Forest manages multiple uses in southwest Wyomingâ€™s Uinta Mountains
Evanston – “It’s been a good year for livestock producers on the forest, and things look good,” says Evanston/Mountain View District Ranger Steve Ryberg of local ranchers who graze cattle and sheep on Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest permits.
Similar to the rest of Wyoming, the forest along the southern edge of Uinta County had a wet start to their spring and a cooler than normal summer.
“We’re unique in that we’re in the southwest part of the state, so most of forest is in Utah,” says Steve. “We don’t have confirmed sitings of wolves, we don’t have grizzly bears and we have very few black bears, although we certainly have coyotes and cougars.”
Because many producers with forest service allotments graze in both Wyoming and Utah throughout the summer, Steve says they have to comply with the different state requirements. “We have permittees that come up from Utah, because Utah is pretty tied to this part of the state, although a lot of our permittees are from Wyoming.”
“We have a multiple use forest here, with all the multiple uses, and a lot of recreation comes to this area from the Wasatch Front,” notes Steve. “We don’t generally have too many conflicts, although a lot of users in the wilderness are surprised to find livestock in those areas.”
He says one of the unique things to his district is the Henry’s Fork drainage – the easiest access to King’s Peak, the highest point in Utah. “There’s a lot of use in that drainage, and there are also active sheep permits there,” he explains. “We respond to a few concerns from the public throughout the year about livestock in the wilderness.”
“People aren’t aware of the history of livestock grazing, and the law, and a lot of them don’t like livestock in the wilderness areas and they don’t know why they’re there,” he continues. “It’s an education effort on our part, to let them know they’re there legally, under permit.”
“We’re here to disseminate information to try to educate the public, and to work with the permittees to make sure they’re using best management practices to minimize negative grazing impacts,” explains Steve.
One of the forest’s biggest challenges right now is, of course, the mountain pine beetle. “We’re in the midst of a major mountain pine beetle epidemic affecting our lodge pole pine,” he says. “We also have a spruce beetle affecting trees.”
He says the beetles have been a large focus this year – dealing with the epidemic by finding logical areas to salvage trees, finding areas where fuel reduction is needed and removing beetle kill trees from developed and dispersed recreation sites.
The Evantson/Mountain View district works closely with local sawmills to manage the beetle kill and the forest in general. The Ayers and Baker Sawmill is located in Mountain View and the Jones Sawmill is based in Evanston.
“We’re fortunate to still have a timber industry in this part of the state,” says Steve. “We’ve been in the fortunate situation to have good operators and a sustainable supply of timber.”
He adds that when timber supplies do fall on federal lands the mills are able to move to harvesting private lands.
“We’ve got a good working relationship with the sawmills,” says Steve. “We are often under the scrutiny of environmental groups, but some projects they’re supportive of, like treatments for aspen regeneration.”
“Fortunately we’ve worked with the local timber industry, because we do believe it’s a tool to manage the forest,” says Steve. “If we didn’t have them to help us with projects like aspen regeneration they’d be a lot more expensive for us.”
Steve notes off-highway vehicles are a big management challenge on forest land. “We have a lot of opportunities for people to recreate, and we’ve been progressive at providing them, so we want people to use the existing opportunities and not cause problems getting off the trails,” he says.
Currently the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache Forest is working through all its grazing allotments to ensure they’re compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). “We have to do that so we can continue to reissue permits when their 10-year terms are up. It’s a major issue for every national forest,” says Steve.
A federal bill gave the Forests a window to reissue permits without official NEPA compliance, but it also gave them a schedule with a timeline by which they have to comply. “It’s been a challenge for us to prepare the environmental documents and also to perform the range monitoring to determine whether those allotments are meeting desired conditions,” explains Steve. “They’re basically the direction for livestock management contained in our forest plans.”
Of Uinta County producers grazing on the forest, Steve says, “One thing that makes the county unique is that we have a mix of livestock, with both sheep and cows, and the forest is nearby so many of them are close between summer and winter range, enabling a lot of our operators to have efficient operations.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.