Game Law Violations

Report from Utah

A man allegedly involved in the removal of about 8,400 trees from the southwest portion of the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area and an adjacent piece of private property was charged May 22 with two counts in Cache County's 1st District Court. Cache County attorneys charged the owner of a timber company with one count of theft by deception, a second degree felony, and one count of removal of resources from state property without a permit, a Class C misdemeanor. The Hardware Ranch WMA is about 15 miles east of Hyrum, in northern Utah.

Division of Wildlife Resources' investigators allege that, in a subcontract agreement with three other companies, the man illegally harvested about 8,400 trees from a more than 300-acre portion of the WMA near Devil's Gate Canyon, and from an adjacent piece of private property.

Blain Hamp, agent with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, estimates the value of the trees at about $270,000. The harvest allegedly took place while the three subcontractors were harvesting trees on private property that bordered the 14,112-acre WMA.

Most of the trees removed from the WMA were 150- to 200-year-old Douglas fir trees that provided valuable habitat to wildlife in the area, said Rory Reynolds, habitat manager in the Division of Wildlife Resources' Northern Region. He also said the area had been a premiere place for walk-in big game hunters looking for a quality hunting experience.

Ed Liese, law enforcement investigator in the Northern Region, said most of the timber harvesting occurred in 1999, though some cutting was done in 1997 and 1998.

Liese said the area where the harvesting took place is very remote and can only be accessed via private roads that have locked gates across them, or by hiking in. A hunter who hiked in to scout the area in August 1999 came upon the cut and alerted Division of Wildlife Resources authorities.

In addition to the lost trees, about 2 miles of roads and about 7 miles of skid trails (made when heavy equipment pulls fallen trees to areas for transport) were cut onto the property, Liese said.

Hamp estimates rehabilitation costs will exceed $300,000.

Reynolds says that no matter how much work is done, a mature Douglas-fir forest filled with trees may never be seen in the area by this generation of Utahns.

"Mature Douglas fir forest just doesn't spring up overnight," Reynolds said.

Deer, elk and moose will probably eat some of the trees the Division plants, slowing development of the Douglas fir tree stand, Reynolds said.

He said the Division property had the last remaining mature Douglas fir tree stand in the area. Before the logging operation, it was used by many different species of wildlife, including deer, elk, moose, forest grouse, raptors and neotropical birds.

Four sensitive plant species also are known to occur in the area, and two sensitive fishspecies — Bonneville cutthroat trout and Paiute sculpin — live in the nearby Blacksmith Fork River.

Reynolds said wildlife that prefer treeless habitats will still use the area.

In addition to the tree loss, the Division is concerned about erosion from roads and skid trails cut into the landscape. Reynolds said sediment from the erosion will run down nearby Devil's Gate and Cottonwood canyons and into the Blacksmith Fork River, about 1 mile away.

The Division will start reclaiming the area in July, and work will take at least one month to complete, Reynolds said. Stabilizing roads and skid trails by using heavy equipment to pull displaced materials back into place, and reducing slopes cut into hillsides, will be done first. Vegetation will then be planted to further stabilize the road and skid trail areas, and water bars and water channels will be built to lessen erosion impacts.

"There's also a lot of clean up work to do," Reynolds said.

In November, the Division will plant grass, forb and shrub seeds, and small trees and shrubs will be planted in March or early April, he said. The Division will monitor the area for about five years, and will plant additional seeds, trees and shrubs as needed. It will also keep livestock off the area.

The U.S. Forest Service has experience rehabilitating logging operation areas and Reynolds will consult them about rehabilitation techniques and how much it may cost for the Division to do the work.

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