“Landscape-level” Utah Project

The Salt Lake Tribune has this story on “a landscape-level program of salvage logging, thinning, prescribed burns and reseeding in a 171,000-acre project area along the crest of the Wasatch Plateau.”

Since 2000, bark-boring beetles have killed nearly 90% of the Engelmann spruce on the plateau separating Sanpete and Emery counties, according to Ryan Nehl, supervisor of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Other areas have become overrun with subalpine fir, crowding out aspen.

Currently spruce occupies 5% of this forest, while fir makes up 85%. The Forest Service’s goal is get that species mix to the 60%-30% range favoring spruce, but it could take decades. Nehl also wants to see aspen stands revitalized because of their importance to watershed health and wildlife and their ability to slow big fires.

“While this project is couched as a timber sale, it’s primarily a hazardous fuels-reduction project to try to stem the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire. It’s overstocked right now,” Nehl said. “Another primary purpose of this is to reduce risk to communities and firefighters, particularly culinary and irrigation water supplies, as well as water supply to the [Huntington Power] Plant.”

Here’s the Canyons HFRA Project Environmental Assessment FONSI.

The Forest Service proposes to salvage dense dead standing and down Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and implement fuel reduction treatments under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA). These actions are proposed to be implemented on the Ferron-Price and Sanpete Ranger Districts, Manti-La Sal National Forest, in Sanpete, Carbon, Emery, and Sevier Counties, Utah (Figure 2). The project area where treatments are being considered is approximately 171,000 acres.

9 thoughts on ““Landscape-level” Utah Project”

  1. Hi Steve,

    You must’ve forgotten to highlight this part of the SLT article [emphasis added]:

    About half the 30,000 acres to be logged are inside inventoried roadless areas. No temporary roads would be built in these areas, although 74 miles of existing road could be put to use or upgraded. Meanwhile, 153 miles of temporary roads will be constructed in nonroadless areas, on top of the 295 miles of existing roads. More than 3,000 miles of skid trails would be cut. Prescribed burning would occur on 1,600 acres, or less than 1% of the project area.”

    Also, yan Nehl, supervisor of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, said this in the article: “By removing these dead spruce, we can improve vital community watersheds and reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire.”

    Also, can someone please remind me what an “uncharacteristic wildfire” would be in high-elevation forests of Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir, which normally and naturally experience high-severity fires?

      • Yes, Steve, when it comes to my public lands (of which I’m an equal owner) I’d rather “risk an intense” wildfire in an upper elevation spruce-fir forest, which typically and naturally burns at an “intense” level…rather than log 30,000 acres of an inventoried roadless area, build 153 miles of new logging roads and construct over 3,000 miles of logging skid trails. But hey, that’s just me.

          • Does building 150+ miles of new logging roads, 3000+ miles of logging skid trails and industrial logging within inventoried roadless areas pose any risk to watershed health and function? Did the watersheds in the project area evolve and sustain themselves through wildfires and beetle infestations…or through logging and roadbuilding?

            Also, I’m still wondering what an “uncharacteristic wildfire” would be in high-elevation forests of Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir, which normally and naturally experience high-severity fires?

      • Matthew it’s OK to cut trees in roadless areas under the 2001 Roadless Rule under the conditions described in section 294.13. Since there seem to be existing roads in this roadless area, it fits into the category of “substantially altered”.

        For those of you who haven’t followed Roadlessness, the 2001 Roadless Rule included areas that had roads, due to mapping problems and the fact that they decided not to take the time to ground-truth them. Which it turns out was a good call policy-wise but does leave those awkward roads there.

        • Thanks Sharon. I also was involved in the Roadless Rule issue, and spoke out against many of the loopholes in the Roadless Rule.

  2. Matthew – the use of “uncharacteristic” may be more related to human values, as in very few people (if any) in the state have witnessed a fire as you describe. Scientifically, you may be onto something, but that does not mean people should wait around for such a fire to occur.


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