WEST BEAR RISES AGAIN
For the second time in just over a year, we have appealed the West Bear Timber Sale, which is located in and around the Whitney Reservoir area. (See HUPC Lynx 6/08 and 6/07.) The first appeal, along with an appeal filed by the Utah Environmental Congress, was never ruled upon because the Wasatch-Cache National Forest (now the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (see HUPC Lynx 10/07)) withdrew the decision to reconsider a number of issues raised in the appeals.
Hardly a reconsideration, it was really a spit-shine dress-up. A supplementary Draft Environmental Impact Statement was literally cut and pasted together to produce the precise same decision-- same mileage of road construction, same harvest units, same alternatives. It even contains the same admission that the purpose and need of the project CANNOT AND WILL NOT BE MET UNDER THIS PROPOSAL. It is amazing that professional, public foresters play this kind of game!
We are deeply distressed by this project in that the Evanston Ranger District and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest had an opportunity to proceed with a West Bear project while meeting the vast and broad array of public concerns raised during the scoping and analysis processes and utilizing the NEPA process to minimize environmental impacts. Rather, the district and forest chose to pursue an alternative less responsive to those broad public concerns- indeed, selecting the harshest and most impacting alternative.
The Forest refused to review an alternative that would have built no roads (the proposed action includes nearly eight miles of new temporary roads that would actually be on the ground and in use for up to three decades) and utilized wildland fires to accomplish the ecological goals supposedly sought by the proposal.
The proposal would fragment integral forest stands; the EIS concedes this point. The project would impact more soils and subject them to more erosion; the EIS concedes this point. More wildlife habitat and travel corridors (including the threatened Canada lynx) would be impacted; the EIS concedes this point. The ecological rationale for the project to meet an ecological context of properly functioning condition (PFC) would not be met; the EIS concedes this point with this statement: “The current proposal would not achieve PFC in any of the treated stands.” The project notes that pine and spruce beetle infestation are normal for the area, but need to be managed; the EIS notes: “The current level of mountain pine beetle activity is expected to continue within the analysis area.”
The project can’t even show, and concedes this as well, that the area is not properly functioning now and isn’t within a historical range of variability predicted for the complex vegetation patterns in the area. In other words, the area is not really out of whack, so to speak, other than the dysfunction in the system created by the Forest Service, allowing previous, extensive and localized timber harvesting, extensive localized road building (the area already is roaded at the level of 1.2 miles of road/square mile of land with only a few areas of 250 acres being 1/2 mile from a road), and grazing.
Why would otherwise intelligent, professional foresters proceed with the project, especially given the fact that both the High Uintas Preservation Council and the Utah Environmental Congress offered to withdraw our appeals if the Forest would simply reconsider its decision and accept the Reduced Roads alternative. This alternative harvests 50% of the proposed action and results in just under two miles of temporary road construction with significantly fewer environmental impacts, while also broadly responding to an array of public concerns not limited to logging.
The answers were unofficial. The Forest said from the outset that such a resolution was unacceptable but, in essence, revolved around the baggage associated with the proposal in that it has been on the planning table since its first iteration back in 1988. It also noted that our suggestion would make it harder to burn the aspen component since the proposal allows conifers to be harvested with branches and limbs scattered within the aspen stand to help ignitibility. (We suggested that wasn’t necessary, based on aspen fire ecology and/or that a non-commercial timber sale could be utilized to cut down a few conifers to accomplish the same goal.) The Forest also wanted the maximum road alternative and to get out the cut!
We fear, really, the answer is an unwillingness to engage in real, meaningful public involvement, minimize environmental impacts, meet broad public concerns, and open a real dialogue with conservationists. It seems the Forest Service almost continually loses yet another compartment of public interest forestry!