Issues in the Forest
Looking at rangeland and roads
The forest is the scene for some important issues being addressed at this time. These issues will effect how the forest is managed now and in the future. District Ranger Mesia Nyman from the Ferron Ranger Station was on hand on Nov. 12 to address the Emery County Public Lands Council. She described how the wild and scenic river designations work on the forest land. She described the three designations as being wild, scenic and recreation and their order of development. A wild designation is almost like a wilderness. Each nomination will be looked at for its characteristics. A river would move from eligible, to suitable, to being nominated and then designated. In the eligibility process all of the characteristics are addressed. The forest service has asked the county to be involved as well and to go over each of the rivers or streams deemed eligible. The forest service is currently at this time reviewing what the county has given them.
Most of the rivers and streams will drop out and a few will go on to suitable consideration. This is the important stage where the social and economic uses are brought into play as well as the water users rights. More input from the county will also be asked for at this stage. Nyman stated that she would be surprised if more than one or two made it past this stage. Those streams designated as suitable would go through the NEPA process. This would include public hearings and public input and an appeal period.
The federal land agencies have been required by law to look at wild and scenic rivers. The forest service has been threatened with a law suit if they did not begin to look at wild and scenic designations. It takes approximately a year for the NEPA process and then those rivers nominated would be submitted to Congress for designation. Nyman mentioned that where she worked in Wyoming had two rivers nominated and they have been sitting in Congress for 15 years without designation.
Craig Johansen pointed out that when a river is nominated that it is managed as if it has been designated. Nyman said she doubted we would have any wild rivers in our area and that with a scenic designation roads and development and upstream dams wouldn't change much. There are 16 creeks on the forest service land which are being looked at.
Nyman brought up another forest service matter and went on to discuss the Muddy Creek Lodge-Sky Haven Resort by Ferron Reservoir. The lodge is in poor shape and the forest service has contacted the owner about the matter. The forest service wants it to be a functioning and viable business to attract customers and be a safe place for people. The owner will either need to bring the property back into working order or the forest service will terminate the permit.
The property is in disrepair and hasn't been open for business for four years. The owner has been notified and has until the end of the year to inform the forest service of what they will do with the property. It was not known if the structure is worth saving; Commissioner Hatch said it is his opinion that they would need a whole new structure.
Nyman said the forest service just wants a safe attractive place for people to use or they want it gone. She mentioned they have been carrying the permit without the property meeting the standards for too long. If this permit is terminated then someone else can go through the permitting process.
The property was used for snowmobile trips but now the cabins are falling down. Kirk Johansen wondered if someone could purchase the property and build on it which would give them the incentive to keep things up, but Nyman pointed out that the forest service land cannot be sold but the leases can be anywhere from 10-50 years in length.
If the problem is not taken care of then the structures will probably be removed, reported Nyman. Commissioner Hatch pointed out there are a lot of opportunities with the lodge; like snowmobiling, cross country skiing and activities of that sort. There are also summer homes in the area of the lodge and a camp ground. The owner can sell the buildings or just do nothing and the forest service would remove them and send the owner a bill for doing so. The owners can also remove the buildings themselves if that is the route they choose.
Nyman was not sure where the process would end but will keep the council informed on what happens next with the buildings.
Nyman mentioned the forest travel plan next, she said it is 12 years old and says what is open and what isn't and which routes are trails or roads. The Duck Fork to Skyline road or trail known as the Georges Fork trail has been listed on the travel map for years as a trail, but people have been driving it with vehicles. This summer the forest service decided to narrow it back to a trail which is what the map said it was. Numerous complaints have arisen over this decision and the decision has been made to do NEPA on Georges Fork Trail. One possibility might be to close the trail closer to Duck Fork to make the closure more effective topographically. Public input will be taken on the issue from both the Emery and the Sanpete sides.
|Roads are among the issues the forest service is working with at this time.|
This same problem exists with Little's Fork, people have been driving it with full size vehicles. A gate and boulders have been installed to turn it back into a trail and there has been an uprising over that as well. The decision has been made to do NEPA on Little's Fork as well. The public input processes on these roads and trails will begin this winter. The local OHV club also works to maintain trails in these areas. Part of the problem with the closure of Little's Fork was a couple of miles of road which was legally open was also closed.
The forest service also spent a lot of time this summer closing user made trails in the Potter's Pond area. Nyman said they are trying to find those types of trails and close them up, but they are having a hard time catching up.
The roads analysis process is continuing on a road by road basis starting with the Muddy Creek drainage. Nyman said they went out with the special interests about a month ago to look at roads. They are gathering ideas and putting together a document with the proposals that will either leave open, close or change designations. There isn't anything specific yet, but the information gathering process has begun and will cover the whole forest. Nyman said the major arterial roads have already been looked at in the roads analysis and the Level 2 or less roads will be looked at now on a watershed by watershed basis.
Nyman informed the council that the local OHV club has requested a tour permit for an ATV jamboree. One of the ATV club representatives said they are trying to bring people into the area for various rides throughout the county fair week. These will be guided tours and some will just last for a few hours and others will be overnight trips. Riders can either choose a mountain or a desert tour depending on their interests. She also mentioned the ATV Jamboree held in Richfield every year which brings $1 million into the local economy.
Nyman reported that they will probably issue this tour permit. Drilling is continuing in the Middle Mountain area and the gas company has improved the surface of the Little Joes road. When the Miller's Flat road closes into snow the road where Cottonwood and Little Joes connects will be gated. The company doing the drilling will be out by the end of December and until then they will keep the road open.
Nyman reported that drilling permits have been requested at the top of Castle Valley Ridge and the forest service will be doing NEPA on that. A couple of miles of road along the ridge would need to be constructed and this is in a designated roadless area; the analysis and a decision will be made on the matter.
Nyman said they are sending a letter out to all of the permittees explaining the situation on the forest and the conditions they must deal with in the aftermath of the drought. The letter will read. "We are at the end of the fourth year of a very serious drought. It is well known this has been one of the driest summers for southeastern Utah in the last 100 years. Conditions across the district varied widely with some allotments in better condition than last year following a late killing frost. In other areas, vegetation did not grow or only minimally. Our studies indicate forage production was generally from 40 to 60 percent of average above 9,000 feet. Black grass bugs were found widely across the distict in Kentucky bluegrass and wheatgrass plants that further depleted growth. Although there was a report of many grasshoppers in Upper Joes Valley the feeling is this population never developed to the extent they did in western Utah. It was necessary for several cattle allotments to haul water at the start of the grazing season as most ponds were dry. As the summer progressed, springs and many streams dried up and available water was greatly depleted and livestock were trailing excessive distances to water. Growth accumulated over the past several years, left to provide soil protection, was used. Riparian areas were generally used more than in past years as they provided the only green vegetation and water. Many of you reduced your herd size and/or delayed entering your allotments in addition to reductions specified by the district. This all helped reduce the impacts from livestock grazing; however, even with those changes most of you were asked to remove your livestock early.
"Hopefully, we will have normal, or better, precipitation next year. However, even with a normal year the vegetation needs time to recover from the previous four years of drought. It may be that reductions in time or number will be necessary next grazing season, and maybe more, in order for the plants to recover. Please take this into account as you make business plans for your cattle or sheep operation. Areas where non-use might be necessary, are lower elevation areas where many plants died or did not grow. If the drought continues, we anticipate non-use on most allotments."
Nyman explained that nothing is firm yet and all allotments will be looked at individually. One rancher in the audience was concerned that reductions like these are likely to put them out of business. He mentioned that instead of letters the forest service should go out on the allotments with the permittees and look at them.
Nyman said that is what they intend to do, because some allotments are in better condition than others.
The rancher also mentioned that you can't fool Mother Nature and that when it rained down by Emery plants that hadn't grown all summer were pretty and green.
The Emery County Public Lands Council is a co-sponsor of the Quivira Rangeland Conference which will be held on Dec. 13 from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. at the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab. This conference will address survival tools for today's ranches.