Canyons Project launched in 2019 continues clearing of dead wood in Manti-LaSal Forest

Courtesy US Forest Service
This expanse littered with downed logs that could fuel a forest fire is typical of the areas the Sanpete Ranger District is trying to clear out.

MANTI—Projects to clear dead, fallen and excessively dense timber from the  Manti-LaSal National Forest are continuing at full steam, according to a U.S. Forest Service ranger based in Sanpete County.

Johnny Collin, district ranger for the Sanpete District of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, told the Sanpete County Commission at a meeting March 16 that his office is continuing—and hopes to expand—a program to clear dead timber from large stretches of the forest. The logs will be used for commercial purposes.

“We appreciate what you guys do, and we appreciate you opening up to timber….,” Commission Chairman Scott Bartholomew told Collin. “It’s a good deal for the economy around here, and for the forest, and I hope it works.”

In 2019, the Forest Service launched what it called the “Canyons Project,” an effort expected to run for 10-15 years and expected to impact more than 30,000 acres of national forest land in Emery and Sanpete counties.

So far, about 8,000 acres are under contract within Canyons Project boundaries, Collin said. Most of that acreage is in the Price-Ferron Ranger District but within Sanpete County.

Robert Stevens / Messenger Photo
Giant timber harvesting machine works in one of the timber-sale tracts in a section of the Manti-LaSal National Forest within Sanpete County. The focus of many timber sales is stands of still-standing spruce that were killed in an enormous bark beetle infestation in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Most of the trees being removed were killed by an enormous bark beetle infestation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. According to Collin, the “vast majority” of spruce trees infected by the bark beetle are still standing.

At the time the Canyons Project was launched, Kyle Beagley, former Sanpete District, said main objective of the project was to clear out potential fuel for forest fires “so these mega fires can’t take hold and tear across the mountains.”

Beagley said clearing dead and fallen logs, and thinning out the forest, would also improve the health of watersheds and promote a healthier combination of forest species.

An example of the project was a large timber sale awarded to Timberline Forest Products LLC of Moroni. The company converts dead logs into firewood bundles, shavings for use in turkey sheds and mulch.

“We’re starting to look at the volume…under contract right now, and do some math, and see how much needs to be removed every year to get those contracts done in a timely manner,” Collin told the county commission.

The ranger said the ongoing goal for his office will be “to put the supply out there and let the market do what it wants to do, because…we’re getting a lot of fuels treatment. That’s a high value to us, way more valuable than the wood.”

The late winter this year benefitted the effort, Collin said, because companies removing timber near roads were able to continue operations into January and February.

“One of the few benefits of the late winter we’re having right now is how long we could haul from the top of the mountain,” he said.

Collin informed commissioners that the Forest Service is currently setting up a “green” timber sale—a sale of a stand of live timber. The site is an 800-acre bowl across the Ephraim Canyon Road from Lake Hills Campground.

“We had some interested parties, enough that we felt comfortable making the investment to prep the sale,” Collin said.

He said he wasn’t sure how the ultimate purchaser would use the logs—whether the company would set up a milling facility in Sanpete County or haul the logs hundreds of miles away.