Successful Appeal halts Boulder Mountain (Utah) logging project
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council are pleased to announce that the Fishlake National Forest has withdrawn the planned Boulder Foothills Fuels Reduction Project in response to their joint Administrative Appeal to the Regional Forester. The logging plans called for logging and prescribed burning 3900 acres of ponderosa, pinyon pine and desert juniper forests in and around an inventoried Roadless Areas on the north side of Boulder Mountain between Teasdale, UT and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The groups contended that the logging would have violated the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The Forest Service made the right decision in pulling back from this illegal project,” said Mike Garrity, the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “The proposal called for logging and burning of ponderosa, pinyon pine and desert juniper to create more grass for livestock.” The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to ensure that there are viable populations of wildlife in the forest after they log, Garrity explained. “In this case the agency simply wasn’t following the law.”
“The Project would have impacted 2,674 acres of the Boulder Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area,” Garrity continued. “These roadless lands would have been significantly altered and degraded by the proposal yet the agency failed to complete an environmental impact statement to address the impacts. The Project would have destroyed big game winter range by removing hiding cover, thermal cover and winter forage for big game as well as a host of desert and migratory bird species.”
Dr. Sara Jane Johnson, Ph.D., a former Forest Service biologist and Executive Director of the Native Ecosystems Council, further explained the impacts. “Pinyon-juniper habitats have traditionally been viewed as little more than wasteland. As a result, vast acreages of pinyon-juniper woodlands were historically removed to create grazing lands for livestock. This eradication of pinyon-juniper woodlands included 3 million acres between 1950 and 1964 and continues in Utah today. Pinyon pines have also suffered marked declines due to drought.”
“The Forest Service failed to notify the public of the very high value of pinyon-juniper habitats to a wide variety of migratory birds, during both summer and winter. Pinyon-juniper woodlands contribute substantially to landscape-level avian diversity, and are an important source of nongame wildlife habitat in Utah,” Johnson continued. “Among seven upland forest habitats, pinyon-juniper habitats are ranked second in total individuals and third in species richness and diversity. These pygmy forests on poor sites and monotonously homogeneous still outrank many more stately forests in both abundance and variety of birds. Despite this, the Forest Service failed to address the impacts on a host of vulnerable bird species associated with pinyon-juniper habitats that would clearly be harmed by this project. These include the Virginia’s Warbler, the Loggerhead Shrike, the Gray Vireo, and the Gray Flycatcher.”
“The Virginia’s Warbler uses pinyon-juniper habitats including nesting under the dense shrubs and small trees the project would have removed,” Johnson said. “The Loggerhead Shrike was identified by the Audubon Society as one of the top common birds in decline in the United States while the Gray Vireo has been identified as a ‘priority species’ in Utah’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Habitat manipulations such as tree thinning or chaining of mature pinyon-juniper stands are a known contributing factor to the low occupancy and poor reproductive success of Gray Vireos, yet that’s exactly the habitat this project targeted.”
“The pulp of a single juniper berry averages about 300 calories and if the seeds are included this value goes up to almost 500 calories. One hectare of juniper may contain 19-38 million berries, while a cubic meter of foliage may contain 20,000 berries. Hundreds of thousands of songbirds depend on these juniper berries in the winter,” Johnson explained. “Likewise, Pinyon pine nuts are an incredibly important food source. They contain up to 7400 calories per gram of seed, including 60% fat, and an individual bird may consume from 18,000 to 33,000 pine seeds per autumn.”
“This was an illegal bureaucratic project that focused on replacing critical pinyon-juniper wildlife habitat with weeds at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $2 million dollars,” Garrity concluded. “When our government is going broke, the last thing America needs is more ‘make work’ projects for government employees that destroy important big game and wildlife habitat.”
Fremont River District Ranger Kurt Robins withdrew the Boulder Foothills Fuels Reduction Project Decision Notice in a letter dated April 16, 2012.