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West Fork Bear River Timber Proposal

In February the Evanston Ranger District released the West Fork Bear River Ecos Management Project (see LYNX 4/02). It has been a long time in the making.

The "formal" process started in 1988 with the proposed Whitney Analysis Area. It was re-initiated in 1993 and in 1997 the Evanston District sent a Dear Forest User letter reminding folks that the project had not been "forgotten, dismissed or rescheduled." Finally in February a formal scoping letter was released, proposing an Environmental Impact Statement to study the effects of timber harvesting! Depending upon precisely where one starts to count, this has been a 9 - 14 year project.

The proposed project area harbors about 13,000 acres on the West Fork of the Bear River which drains in and out of Whitney Reservoir, the Gold Hill country and Moffit Peak.

At this point in time the Forest Service has no formal set of alternatives-- to their credit, they opened that discussion in the February scoping document. However, they did set some goals: produce commercial timber, analyze negative effects of the high density of roads in the area, restore, maintain and decommission some dispersed campsites, and "restore forest age class diversity, species composition and forest stand structure..."

While billed as an ecosystem management proposal, it really is a timber harvesting proposal based on the assumption that silvicultural treatments on this landscape can produce a timber volume and do only a little bit of ecological "harm." Notably, the report does acknowledge grazing and road building have had significant impacts upon this forest system, but it deals either superficially or not at all with those concerns. The scoping document also notes that the forest system(s) in the analys is area have largely been affected, in the context of change from an ecological/historical variability, by Forest Service fire suppression policies and practices. Loudly, the scoping document s general direction is "THE FORESTS ARE IN NEED OF TIMBER H ARVESTING TO ASSIST LOCAL MILLS," but quietly the document notes this is because of past direct Forest Service intervention due to ecologically damaging fire suppression.

But with conspicuous paradox and error, the irony of intervention/management seems to have been missed. The extensive grazing, road building (a very high road density exists), and the ever-present and still ongoing fire prevention (and logging) have created the very problem(s) the scoping document proposes to address with, of all things, fire prevention, logging, additional road building and no review or analysis of grazing! The whole content and context of this proposal is suspect.

Based on the scoping document, there is no reason to develop undeveloped landscapes in the West Bear area; thus, we suggested an array of alternatives that protects the extant undeveloped and roadless lands within the broader West Bear landscape by protecting the function/process, composition, and structure-- ecological integrity-- on these areas. This would prohibit logging, road building and other obvious human-based impacts. On the developed landscape a combination of uneven aged timber harvesting wildland fire (both natural and prescribed) would be actively pursued on the developed areas without any additional road construction. Resource outputs in the context of timber volume, for example, would simply not be figured for the entire analysis area. On the undeveloped area only natural ignitions, insects, pathogens, wind and lightning would play as the ecological engine.

Furthermore, we noted this project has been a long time coming and that there is a meaningful chance that it is going to follow just slightly ahead or behind the forest plan revision process. Because of the large acreage involved, the scope of the proposal and the distinct connection to the revised forest plan, we think it is best (and recommended as such to the Forest Service) with the ongoing forest planning process to simply postpone this discussion until the direction in the revised forest plan is completed. We suggested the Forest Service proceed with a much broader analysis that starts not from the premise of producing timber sales via silvicultural treatments but assures the undeveloped portion of the landscape remains undeveloped so that the ecological processes can function with a minimum amount of human intervention and achieve the structure and composition that the analysis seeks to achieve.

Dick Carter

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