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Progress, but wheels turn slow

Posted: Thursday, Feb 17th, 2011

The west side of Meeks Cabin, in a picture taken last fall, lends testimony to the effects of the pine beetles on the timber in the forest.PIONEER PHOTO/Virginia Giorgis


Pioneer Editor

The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly and the pine beetle devastation of the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains hasn’t jump started the U. S. Forest Service to mitigate the damages to the mountain range.

The website of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest reports the outbreak of “several beetle species” are progressing across the Forest, and the Evanston-Mountain View and Kamas-Heber Ranger Districts are “experiencing a significant epidemic, where mountain pine beetle populations have killed up to 90 percent of the trees within infected stands.”

The problems of the pine beetle forest kill were brought to the forefront at a meeting in Lyman last March when the Uinta County Coalition stepped forward to try to get some help in mitigating the problems on the North Slope. Following the meeting in Lyman, reports from around the state became more prominent. The pine beetles were killing, or had killed, a majority of the forests in the Rocky Mountain region.

The beetle infestation is listed as a “natural process” on the Forest Service’s website. The web site also says, “due to the scale of the current outbreaks and epidemic, management activities are not effectively containing the beetle outbreak and the Forest Service does not expect to stop the outbreaks.” The rejuvenation of the forests will not reappear until generations of southwestern Wyomingites have passed through this area.

The Coalition met on Feb. 10, with the representatives for Wyoming’s congressional offices in the Lyman town hall. In addition, in a series of two meetings, the Coalition met with officials of BLM and from the Wasatch-Cache Forest Service office of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Cheryl Probert, Wasatch-Cache deputy forest supervisor from Salt Lake City, said the Forest Service had “prioritized” and developed an “integrated management plan” since another meeting last fall. She said the Forest Service had made some internal changes that did not require an “assessment.” She said these things included prioritizing the beetle-killed tree areas, working on the fuel reduction on areas adjacent to private property, cleaning dead trees from around campground, and trail areas, allowing the cutting of firewood from 100 to 300 feet along roadways and the spraying of live trees to protect them from the pine beetles. She reiterated numerous times; the Forest Service was hampered due to funding and staffing. She said the Forest Service was “limited by the laws we have to work under.” She said the Forest Service had diverted money from other areas into working on the North Slope region. She also addressed logging in the roadless area of the Little Fork of the Blacks Fork. According to Probert, “it’s not going to happen” because it would take a full blown environmental assessment and the USFS could better utilize their funds and staff in other areas.

She also said the beetle problems affecting the forest run “from Montana to New Mexico.”

Rick Schuler, local forest ranger for the Wasatch-Cache Forest Service, backed up Probert’s comments by saying, “Our processes are slow. We can’t cut through that red tape and say we are not going to do that analysis.”

They also talked about the difficulty of timber sales because of the problems created by environmental groups. Lyman resident Mick Powers asked if the problems in the area was “a direct result of the...results of the so-called conservationists?”

Richard Stem, a retired Forest Service official who is now working as a consultant for Wyoming, urged the Coalition to develop a multi-pronged course of action.

Also, Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser talked about bringing in other entities such as the Wyoming Elk Foundation and developing stewardship agreements to show support on helping the forest.

Stem said Monday, “I see progress being made, but I wish it wasn’t so darn slow.”

Questions at the meeting indicated the public’s frustration with the devastation of the forest and the need for more pro-action. Fort Bridger rancher Ron Mcheli said he had asked about taking his Bobcat in to help get some of the dead timber and was told no. Rancher Karen Henry also questioned why people were stopped from using four-wheelers and trailers. She said these things would make it easier for the public to get their firewood.

As for the value of the dead trees, it was stated the value declines with each passing year. The window for harvest for the wood to be used and have value for foresters is four to six years.

Those at the meeting also questioned a recent study the Forest Service had completed which indicated a fire on the North Slope would not be devastating. According to the study, the trees which had lost their needles would not burn as easily. Also, according to the study, the carpet of needles would not be extremely flamable after lying on the ground. Crasper’s question was, if a fire started in this area, “how would you (Forest Service) manage it?”

When asked about the Forest Service dropping the ball 50 years ago, Coalition member and Lyman area rancher Carl Larson on Tuesday cited a study the Forest Service had done in 1967 in which they noted the forest on the North Slope was “stagnated with mature trees” that were susceptible to mistletoe and bark beetles. Larson said they (Forest Service) did nothing because the “environmentalists keep tying their hands.”

He also referred to the roadless area of the Little Blacks Fork, as designated in 2001, and said it did not qualify to be a roadless area as there is already a road in the area, there were not 5,000 continuous acres without a road and the area was not adjacent to a wilderness area. Larson also said the roadless designation was eliminated in 2003, but Secretary of the U. S. Department of the Interior Ken Salazar reinstated the designation after getting in office.

For the complete article see the 02-18-2011 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-18-2011 paper.

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