THEN AND NOW: TIMBER AND THE UINTAS
In l997, the High Uintas Preservation Council was born from deep love and respect for the magnificent wild country known as the Uinta Mountains. Our first newsletter carried this account of what we felt our new membership should know about the uniqueness of the range. We include it here for your reflection. The next few editions of the LYNX will carry side by side essays written then and now about the issues facing the High Uintas. Letís take a look at
"Tie-hacked" for the railroad at the turn of the century, Uinta timber resurfaced as an issue in the 1950s, with the Forest Service looking for companies to harvest the Uintas for pulpwood. By the early 1960s this issue was resolutely dead, yet the agency had allocated much of the Uintas to timber harvesting. By the 1970s extensive harvesting was occurring in the area. At the same time, concerns were growing about the impacts of timber harvesting.
In 1986 the Wasatch-Cache National Forest estimated acres suitable for timber harvesting in mature stands were 80% less than forest plan predictions on the roaded areas. In unroaded areas the mature timber base was estimated at only 40% of what the plan predicted. This systematic over-harvesting was excused by the Forest Service as a response to a forest health crisis. By 1991 the Wasatch-Cache National Forest finally proposed to reduce the timber harvest by over 50% because of concerns for wildlife, watersheds, roadless, wilderness values, declining timber inventories, and regeneration difficulties associated with high elevation forests.
Commissioned by the Utah Wilderness Association in the mid '80s, Cascade Holistic Economic Consultants (CHEC) prepared a report showing the Ashley National Forest overestimated its volume of timber. Within three decades all old-growth lodgepole pine outside of the High Uintas Wilderness would be liquidated.
The "forest health" crisis was initiated by the Forest Service following World War II when the agency escalated its attempts to circumvent the natural processes that built forests over eons of time. Wild fires and parasitic insect outbreaks create gaps in the forest which allow for regeneration, assist in nutrient recycling, enhance wildlife habitat, and create the patchiness that adds to the vertical and horizontal diversity inherent to natural forests. Natural disturbances are agents of creation. Step by mysterious step, the forest builds itself in places and falls apart in others due to beetles, mistletoe, fire, and wind, moving vertically, horizontally, forward and backward through time.
Disturbances highlight the difference between a "productive" forest and an integral forest. Healthy forests, according to the Forest Service, are those that efficiently produce lumber. Trees grow rapidly and are of the same age and structure. But timber plantations do not mimic nature. The integral forest is diverse in age, structure, and composition. It is a new-old, scraggly-straight, stunted-tall forest. It is a diverse forest defined by what species, communities and processes occur there.
Hiding behind the metaphorically incorrect concept of "forest health," Congress and President Clinton approved in 1995 Section 2001, the Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program. The salvage rider expired at the end of 1996, but curtailment of environmental laws and meaningful public involvement will be around for some time, as timber sales offered under the rider are to be cut in coming years.
The most egregious salvage sale was Round Park, on the eastern end of the Uintas' North Slope. This undulating expanse of old pine forests, parklands, wet meadows, and untouched churning streams is the heart of the unprotected North Slope. The southern boundary of the proposed harvesting is the High Uintas Wilderness. On the north are the Doug-fir forests of Widdop Mountain, a small roadless area important for ungulate winter range. The Forest Service proposed logging 2,218 acres of roadless country, nearly 21 million board feet the largest timber sale ever on the Uintas. These forests are home for pine marten, goshawk, black bear, moose and a host of other species needing untouched wild forests. Even the Forest Service admitted this proposal would significantly fragment natural and wild forests!
After an angry group of wilderness advocates challenged the proposal, Secretary of Agriculture Glickman's policy directive removing roadless areas from salvage sales stopped any cutting in the roadless portion (about half the volume and acreage) of this area. It was a hopeful but partial step. But still significant harvesting was just recently allowed on Roadshed, Marsh Bench and parts of Round Park, adding the fragmentation of these wild forests.
In a 1993 Landstat satellite photo, clearcuts on the Uintas are easily seen and more are planned many in roadless areas. The Forest Service admitted that most future timber harvesting will be in currently roadless areas because other timber potential has already been over-harvested. Round Park is just the beginning. Salvage or not, the Forest Service has shown no inclination to chart a fresh course allowing wildness to define the Uintas.
Today it is the Healthy Forest Initiative, instead of Emergency Salvage - legislation nurtured by the Forest Service the timber industry the administration and sanctioned by a compliant Congress - which will guide much of the timber management program of the Forest Service. The context is not much different harvest forests with little respect for ecological values as well as public review and agency accountability.
The Ashley National Forest continues to mug the eastern Uintas. The Trout Slope East Timber Sale was finalized in 2000 and is now being harvested. While the sale did not allow any new road construction, it did open about 10 miles of closed roads and harvest dead and dying lodgepole pine on over 1,000 acres. Ironically, but with a degree of honesty, the Forest Service admitted this project was not intended to be an "ecosystem management" based project, just a good old fashioned timber harvest in an area already acknowledged as profoundly over-harvested with a road network of nearly two miles of roads per square mile of land! To the credit of the Forest Service, a number of changes were made in the proposal-- no harvesting in roadless areas, for example, to make it far less severe than originally proposed. But it still added to the degradation of what is referred to as Trout Slope, Grizzly Ridge/ East Park Reservoir west to Hacking Lake/Long Park Reservoir/ Horseshoe Park.
And now, the Forest has proposed harvesting Trout Slope West, Oaks Park Reservoir to Long Park Reservoir. Again, to the credit of the Forest Service, no new roads are being constructed and no roadless areas are being entered. But nearly 2,100 acres are being harvested with over ten miles of closed roads re-opened. The DEIS released in 2004 February acknowledged that almost every resource component in the area would be negatively impacted and the ten miles of roads would possibly be left open instead of obliterated. The final decision is expected soon.
It is clear the only meaningful places left to harvest on the forest-- the Trout Slope is severely degraded-- are within roadless portions of the Ashley. Data acknowledges that timber value in these areas is lower than marginal.
The situation on the Wasatch portion of the Uintas is as offensive. When the East Fork Bear River fire was barely out, the Evanston Ranger District proposed a timber sale to harvest over nearly 900 acres on 21 cutting units and re-construct nearly 23 miles of road-- not to enhance biodiversity or protect ecosystems, but to specifically offer a timber sale to work with local communities! A decision is expected shortly. At least this proposal did not propose to harvest within any roadless areas... for the time being. (At the same time the forest offered a major timber sale on the Logan Ranger District Bear Hodges.)
Furthermore, the newly revised forest plan (implemented but still under appeal by HUPC and other conservationists) offers significant North Slope roadless acreage to timber harvesting on West Fork Smiths Fork, Burnt Fork/ Kabell Creek, Round Park and even on roadless acreage on the Lakes Roadless Area in Whiskey Creek and Gold Hill. And a major timber sale is being proposed on the West Fork Bear/Whitney area.
The same predicament faces the Wasatch portion of the High Uintas. If there is to be timber harvesting, it will have to be on roadless landscapes simply because the forest has been so severely over-harvested. Like the Ashley, the Wasatch has recognized this, acknowledged over-harvesting the forest, and now seems to be saying, So be it. Into roadless areas we will march with roads and logging!
So what happened to the promise of ecosystem management, the promise to restore forest integrity, structure and ecological process and then determine why treatments are necessary to meet those ecological/biodiversity processes?
Well, old habits die hard/ new ideas in the Forest Service come slowly/ a new chief bent on old ways/ a new administration bent on nothing/ too many supervisors and rangers marching along/if not ecological illiteracy, ecological blindness/ roadlessness and wilderness is just that /timber harvests have a human signature...
As we noted in l997, "...the Forest Service has shown no inclination to chart a fresh course allowing wildness to define the Uintas."