Although it has only a few tree species (lodgepole pine, Englemann spruce, subalpine fir, small stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, along with a few deciduous hardwoods, aspen, birch, alder and willows), the range has great vertical and horizontal heterogeneity. These extensive forests make the Uintas uni-que in the Intermountain West.
This topographical variety and size allow the Uintas to harbor a diverse fauna-- Canada lynx, black bear, cougar, wolverine (spor-adic sightings), great gray and boreal owls, golden eagle, goshawk, osprey, pileated and three-toed woodpeckers, river otter, pine marten, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, moose, and elk. Grizzly bear, wolf, and bison once found a secure home in the Uintas. In this mountain sanctuary, the sensitive and native Colorado and Bonneville cutthroat trout still have a few isolated stream miles within which to hide.
"Tie-hacked" for the railroad at the turn of the century, Uinta timber re-surfaced 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, ignoring wilderness, roadless and other biological values of the mountain. 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, predicted and complained about by conservationists for a decade, was excused by the Forest Service as a response to a forest health crisis. By 1991 the Was-atch-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 and that within three decades all old-growth lodgepole pine outsside of the High Uintas Wild-erness 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 in order to justify the ever-increasing role of timber harvesting on national forest lands. 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 iintegral forest. Healthy forests, according to the Forest Service, are those that efficiently produce lumber. The trees grow rapidly and are of the same age and structure. Timber plantations do not mimic nature starting with the roads, bridges, culverts, saws, tractors, loaders, trucks and sustained yield principles. The integral or wild forest is diverse in age, structure, and composition. It is a new-old, scraggly-straight, stunted-tall forest. It is a diverse forest defined not by board feet, but what species, communities and processes occur there.
Hiding behind the meta-phorically 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 is now being pursued in Congress as permanent legislative direction.
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 cchurning 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, harvesting nearly 21 million board feet--the largest timber sale ever on the Uintas. These forests are home for pine parten, 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, Agriculture Secretary 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, if only 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, Forest Service clearcuts on the Uintas are easily seen and more are planned-- many in roadless areas. The Forest Service has admitted that most future timber harvesting will be in currently roadless areas simply because other timber potential has already been over-harvested-- so much for sustained yield!
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. The legacy of roadless area harvesting in the last three decades is seen on the North Slope in Bullocks Park, Hewinta, and Gilbert Creek. We have stopped sales in Boundary Creek, Middle Fork of the Blacks Fork, Bull Park, Round Park, Fools Hen-- but they still sit on the proverbial shelf waiting for the past to arrive!
On the South Slope-- the Ashley National Forest-- is where the lacerations have occurred. Corral Park, Roadshed, Marsh Bench, what is now being referred to as Trout Slope East (the country between East Park and Oaks Park Reservoirs) were all roadless and wild 30 years ago. Today these areas show up on Landstat photos as clearcuts-- clearcuts from space on the High Uintas! The epitome of fragmented forests. A place where research has shown pine marten have been sucked right out of the landscape along with every other creature dependent upon interior/old forest landscapes. And surprisingly it still continues with the Ashley proposing a set of timber sales in the East Trout Slope area amounting to 20 million board feet and requiring an additional 21 miles of new road construction along with opening 26.5 miles of closed roads! While the Environmental Assessment notes much of the proposal is to begin the long road to "rehabilitation," the irony is the analysis shows the needed rehabilitation can and will occur by simply leaving this shattered landscape alone. What is even more discouraging is many of the proposed harvest areas are in the last few drainages within this area that havent been harvested.
The idea that slicing and dicing the Ashley National Forest or the North Slope of the Uintas on the Wasatch simply has to end. It speaks of a defiant attitude toward the ecological value of wild forests. It is biologically bankrupt. It stands in contrast to the Chiefs direction to think ecologically and curb the endless hunger for road building. Harvesting on these two forests is an economic sham-- both forests are consistently "below-cost" timber sale forests, no matter how the data is rigged or analyzed. The past has come and gone. It is time on the Uintas to see the forest through the trees!