To the editor:

The letter in the Deseret News from Sheldon Steed, manager of the Escalante Sawmill ("Will timber sales hurt Boulder Top?" (Jan. 15) needs to be challenged on several points.First, Steed's assertion that the Dixie National Forest Plan determined that live timbering will occur on the top of southern Utah's Boulder Mountain is incorrect. A Forest Plan is only a programmatic document. It does not authorize a project. Rather, it provides possible program direction which, upon analysis, may or may not be deemed appropriate. Despite his opinion, first-time logging of live trees from America's highest forest has yet to be justified.

Steed said, "We should put numbers into perspective." OK, but how about an accurate perspective? Suggesting that more than 16 million board feet of timber is not a lot to be taken from a place like Boulder Top, he claims it will be harvested from five sales "scattered across the 50,000 acre plateau that comprises Boulder Top."

True, the Top is about 50,000 acres in area, but only half is forested, dropping the figure to 25,000. A glance at the Dixie's timber schedule also indicates that the first five proposed sales cover about 7,000 acres, so the fact is that the 16.5 million board feet proposed for cutting will come form less than one-fifth of the area Steed alleges.

Anyone who has seen Boulder Top's sparse, stunted spruce that just 15 years ago Dixie planners were calling "marginal commercial forest" with "low volumes per acre, poor timber quality and poor access" will appreciate, among other things, that the Dixie's timber cutting proposals are very intensive indeed.

By far, Steed's most erroneous statement was that "over 90 million board feet of timber has been removed from Boulder Top in the previous 30 years." A quick phone call to the Dixie National Forest indicates that the figure is between 10 and 12 million board feet - a bit of a difference. And he doesn't make it clear that this is only dead savage timber. Again, live trees have never been harvested from the mountain top.

Finally, to say that a byproduct of Boulder Top sales will be "receipts to the Treasury" is nothing short of insulting to anyone who pays taxes. The Dixie National Forest, with Utah's largest timber program, recorded a loss of $729,000 from below-cost timber sales in 1989 alone, according to its own reporting system. The Dixie's latest initiative to commence the highest live logging operations ever attempted for "poor quality" spruce will certainly not improve this abysmal economic picture.

The well being of the people of Escalante is important. But if keeping them employed requires taxpayers to fund the destruction of a very low value but incredibly unique, biologically and scenically rich ecosystem, something is very wrong.

William Patric

Utah Wilderness Coalition