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West Fork Blacks Fork Grazing Conditions

The Evanston Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, recently released a scoping letter, the first step in the environmental analysis process, for the West Fork of the Blacks Fork (WFBF) grazing allotment. (If you did not get a copy of this document and want to participate in forest planning issues, contact either the Forest Supervisor or District Ranger--see Connections, this issue-- and let the Forest Service know you want to be on their mailing list!)

Grazing permits are allowed for 10 year periods on specific allotments (see HUPC Newsletter, October 1997 for a detailed review of High Uintas grazing). Many of these permits were bumping up against the 10 year deadline when Con-gress intervened, allowing grazing to continue even when permits expired, pending Forest Service completion of environmental analysis. The Forest Service was to identify priority allotments and begin the environmental review. Meanwhile, Congress has continued to shrink Forest Service grazing budgets. While the budget argument is a serious problem, the simple matter of fact is, unfortunately, the myriad of grazing problems on the Uintas have long been recognized by the Forest Service and long ignored!

The WFBF is one of those priorities. Most of the allotment is within the wilderness or roadless lands adjacent to the wilderness. For years concerns have been raised about the alpine portions of the allotment on the upper 2+ miles of the West Fork Blacks Fork. On other portions of the allotment there have been concerns with sheep bedding grounds, sheep camps and salting areas. The last formal trend analysis (1961!!) showed that 44% of the allotment was in fair or poor condition with the rest in good condition... over half of that, however, was within conifer vegetation types! The Forest Service acknowledges little has changed and that higher reaches are severely degraded, thus the prioritization.

The scoping document identified four primary issues--alpine ground cover, local site impacts, wilderness experience and rural lifestyle. We have suggested additional concerns must be considered to make the analysis complete:

  1. Riparian conditions must be considered including stream bank stability, soil compaction, an appropriate array of native plant species and the impacts of grazing on water quality and native fisheries;
  2. Predator Control. The Forest Service has already turned predator control over to Animal Damage Control, which allows the proverbial "fox in the hen house" (see HUPC Newsletter, December 1997). Both the Canada lynx and wolverine are sensitive species very close to being listed as threatened and/or endangered species. It is imperative the analysis consider the health and integrity of all predators in the WFBF-- particularly black bear, lynx, wolverine and cougar. Simply put, there should be no predator control on this wild/wilderness/roadless allotment.
  3. Impacts upon other wildlife species must be considered, including bighorn sheep which were native to this drainage and now exist in the Uintas only a few miles to the east.
  4. The scoping document sees the WFBF as a sheep pasture for rural lifestyles rather than a functioning ecosystem with integral and inherent values independent of the "3,000 sheep months" of use.
  5. The Forest Service should identify the unsuitable range. Research on the Uintas shows that it is clear high alpine areas can’t be grazed for extended periods of times without severe impacts to natural processes. Yet it is the alpine rangelands coveted by the sheep. Thus it is clear an alternative must be considered which eliminates grazing from the WFBF because it is ecologically incompatible.

A decision is likely within the next 6 months.

Dick Carter

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