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HUPC ACTION UPDATE

PUBLIC COMMENT: GONE BY THE WAYSIDE
Draft Environmental Impact Statement
for the East Fork Salvage Timber Sale

Getting back into the timber business (moving forward is not always easy!), the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in the span of only a few weeks in December 2003 released two draft environmental impact statements (DEIS): Bear Hodges on the Logan Ranger District and the proposed East Fork Fire Salvage DEIS on the North Slope of the Uintas (see HUPC LYNX, 4/03). The East Fork fire salvage proposal is in response to the 2002 East Fork fire. WATCH FOR AN ALERT WITH MORE DETAILS ON THE PROPOSAL IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE!

But for now, the East Fork DEIS presents another serious step backwardthis time with public involvement. The December 17 DEIS letter signed by Tom Tidwell, Forest Supervisor, harbors this language:
The opportunity to comment ends 45 days following the date of publication of the Notice of Availability (NOA) of the DEIS in the Federal Register. The publication date in the Federal Register is the exclusive means for calculating the comment period for this analysis. Those wishing to comment should not rely upon dates or timeframe information provided by any other source.

In a letter to the Wasatch Cache National Forest we
responded:
"...Thus we are left uncertain as to when the comment period starts and ends on crucial projects unless we have access to the Federal Register. While we recognize this is national direction... we discussed this with you and some of your staff at a recent breakfast meeting and were assured the Wasatch simply would not slip from its long and proud history of clear and concise notification of actions and comment periods...

...it is incumbent, to maintain the integrity and dignity that this forest has always harbored, to announce and/or notify the public(s) of comment deadline dates. In essence, you are telling folks to search the Federal Register daily from presumably the date of the transmittal letter outward until they find the notice in the Federal Register. This assumes people have a computer, know the Federal Register website, have the time to meticulously punch in key words and dates until they find the appropriate notice, subscribe (or check at a library that contains daily Federal Registers) to the paper version of the Federal Register, or wait until somebody else notifies them of the Federal Register notice and subsequent deadline dates. None of this is intended to make pubic review and comment easier, more accessible or user friendly..."

Thus we urge the Wasatch to step back and continue the decades-long process of open and credible public review by providing all of the information needed... whether it be scoping or formal NEPA documents..."

For years the Wasatch-Cache was the flagship forest with respect to public comment and involvement; it was a distinctly open and user friendly forest. Wouldn't it be assuring if the Wasatch-Cache would do what is right and continue that decades long leadership?

The comment period for the East Fork DEIS ends on
February 23, 2004 .

Mountain Scene by Margaret Pettis

ANOTHER WINK AND NOD?
Forest Service to curb off road vehicles (ORVs)

At the behest of the Chief of the Forest Service, calling the increased use of ORVs one of the four "great threats" to ecosystems, and being led by our own Regional Forester, the Forest Service has promised to consider new rules that would control the explosion of off road vehicle use. It is unclear at this point whether new national rules will be developed or whether local forest managers will continue to slowly upgrade travel plans.

Jeep by Margaret PettisWhile the words coming from the Forest Service sound hopeful, what is happening on the ground is anything but. There are positive signs, such as the Ashley National Forest, under order from the Forest Supervisor citing numerous resource concerns, finally prohibiting cross country travel by off road vehicles on the Vernal Ranger District. Yet other districts on the Ashley have had cross country restrictions for years and we have been urging the Forest Service to do this since the Vernal Ranger District travel plan failed to make the right decision well over a decade ago. What seems generally to be happening is the agency is opening more and more trail systems to ORVs, noting their concern that not enough long "loop" trails exist to satisfy ORV users. The simple truth is management decisions have often been to increase their presence and abundance on national forests! This was the clear choice of the Evanston/Mt. View District Travel Plan (see HUPC LYNX 4/03 and 6/03) and the Ogden Ranger District proposed changes in its travel plan. This is not planning.

Planning would be:

  1. a national order closing all cross country travel.
  2. an inventory and immediate closure of all non-system/ ghost roads/trails created by past off road vehicular use.
  3. closure of all trails in roadless/backcountry areas to ORV use to assure no new use patterns get established and that no further inroads are made into sensitive areas.
  4. ORVs should be constrained to extant Forest Service roads where public safety is properly analyzed.
  5. a clear assurance that adequate monitoring, law enforcement and implementation of ORV roads is in place.

On the Kamas Ranger District, ORV users built their own trail system deep into the Lakes Roadless area. They were caught, punished and rehabilitation is proceeding. But all too often what happens is new roads are pioneered by ORV users, use increases, and the Forest Service is unable to control the use with the ORV users then yelling that they have an established roadway and are being turned into criminals when the Forest Service talks about formal closure. The pressure is then on to turn it into a loop trail. Planning simply becomes a race with ORV users.

While the agency loves to say the ORVers are legitimate users and need accommodation, it seems that, in fact, ORVs are not legitimate. The power of the machine, its design, intent and ceaseless advertising is clear - get off the road, power up the hill. That is not legitimate.

Then there is snowmobiling. Snowmobiles serve as both machine and road. The impacts of snowmobiles are clear and obvious and almost as clearly ignored by the Forest Service. No more brutally bad management decision has been made than that by the Wasatch National Forest to simultaneously propose wilderness on the Lakes backcountry and THEN OPEN THE AREA TO SNOWMOBILE USE, even though the agency admits snowmobile use is minimal to non-existent, potentially dangerous and obviously unmanageable once established.

Let's hope, probably against all the odds, that the Regional Forester asks us to join his team to deal with all aspects of motorized off road travel!

MANAGEMENT INDICATOR SPECIES (MIS)

In December the Ashley National Forest proposed to change its management indicator species (MIS) through an amendment to its nearly two decade old forest plan. MIS are defined in the National Forest Management Act and in the Forest Service Manual as "plant and animal species, communities, or special habitats selected for emphasis in planning, and which are monitored during forest plan implementation in order to assess the effects of management activities on their populations and the populations of other species with similar habitat needs which they may represent."

In 1985 the Ashley National Forest Plan adopted its first Land and Resource Management Plan (forest plan). Two terrestrial species, elk and deer, eight bird species, golden eagle, goshawk, sage grouse, ptarmigan, Lincoln's sparrow, yellow warbler, warbling vireo and yellow-bellied sapsucker, one fish, cutthroat trout, and macroinvertebrates were defined as MIS.

The Ashley has determined many of these MIS were either too expensive to monitor, were unreliable indicators or there was not enough data and they should be replaced by goshawk, snowshoe hare, beaver and the Colorado River cutthroat trout.

While it is true that many of the early MIS were poor indicators, one of the primary reasons the agency is altering its MIS on many forests is the MIS originally selected were being used by biologists and conservationists in successfully challenging Forest Service proposed projects that were negatively affecting the forest environment.

The law and regulations are clear: MIS are to be elected to assure adequate safeguards are inherent in planning to prevent loss of crucial habitats and important native species, not to justify bad, on-the-ground projects.

In our letter commenting on this proposal, we noted, among many other things:

...It must be clear that concise and reputable data exist to show why the extant species are inappropriate and precisely how the proposed species will replace the extant species and assure that no meaningful biological/ecological gaps are left. ... thus jeopardizing cohorts of species these MIS are to reflect...

...There are numerous kinds of forests on the Ashley from continuous lodgepole pine to spruce, aspen, ponderosa and pinyon/juniper communities, not to mention very threatened/rare hardwood forests associated with riparian areas. Are the two proposed MIS adequate to provide the data and trends necessary for these forest types? It appears not. This is also true of portions of the South Unit that are distinct from the rest of the Ashley.

Eagle by Margaret PettisMuch of the non-forested and non-riparian communities of the Ashley are heavily grazed yet there is no indication of MIS representing these diverse grass/shrubland (i.e. sagebrush) communities. The purpose of MIS is to connect MIS and management activities with appropriate communities at proper scales, thus it seems the proposed MIS are lacking in this context. A range of MIS must be clearly defined and selected, given the specificity of habitat types and the range of management activities to be monitored.

Considerable evidence exists to suggest that carnivores, such as pine marten and Canada lynx, are excellent MIS in that high level carnivores, even wide-ranging species such as lynx, wolverine or cougar, make meaningful and documented contributions to ecosystem function. (Continental Conservation. Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks. Island Press. 1999; "Conservation Biology and Carnivore Conservation in the Rocky Mountains." Cons. Bio., August 1996)ìResilience and Conservation of Large Carnivores in the Rocky Mountains." Cons. Bio., August 1996)... Rare species (threatened, endangered, sensitive) often act as excellent indicators, in spite of the fact that they are low in numbers and sometimes even peripheral in nature. ("Rare Species and the Use of Indicator Groups for Conservation Planning." Cons. Bio, June 2003.)

The fact that a species is wide ranging does not preclude it from being a highly specialized species directly affected and tied to management activities. It is often noted in the literature that the more specialized a species, the more it is in need of attention and the more likely that broader generalist species will be adequately protected under its contextual umbrella.

...It has been noted frequently that woodpeckers ("Woodpeckers as Indicators of Forest Bird Diversity." Cons. Bio., February 2001) are excellent MIS (associated with both woodland specialists and generalists) and should be considered in conjunction with goshawk...

...The purpose of MIS is to assure management activities are consistent with sound ecological principles with respect to wildlife and habitat type protection, not to attempt to insulate the Forest Service from public scrutiny and accountability..."

HIGH UINTAS WILDERNESS RESERVOIRS

About the time you read this, the Ashley National Forest and Regional Forester will be releasing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) authorizing reconstruction of the Fox and Crescent Lake Reservoirs in the High Uintas at the headwaters of the Uinta River. (See, for example, HUPC LYNX, 4/01). The decision will go so far as to actually grant a private easement for the two reservoir sites to the Dry Gulch Irrigation Company based on a 1986 amendment, the Ditch Bill, to the Federal Land Policy Management Act. In essence, the Forest Service is saying the Wilderness Act is entirely subservient to development interests. The proposal will allow for helicopter access to haul heavy motorized equipment onto the reservoir site for one summer season. More to come as the decision is formally released.

This is a compete antithesis to the proposals of a couple of years back wherein the Forest Service teamed up with conservationists, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and local irrigation companies to seek and find downstream water storage and remove and stabilize at natural lake levels the 13 reservoirs in the HUW on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone Rivers. (See, for example, HUPC LYNX, 4/01.) The stabilization will begin in the near future.

Dick Carter

Mountain Reservoir by Margaret Pettis


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