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The Utah Environmental Congress (UEC) scored another impressive court victory as the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier court ruling and halted the nine million board foot West Trout Slope Timber Sale on the Ashley National Forest! In separate appeals both UEC and the High Uintas Preservation Council administratively appealed this timber sale back in 2004 (see HUPC LYNX, 2/05, 8/05, 4/05.) The Forest Service rejected both appeals. UEC then asked the High Uintas Preservation Council to join them in litigating the timber sale.

We were honored and quite impressed as UEC expertly guided the lawsuit to fruition with a major victory. Congratulations!

We were deeply distressed by the Evanston Ranger District’s proposal to proceed with the West Bear Vegetation Management Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (WBVMP FEIS)--a timber sale in disguised language. Therefore, we appealed the decision to the Regional Forester. The district chose to pursue an alternative less responsive to broad public concerns while also being the harshest and most impacting alternative. The proposal on the West Fork Bear River (Humpy Creek/Whitney Reservoir on the west to Mirror Lake Highway on the east) was to harvest about 1,600 acres of old growth timber on 38 units and construct nearly 8 miles of roads. (See HUPC LYNX 10/05 and 4/05 for our recommendations.)

Thankfully, the appeals filed by HUPC and the Utah Environmental Congress resulted in the Forest Supervisor pulling the decision and sending it back to the Ranger District for additional work and analysis.

The WBVMP FEIS stated: “The purpose of this project is to move the forested portions of this landscape toward properly functioning condition and to move toward a variety of vegetation types, age classes, and patch sizes covering the landscape. This will provide for healthier watersheds, aquatic and terrestrial wildlife habitats, and recreation environments. It will also produce commodities such as lumber and forage.”

Meeting properly functioning condition (PFC) is not, however, dependent upon timber sales and this option was not even considered or analyzed nor was an alternative that proposed no road construction.

The WBVMP FEIS noted the forests in the area are not properly functioning because the natural fire regime has been disrupted through fire prevention. And with near perfect irony, the proposal then excludes a managed return of wildland fire or significant prescribed fire ignitions!

This stunner is followed by a series of also near perfect ironies. First, the proposal noted forest insects must be controlled because they threaten too many trees. In the next breath, the proposal states, “The current level of mountain pine beetle activity is expected to continue within the analysis area.”

The WBVMP FEIS also notes the largest forest component in the analysis area—spruce/fir— happens to be properly functioning and within the historical range of variation. Yet it is also the forest type where most of the proposed harvesting will take place!

The proposed action conceded it would have the most negative impacts upon forest fragmentation, wildlife travel corridors, water quality, erosion, and wildlife habitat.

But like The Perfect Storm, there is, indeed, a perfect irony in this proposal. The WBVMP FEIS states, “It is apparent that developing PFC is a long-term endeavor requiring multiple entries over many decades. The current proposal would not achieve PFC in any of the treated stands.”

Let’s hope the new decision will be far less intrusive and more ecologically-based.

Dick Carter

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