Dan Kent is the founder of Red Rock Forests. His work with Mexican spotted owls in the forests and canyons of southern Utah led to a growing awareness of the importance of Utah’s “mountain island” ranges to the surrounding desert watersheds and wildlife.

Wednesday, 12 Sep 2001

MOAB, Utah

This month begins Red Rock Forests’ second year as an incorporated nonprofit. We first began in the wake of the “salvage rider” that exempted three timber sales on Elk Ridge from public comment and appeal. (These were among the many, many timber sales nationwide that were exempted from environmental law by this rider, crafted by Mark Rey, the proposed undersecretary of Agriculture that will oversee the U.S. Forest Service.) Since then, there have been more timber sales and the creation of a local motor-sports group that has been building trails into remote parts of this district.

Dark Canyon Wilderness Area.

Photo: Tim Till.

As seems to be the case when working with government agencies, every little issue we work on in these small, relatively unspoiled southern Utah forests has strings tied all the way to Washington, D.C. Often, a debate over a single poorly designed project leads directly to federal policy, which is why so many enviro groups end up seizing on one issue, such as motorized use in the forest or restoration logging, and carrying the ball for the rest of us.

In Utah, statewide surges in spruce bark beetle populations have been the justification for a rash of uncoordinated and ghastly high-altitude timber sales, often called “Ecosystem Restoration Projects.” The Forest Service has given little consideration to the effects of this thoughtless assault on a problem that, in moments of candid honesty, it admits it has no weapons to fight. It’s a fact of life that mature spruce forests get outbreaks of spruce bark beetle. No big deal. Woodpeckers and other creatures thrive on this invertebrate feast. Our overly sanitized forests have been a tough place for decadence-dependant species to thrive in, such as the at-risk three-toed woodpecker, as decadence has long been frowned on as wasted productivity and a fire risk. This paradigm has been responsible for much of the loss of diversity in our forests.

Manti-La Sal National Forest.

Photo: Tim Till.

Fighting bad proposals by the Forest Service on scientific grounds is tough: At a minimum, it requires expert testimony and overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, as the agency is given the benefit of the doubt in these matters. What we need right now is a good database on spruce bark beetle research and an expert or two who can dismantle the shaky ground these spruce sales are built on. (Today I will call folks with the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity in search of that expert.) Praises to the people who have had the foresight to do this for other issues, such as Road-Rip’s bibliography on the effects of roads or the Wilderness Support Center’s base of knowledge in crafting successful wilderness proposals.

As I go to work today on our comments on a proposed high-altitude timber sale just north of the Escalante/Grand Staircase National Monument, the events of yesterday are ringing in my head. The senseless loss of life drives home the need to remain peaceful in protest and respect all life. It also makes me realize that if our society had the same respect for all living things that we have for human life — at least American human lives — nearly all of our environmental problems would solve themselves. Even in action-oriented organizations like ours, the need to educate and extend human compassion beyond our species remains paramount.