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The trees will go and the rare Arizona willow will have protection.

That's the final answer by regional forester Dale Bosworth to an appeal that was filed by environmental groups concerning the harvest of beetle-infested timber in Sidney Valley southwest of Panguitch Lake.The timber harvest was approved in June by Dixie National Forest Supervisor Hugh Thompson and supported by Deputy Regional Forester Clair Beasley. But an appeal was quickly filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Friends of Dixie National Forest and the Native Ecosystems Council.

The environmental groups claimed the project should have an environmental impact statement because of the number of treated areas, expected timber volume, sensitive resources, proximity to important recreational features and other timber sales in the area.

That left the final decision up to the regional forester, who has granted final approval to implement the Sidney Valley Recovery Project. He concluded the buffer strips required in the original decision provided sufficient protection for the willow.

The Arizona willow was proposed as an endangered species in 1992 and thought to exist only in Apache County, Ariz. Then information revealed the plant to be historically identified on the Dixie Forest, with the Sidney Valley area containing possible suitable habitat for the species.

Forest officials reported that a survey conducted in July revealed a healthy population of the Willow within riparian areas of the Sidney Valley harvesting project. That finding was consequently reviewed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The action of the environmental groups and an analysis on potential adverse effects on the Arizona willow delayed the project for a final appeal decision. But the regional forester has now authorized the harvesting project to proceed.

Forest officials have felt the harvest was necessary to stop the spread of the bark beetle that is killing trees. Thompson said he hoped environmentalists won't take court action to stall the project because additional delays would cause the loss of many more trees.

Plans call for the removal of about 17 million board feet of dead and dying infested timber as well as 4.4 million board feet of live trees that are threatened with the beetle infestation.