Volume 7, Number 48 - February 21, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Upper Green Burn Project Information Is Smoky
The proposed Pinyon Osborn Vegetation Treatments could use prescribed burns and slash treatments on more than 24,000 acres in the Upper Green River Corridor – but that’s about all even the most concerned people know about the project.
The Pinedale Ranger District project is in a scoping phase for an Environmental Assessment (EA) and has a public-comment deadline of Feb. 29. Yet little information is available to the public other than a 3-page description dated Jan. 25 and sent out by District Ranger Thomas Peters.
“This was proposed, gee whiz, years ago,” said rancher Charles Price, secretary of the Upper Green River Cattleman’s Association whose members’ cattle use the historic “Green River Drift” running north of Cora.
It then “fell into the cracks,” Price said, and the association hadn’t heard much about it since. He did receive Peters’ scoping notice so he knew the Pinyon Osborn project was coming down the pike, he said.
“We haven’t really been consulted on it that much,” Price added.
As of Tuesday, UGRCA grazing permittees had heard nothing more about a project that is designed to burn their 5,000-acre pastures one at a time, possibly as early as next year.
Price and fellow Upper Green grazing permittee, rancher Albert Sommers, said they have tried to arrange meetings with Bridger-Teton National Forest officials in Pinedale without result.
“The Pinyon Osborn Vegetation Treatment project is of a concern to us, because we have not been informed about project details, even though we have expressed a desire to be kept informed,” said Sommers, UGRCA president. “This project started about two rangers ago, and we were heavily consulted then, but not since.”
Sommers has questions about the project. “Our greatest concern on the (vegetation treatment) project is how will grazing be handled in the burn areas (pre and post burn),” he commented. “How many years of rest. How will it mesh with our grazing rotations. Will they fence burns, and who will take care of those fences. Will we be forced to use other pastures that create more manpower issues. How large are the burns or treatments going to be. Will the Forest Service and the Game and Fish Department work with us, and not against us; that will be the ultimate question.”
Price said the grazing association uses a rotational pasture system. “If you knock us out of one, it will mess up the system,” he said.
Potential issues Two weeks ago, Mark Randall, the Pinedale District assistant fire management officer, told the Examiner that the three grazing-allotment pastures, each about 5,000 acres, would be burned one at a time with the eastern most one first, then moving to the next one to the west.
The Pinyon Osborn project could start as early as next year and each pasture might be “rested” or closed to cattle for a minimum of two to three years, Randall said. He said that cattle numbers are at about two thirds of the permitted total, so it shouldn’t be a problem to close one pasture at a time.
The UGRCA is permitted for 7,565 animal-units total, Price explained, but members have taken a voluntary cut to two-thirds because the ongoing drought affects summer grazing as well as hay harvest, so ranchers keep cattle numbers lower until conditions change for the better.
One of Price’s concerns is the status of the Pinyon-Ridge pasture fencing the BTNF required the association to build, with six expensive miles of fencing just completed and more to build.
“A worry that we had was that it was going to burn up this fence,” Price said. “We’ve been aware of it – we’re going to try and get some comments in on the thing. We really don’t understand too much about this latest proposal.”
Personally, Price said, he believes the Pinedale District should extend the Feb. 29 comment deadline and make more information available to the public and forest users.
“They should get a real solid plan behind (the project),” Price added. “Burning is fine, but stop and think.” “Thousands of tons” of fire byproducts –such as partially combusted hydrocarbons and methane – could be released into the river valley’s air with burning as opposed to letting local residents or businesses harvest poles and logs for lumber and building needs, “You know what those are,” Price said. “Greenhouse gases.”
Randall has also stated that the Pinyon Osborn project could take as long as 10 years and bring periodic or long-term closings of hunting areas, public trails and roads, camping and other popular recreational uses.
That possibility has BTNF permitted outfitter Todd Stevie of Thomson Outfitters, based on the Upper Green, very concerned. “Everything I’ve seen is pretty vague,” Stevie said. “If they close off trails and hunting seasons, recreational activities, if that’s the case, I’m going to be totally against it.”
Stevie is also president of the Sublette County Outfitters and Guides Association and said that while he can’t speak for all members, he said he is “pretty sure” they will have concerns too.
He will have the chance to ask his questions in a meeting with Pinedale district officials Thursday, he said. “Fire’s not a bad thing, if it’s done properly,” Stevie added. “I’m not educated enough to know how they are going to do it, the timing – 500 acres at a time or all at once.”
The proposal includes prescribed burns of sagebrush, grass, aspens and conifers on 18,754 acres on Pinyon Ridge’s south-facing slope plus 2,466 acres of the Bridger Wilderness on Osborn Mountain’s south-facing slope, according to the scoping notice.
Some are portions included in the previous Moose-Gypsum vegetation treatment project, which was subject to an Environmental Impact Statement rather than an EA because of its complexity, Randall explained.
He said that the scoping notice letters were sent out to residents and users in the Upper Green area. A scoping notice also was officially published in the Casper Star Tribune.
The EA process requires only a 30-day formal comment period, which can be set at any point in the process; the current comment period ends Feb. 29 and will not be extended, Randall said. There will be no other opportunity for formal comment, he confirmed.
The mosaic burning can be done by helicopter with a helix-torch or fuel-filled ping-pong balls dropped onto certain parts of the landscape, said Randall. Where understory fuels aren’t sufficient to regenerate declining aspen stands with prescribed fire, mechanical treatments will be used on Pinyon Ridge, the notice says.
Using a chainsaw or other machinery, the proposal calls for “mechanically treating” conifer and conifer-encroached aspen stands on 3,069 acres on the east side of Forest Roads 600 and 650 between Dollar Lake and the BTNF boundary in the Upper Green corridor.
The “purpose and need” for the project are to reduce fuel buildup due to lack of fire disturbance over the last 100 to 150 years and to create a mosaic of varying seral stages in vegetation types over a large landscape.
Preliminary issues to be addressed by the Pinyon Osborn Project EA include fire management and ecosystem sustainability, vegetation management, watershed health and threatened, endangered or sensitive species and wildlife habitat.
The comment period for this scoping ends Feb. 29. Additional information is available from Mark Randall at the Pinedale Ranger District office, (307) 367-4326.
Those who provide timely comments will be eligible to appeal the decision, expected in May, under 36 CFR 215, to ensure the final document’s compliance with NEPA.
Comments can be submitted in writing, by fax, hand-delivered, orally or by email with any comments identified as “Attention: Pinyon Osborn Comments.” Comments must be submitted to the Responsible Official: Thomas Peters, Pinedale District Ranger, P.O. Box 220, 29 E. Fremont Lake Road, Pinedale, WY 82941; phone (307) 367-4326; fax 367-5750.
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