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"Desired Conditions" On The Uintas

Foundational to the Ashley National Forest’s upcoming revised plan is the concept of desired conditions. Last spring and early in the summer the forest sought initial comments and concerns about what the forest should look like, feel like, be, ten or fifty years, for example, into the future (see HUPC Special Alert 5/06 and THE LYNX 6/06).

During the late summer and early autumn the Ashley released its first forest-wide future desired condition analysis. When this report is finalized it will be followed by a desired future conditions analysis for specific geographical units on the forest.

But for now, the focus is on this broad forest wide context—one begins to wonder when the nonsense will end and the professional forest analysis will begin? This document is written with such a broad stroke as to make most conditions desired. Thus the intent is lost and is near meaningless because every condition becomes the desired condition!

The transportation system is deemed to be environmentally compatible. Rather than a desired condition, this simply becomes a process to administer— in this case, the transportation system in any manner that presents itself. It does not recognize the pressures and impacts upon the transportation system and respond to them with a desired condition different than the status quo since that is a specifically unwarranted condition--the reason for many forest-wide conflicts and resource problems.

It is noted that environmental impacts will be reduced and the total number and impacts from unauthorized routes will be reduced and that proliferation of new unauthorized routes is minimized. All of this will be accomplished in a science-based analysis and prioritized to meet management objectives. The desired condition(s) of management objectives fails to give these exceptionally broad statements meaning.

The discussion surrounding wildlife is horrific—wildlife is deemed a social or economic attribute—hunter days, harvest numbers and strategies. Wildlife is not a social or economic attribute on national forest lands. Recreation is. Wildlife is a resource defined by bio-physical components. The legal, professional and resource-based responsibilities of the Ashley are to provide habitat for the species inherent to the Ashley National Forest and if recreational use is justified, then recreational opportunities are managed.

But it is within the grazing desired condition that the Ashley tipped its proverbial hat. It is noted that a benefit of livestock grazing on the forest is that of preserving open space. This document in an instant became nothing but an advertisement for livestock grazing in the West prepared by the Farm Bureau. The Ashley is suggesting that were it not for livestock grazing, the open space on the Ashley would be lost. To WHAT? Outrageous! The bias of this whole process just becomes more and more evident.

According to the Ashley, important cultural values would be lost if grazing were altered. No further discussion occurs as to what cultural values. We presume this means the proverbial cowboy culture. We would like to see some real-life sociology documenting that livestock grazing provides some undefined cultural value or, in fact, represents cultural values. We would expect this from the local livestock industry, not from the United States Forest Service with a multiple use mandate representing all of the forest interests/resources!

It goes on in this same sort of vein with respect to timber, but, ironically, the document does not mention anything about the old Paul Bunyan red-plaid-flannel-shirt axe-yielding logging culture of the Ashley woods!

Unbelievably the section on outfitter and guide services harbors nothing dealing with need(s) for the service(s), noting only promises made to outfitters or lodges or the fact that they have existed in the past.

This same path is taken for discussions dealing with ecological conditions on the forest. In each case, whether dealing with condition, integrity, function, structure, native vegetation communities, soils, organic matter—it matters not—the desired condition is written so broadly as to allow the forest to be harvested severely and still meet the desired condition.

Rather than stepping forward to set a new tone or a meaningful and distinct set of desired conditions, this document simply assures everything imagined based on past manage-ment practices will be allowed to continue just as it does now. A disappointment!

Adding insult to injury the analysis doesn't even mention roadless/undeveloped landscapes! It goes without saying that a desired future condition for the forest should note that undeveloped lands (roadless areas) will be left undeveloped because it is those landscapes that provide the baseline for healthy, integral, properly functioning ecosystems within a natural range of variation. Those areas assure ecosystems are defined by natural variations, meet fire regimes, are defined by inherent physical, chemical and biological processes with healthy soils which lead to appropriate structure, function and composition. They are a landscape deeply threatened and already compose less than 50% of the forest. They are by definition irreplaceable. They assure a diversity of habitats, wildlife protection, wildlife corridors and recreational pursuits. There is nothing but benefit from assuring the future desired condition(s) preserve the extant undeveloped (roadless) landscapes and indescribable costs if it doesn’t.

The disappointment of a desired condition process that allows every acre to be subject to human-based management can be reversed with a simple yet profound desired condition that assures these undeveloped lands will remain undeveloped.
Is it too much to ask for a fair and professional evaluation?

Dick Carter

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