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Forest Service may sell timber to fight insects

Bugs infest trees near Price; some call sale flawed

SPANISH FORK — Forestry officials are considering a timber sale of some 360 acres to reduce the number of insect infestations near Price, but environmentalists say the idea won't work.

Before conducting the sale and three-year logging operation, the U.S. Forest Service must first embark on a complicated review to determine "if the medicine is worse or better than the disease," District Ranger Bill Ott said.

"Our intent is to take care of forest health," he said.

A survey five years ago in the southern end of the Spanish Fork Ranger District in the Uinta National Forest found a heavy infestation of Douglas fir beetles and dwarf mistletoe, a parasitic plant that kills the trees.

But a logging operation could affect wildlife, particularly the nesting and foraging habitat of the goshawks and flammulated owls, according to a forestry public interaction document. The Forest Service also wants to look at how logging in the White River area would affect the cutthroat trout that swim in the White River and its tributaries. Water temperatures and sediment are up, which is unhealthy for the fish. The area also lacks vegetation.

"The (Forest Service) project isn't going to accomplish those goals with a timber sale," said Craig Axford, program director for the Utah Environmental Congress.

The White River area is little used except for hunting and some sheep herding, Ott said. But it's because of those sheep that vegetation is lacking and the water temperature and sediment in the streams has increased, Axford said.

"Reducing the livestock would do more for the forest than a timber sale would," he said.

The wants to keep livestock use as it is.

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club also opposes the sale.

"It makes no more sense to cut down trees for the beetles than to kill children for polio," Wayne Hoskisson, public lands chair of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club said. "Bugs are part of the forest."

Old-growth timber is excellent habitat for the flammulated owl, and the stands of cedar trees in the area provide excellent habitat for the goshawk, Axford said. The Forest Service wants to maintain and even increase the number of aspen trees.

The sale would bring in an estimated $265,000 in harvested timber, based on sales the past few years. Cutting would start in 2003.

"It's a pretty small sale," Ott said.

The operation would yield about 2.3 million board feet of lumber and would be part of the 3 million board feet harvested annually in the Spanish Fork, Pleasant Grove and Heber ranger districts combined, he said — enough timber to build more than 200 homes.

The sale would cost about $225,000 to administer, not counting the costs of analysis, estimated to hit at least $20,000.

"We'll have to eat those costs if we decide not to have the sale," Ott said.

The Forest Service is giving the public until March 31 to raise issues regarding the potential harvest and will complete an evaluation of those issues by mid-July, Ott said. Officials could take several courses of action, including doing nothing.

"We could just let it run its course," Ott said. But that would heighten the forest-fire danger, he said.

Other scenarios are to conduct a controlled burn or simply cut the infested trees and let them lie.

The Forest Service asks that people wanting to comment on the potential harvest write the Spanish Fork Ranger District, 44 W. 400 South, Spanish Fork, UT 84660 or call Ott at 801-798-3571. People may also call interdisciplinary team leader Doug Page at 435-654-0470.