A classic confrontation is brewing atop Boulder Mountain - loggers versus environmentalists versus off-highway vehicle drivers versus the Forest Service.
For half a century, logging on Boulder Top has depended on spruce trees downed by a beetle infestation around the 1920s. Low-quality dead logs were hauled out to make mine timber supports. Meanwhile, the spruces have slowly come back.Live timber harvests were never permitted on the mountaintop, which covers 50,000 acres between Teasdale, Wayne County, and Escalante, Garfield County. Consequently, it's an area of few constructed roads, strong stands of spruce, wildlife, and undamaged mountain meadows.
But while few roads are constructed, the mountaintop is gouged by many off-highway vehicle trails.
Environmentalists oppose opening Boulder Top to the logging of live trees, but they want to see the Forest Service repair the severe off-highway vehicle damage.
According to a Dixie National Forest spokesman, silviculture experts believe the trees are reaching a density at which an attack of beetles is likely. The agency wants to allow logging of live trees.
The Forest Service's positions will be presented at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 in the Loa (Wayne County) Civic Center, and during a day-long field trip to Boulder Top the next day. Members of the public are invited on the jaunt, but must furnish their own transportation.
Two-wheel-drive automobiles are not advised due to the rough roads, an invitation from Ranger Jerald B. Shaw says.
Those going should meet at the Teasdale Ranger Station at 9 a.m. Aug. 27.
Hugh Thompson, supervisor of Dixie National Forest, said the "Boulder Top" comprises about 50,000 acres right on top of the mountain. The entire mountain covers about 800,000 acres, he said.
Boulder Top is a fascinating area at about 11,000 feet elevation that is environmentally sensitive in some respects, he said. Conflicts among fish protectionists, timber interests, grazing land users and off-highway vehicle drivers prompted the Forest Service to make its analysis, he said.
Five to 10 years of timber harvesting may be possible there, he said. The Forest Service considers Boulder Top as separate from a nearby tract where the controversial Windmill timber sale is proposed.
Spruce trees grow fairly well on Boulder Top, said Thompson. "At 11,000 feet, we're still getting spruces growing up there at six rings to the inch," he said. That means a tree can add an inch of girth in a single year.
The forest is mostly stands of spruce scattered among grassy meadows.
"Right now it's one of the most heavily roaded areas in the forest," Thompson said. "Just two-track roads, but they're virtually everywhere."
The Forest Service is considering improving the main access routes to Boulder Top, but also putting severe restrictions on off-highway vehicles to reduce the dirt trails that wind all over the top.
If roads are closed, Thompson believes, "over time they'll heal.
"We're really concerned about the fisheries up there, the situation in some of those shallow lakes."
Drivers of off-highway vehicles have driven right down to the shores of the little lakes, where they then fish. The rutted little trails then erode, and in rainstorms or the spring runoff, they load streams and lakes with sediment, killing fish.
"Boulder Top and the rest of Boulder Mountain have some incredible natural values," said Rodney Greeno, issues coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
"We're in danger of losing the essence of Boulder Mountain, a wild, high plateau overlooking the canyons. Our fundamental concern is about preserving wilderness for wildlife and aesthetics and recreation, from the top of Boulder Mountain to the Escalante Canyons."
So the group believes the Forest Service should not just analyze Boulder Top, but effects of development on all of Boulder Mountain.
"Much of Boulder Mountain has already been converted into what is essentially a tree farm," Greeno said. He wonders if any part of the mountain will be left as wilderness.
As for the timber harvest contemplated for Boulder Top, Greeno doesn't believe the Forest Service fully understands the timber cycle there. "How long does it take until the beetle reinfestations occur?" he said.
"They're claiming that the beetles are about to strike again, the timber's about at the point that it was in the '20s." But Greeno said alliance sources checked the timber on Boulder Top and found the cycle is much longer than the Forest Service contends.
If that's so, the beetles might not strike again for many years. "I think that's an important issue," he said.
"They shouldn't be using that as a false motivation" to sell timber.
Greeno thinks timber grows slowly at that high an elevation, so slowly that an economic timber harvest under the Forest Service's sustained-yield regulations may not be possible.
Off-highway vehicles have scarred the area so badly that their tracks are visible all over Boulder Top, Greeno said. "There needs to be some kind of control on that kind of access," he said.
Also, the Forest Service needs to repair the damage that has already occurred.
Off-highway vehicles are "very destructive to the vegetation and aesthetics of the place, not just the fisheries," Greeno said.