here, are still protected under the ESA.

We were so happy that the Ashley National Forest recently proposed a grazing Environmental Assessment on ten allotments (Roosevelt-Duchesne and Vernal Ranger Districts.) At least the agency was finally proposing to use a full scale analysis rather than excluding grazing decisions from full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. We have written about this ad nauseam in these pages. Taken with the recent decision by the Forest on the Vernal Ranger District to close four allotments to domestic grazing (see HUPC LYNX 6/08), it is another progressive step. There are lots of problems with this newest proposal-- in the old days, about a decade ago--grazing allotments would have been analyzed one at a time or in small, geographically similar clusters of allotments.

That should be what is happening here as these ten allotments cover nearly 250,000 acres. Instead of starting from the premise of what should be grazed because of ecological concerns (some of these allotments are within the High Uintas Wilderness), they are starting from the premise that grazing is the default position. The question at hand is how should grazing be carried out.

While not all is on target, at least the first step has been taken!

Dick Carter

Golden Eagle by M. Pettis


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