Forest Service taking advantage of fire up Mayfield Canyon to restore natural habitat
By Robert Stevens
MAYFIELD—The Forest Service is harnessing the power of a wildfire ignited by lightning to help restore some of the natural habitat to the mountains above Mayfield, says Sanpete Ranger Kyle Beagley.
Last Friday, at Mayfield’s Town Hall, Beagley and a number of other Forest Service and fire authorities held a public meeting to brief the community on what is going on with the Porcupine Fire that is burning up Twelve-Mile Canyon, and how they are planning on maintaining the fire as a controlled burn for the purpose of restoring a more natural habitat.
“We want to be totally open and let the community know what’s going on with the fire and what we are doing up there,” Beagley said.
He explained briefly that they are using the fire, which was ignited by lightning, to perform a managed burn that will clear out the overload of dead fuels on the mountain.
“Our directive is life first, which means firefighter safety is number one, so we have to be really smart with the direction we take and stay away from the really dangerous areas.”
Russ Bigelow, north zone fuel specialist for the Manti-La Sal National Forest, explained in further detail how they plan to let the fire burn to their advantage.
“When this first started we said to ourselves that this was a perfect place to let the fire bring back some of the natural habitat,” Bigelow said. “Fire is a natural part of an ecosystem, but we have not allowed it back into the ecosystem for so long that we have this catastrophic buildup of fuels that, when we have a real fire, it’s a bigger fire that burns hotter.
“So for us, this is a great mountain, especially at 10,000 foot, to start bringing that fire back into the ecosystem so it will get rid of the all the diseased and dead trees. We have identified some old dead stands that, if we see an opportunity, we will allow the fire to go up into those as well.”
Bigelow explained to those in attendance that a big part of their decision was weighing some concerns.
“One was that we didn’t want the fire to get into the Twelve-Mile Canyon drainage,” he said. “We also want to minimize the amount of smoke and impact the fire has on OHV riders.
“There are deer and elk hunts coming up and we really don’t want to exclude people from those opportunities. We tried to decide what was the safest, best use of resources we could use in the shortest time possible, so that is what the firefighters have been told and that what they will work towards up on the mountain as long as the weather allows.”
Bigelow went on to express his attachment to the area, and assured those in attendance that keeping the fire burning, and even lighting more fires in an effort to control its path, was not just an excuse to go play firefighter.
“I grew up on this mountain fishing and hunting with my dad,” Bigelow said, “so I have a lot of vested interest in these mountains. There’s not a one of us who just want to go up there and burn for the sake of it. We don’t want to blacken every inch of this mountain; we want to see that our kids and their kids have a safe and well maintained mountain.”
Bigelow said they have a number of contingency plans in place in case things start to escalate and more firefighters and resources become a necessity.
“This fire is not going to go anywhere we don’t want it to go,” he told the attendees. “We want this to be a low-key and low-cost operation.”
The fire is currently burning at 278 acres, according to information released by Phil Sneed, public information officer for the fire.
“The primary goal is to reduce fuel buildup while conditions are ideal to create a more resilient landscape that will prevent larger, more extreme fires in the future,” Sneed said.
Sneed said no structures are immediately threatened, but at the fire meeting last Friday Bigelow said they have taken some preventative measures to make sure the Whitlock Cabin in the area is in no danger.