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Agency ‘mutilated’ road, ranchers say

Ranger downplays impact, says site to become trail soon

SHARE Agency ‘mutilated’ road, ranchers say

HEBER CITY — Some cattle ranchers who trail their cows to summer pasture in the Uinta National Forest aren't happy with the way the Forest Service implemented a road closure that impacts them.

They say the road they've used for years into the forest has been "mutilated," and they believe the manner in which the road was destroyed has created more harm than good to the nearby Strawberry River.

Julie King, Heber District ranger for the Uinta National Forest, acknowledges that the Mill B Upper Strawberry Road was closed in a dramatic manner but said it's necessary to ensure ATVs can't continue using the route as an access into the forest.

The road was closed, following public hearings and a federal environmental scoping process, to prevent erosion into the nearby Strawberry River. King said the closure had nothing to do with the Forest Service's current proposed roadless initiative, but was a "site-specific project" identified long before the roadless initiative was announced.

'We want to re-establish fisheries on the Strawberry River because it has the greatest potential for spawning, but we felt the heavy use (on the road) was detrimental to the watershed," King explained, adding that the road is not a "major connector" into the forest.

Forest Service permit holder, Miles "Bike" Shiner, Altamont, has used the Mill B Upper Strawberry Road to move his cattle to summer range in the Strawberry Valley since 1982. Last year during the annual trek he found one section of the road impassable because it had been torn up by heavy equipment.

Shiner said his cowboys had to detour the herd around the road, a time-consuming job. This year, the same situation greeted the group, and on the cattle drive a few weeks ago, not only were the cattle stressed and scattered, Shiner said, one calf suffered a broken leg and had to be destroyed.

"They made it as impossible as they could to get through. They wanted the road closed, so they closed it," he stated. "We complained a little, but they still do what they want."

Shiner said he was notified about two years ago that the road — which he said is also a favorite of hikers, cross country skiers, horseback riders and ATV enthusiasts — was being considered for closure. That's when Uinta National Forest began an environmental study to determine if travel along the road was causing too much sediment to clog the nearby river and injure the fish population.

While Forest Service studies and scoping work provided evidence the road closure was warranted, another cattleman believes there's a great deal more damage done to the river by forcing the public to find another route around the road.

"They did a horrible job of closing it, they literally tore it up with a trackhoe and they mutilated it," said Wasatch County Commissioner Ren Provost, who also holds Forest Service permits to run cattle on the Strawberry range. "They tore out culverts and just left them lying there, it's a disgrace. I'm sure the erosion is worse since they did it. You have to find your own way through there. They said this whole road closure was due to causing erosion in the creek, but now they force us to go right down the creek."

King said her office has been working with permit holders — there are about 50 sheep and cattle allotments on the Heber District — and until recently hadn't received any complaints but understands they could be upset about the way the road closure looks.

In order to put the section of the road "back to grade," the road cut had to be obliterated to prevent traffic, she said. "You have to scar it in order to restore it. I disagree that there's more erosion; the erosion is going to be a lot less. A road closure of that degree will always look a little rough for a year or two when you are putting it back to grade. The vegetation is coming in to it, there are Aspen trees, it's not going to be very long before it will come in as a trail."

She said there is a nearby trail, just across the river, which cattlemen were told they should use, but said it does require some work to make it better for livestock and hikers.

"It was our understanding that it (the trail) was working," she said. "For everybody who is unhappy with it, there are several people who are happy with it."

Though the Mill B Upper Strawberry Road closure was not part of the Forest Service's road closure initiative announced by President Clinton last fall, cattlemen, recreationists and natural resource developers say when the initiative does take effect, they fear the public could expect similar situations in other areas.

Duchesne County Farm Bureau President Keith Jensen, said the county's Public Lands Committee is addressing the roadless issue in an attempt to resolve potential problems. The committee usually meets monthly and makes recommendations to keep county commissioners informed about land-use planning and policies.

He said the committee plans to address road closures with rangers and Forest Service officials and others involved in making decisions about public lands.

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