Dead trees along Mirror Lake Highway anger Kamas loggers
July 24, 2009
Why are there so many dead trees along the Mirror Lake Highway?
There are several answers to that question, but it turns out that your view of forestry management might determine which answers satisfy you.
Logging and lumber operators on the East Side say the trees are dying because they’re old and the forest has been improperly managed for years. The old trees are susceptible to insect infestations and are a fire hazard.
Had the local companies been allowed greater access to harvest the trees for the past 20 years, say people like Terry Thompson of Thompson Logging in Kamas, there’d be more room for young trees that are immune to most bug attacks.
"The forest service has almost turned out to be a joke. Look at the number of trees dying on the highway. There’s a hazard of them falling along the highway," he said. "If you utilize (the forest) you’ll always have young and healthy forests."
"For years and years there’s been no management of it," said John Blazzard of Blazzard Lumber in Kamas. "The forest is about 80 to 85 percent dead and the rest will be dead soon."
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Blazzard compared managing forests to growing corn. There comes a time when it’s right to harvest the crop. If you don’t, you waste it and there’s no recovering it. For the area east of Kamas, the time is past and now it’s a fire hazard.
The government is paying crews to cut up dead trees to give away as firewood when a few years ago there were companies willing to pay the government to get them, he said.
The forest service has its own answers as to why there are so many dead trees in the area, but district ranger Jeff Schramm’s explanation is from such a different paradigm that it can’t be used to answer the East Side critics. Nor does he want it to.
"I don’t want to make any rebuttals," he said in an interview Thursday.
Schramm said the trees that are easy to access were harvested long ago and those areas haven’t matured enough to allow logging again. Trees on steep slopes which are the majority of the problem are relatively old and have been ravaged by insects. There are areas near Strawberry Reservoir where almost all the trees are dead, he said.
Kelly Wilkins with Wasatch National Forest out of Vernal said the problem areas aren’t accessible by roads.
Schramm said the forest service sells permits for cutting trees all the time in the east part of the county, but they are for different areas. The price for lumber is down now anyway, so there wouldn’t be any takers if local areas were for sale.
As evidence, he said a sale was organized a few years ago to cut wood along the highway, and there weren’t any takers. The companies would have had to harvest in such a way as to not damage the road and not endanger travelers. That made harvesting cost prohibitive.
Glen Leavitt of Leavitt Lumber in Kamas agrees with most of that, but said the problem has been over the last 20 or 30 years.
"The problem is the government listens to the people with the biggest mouths. The people who make the biggest noise are the environmentalists," he said. "Up on the Mirror Lake Highway there haven’t been half a dozen timber sales in the last 20 years."
Harvesting now would be cost prohibitive, but not in the past.
Schramm has only been at the Kamas-Heber station since March, but he said in his experience it is fair to say there have been fewer timber sales in the larger region in recent decades. It also takes a lot of time and money to prepare those sales.
He also said fire crews are working hard to reduce hazards and that more permits will be issued next year to cut trees for firewood.
In the meantime, Thompson said local mills have been getting trees from 200 miles away. He’s one of the biggest in the state and his trees come from Evanston, Wyo., Manila, Randolph and Kemmerer, Wyo.
Log Craft Inc. in Heber gets theirs from the Yellowstone area and Wasatch Timber Products said theirs come from Duschene County and Southern Utah.
Blazzard, Leavitt and Thompson all say they blame environmentalists.
"Everyone decided they’d rather hug trees than cut them down," Thompson said. "Forest is a renewable resource 75 years to grow a tree is a short amount of time when compared to the time it takes to make a gallon of gasoline."