Logger sees his livelihood going up in flames; blames land policies
The Forest Service, the Blazzards say, will let the trees come out now because they pose a life-safety hazard to campers. In the meantime, repeated timber harvest ventures into the same area leave the small trees trampled.
John Keeler, the southern regional manager for the Utah Farm Bureau and the organization's staff advisor on its Forest Service Committee, said there are really only two ways to clear a forest of its old, diseased or stressed trees: through fire or timber harvesting.
"Fire has kept forests healthy, but fire has largely been absent. Regulation is what is strangling the whole logging process, and litigation is causing that."
Kevin Mueller, program director for the Utah Environmental Congress, said litigation is not halting timber sales in the Soap Stone Basin — at least not now.
"I think it is bunch of baloney," he said. "It's been years since there has been an appeal up there — around 1999 or 2000," he said. "The Forest Service has actually come through and approved some projects up there, but none of that has the intent of stopping the beetle outbreak. You can't stop an outbreak with logging. Nobody can stop that outbreak. It is like trying to cloud seed to stop a hurricane coming for the coast. It is just not going to work."
Fires, he said, are a natural cleanser and a few years delay in a logging project "doesn't really make much of a difference in a forest system that is on the order of several hundred years."
Sterling Brown, the Utah Farm Bureau's vice president of public policy, said Friday's tour was organized as a plea to shake loose the hand of government from those who make a living off the land.
"Let us get in there and manage it in ways that are practical, reasonable and sustainable," he said. "Two generations ago it was weather that would put the farmer out of business. One generation ago it was the volatility in the markets. Today, it is increased and cumbersome regulation."
Like any other federal agency offering up a natural resource for lease, harvest or land-use change, the Forest Service has to conduct an internal review, put the proposal out for public comment, and wait to see what the reaction may be. Timber sales that have been offered may be protested, or withdrawn.
The federal review process, said Forest Service spokeswoman Loyal Clark, is thorough and governed by statute, which provides little, if any, flexibility. The Heber-Kamas Ranger, Jeff Schramm, added that several timber sales are going to bid in August in the Soap Stone Basin, and another is poised to happen next year.
Off a little road in Soap Stone Basin sits a girls camp owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is being negotiated as a possible future site of a timber sale.
In the meantime, amid the tall stands of dead and dying beetle-infested trees, the girls have set up camp at Piuta.
"I can just see a fire coming over that ridge and burning this," Blazzard said. "It's just an old strand of trees. It needs to harvested and used. When it gets too thick with old trees, the little trees can't get started."
Some of the trees nestled in among the dead are still green and there looks to be hope that perhaps they have escaped the fate of their neighbors.
But Blazzard just shakes his head.
"It's too late. Those trees are already dead; they just don't know it."