EPHRAIM—Manti La-Sal National Forest district ranger Johnny Collin warned the city council last Wednesday that the forest directly above the city has a high potential for a major fire.
Collin discussed how the forest service is trying to mitigate it by removing overgrown conifer tree populations.
Up until now, the forest service has only removed dead trees, but the danger of a major fire is too great. Contracts are being given for removal of green (living) conifer trees, in the hopes of finding a market for the green wood. Over the next 10 years, what is called “fuel reduction projects” will cut out timber from 300 acres initially, and this year, up to 1,500 acres and more will be reduced.
“The conifers are so dense, aspen cannot grow, and that means fire danger is at the highest level,” said Collin.
Mayor John Scott agreed, saying he had seen the fire danger maps, and “the area above Ephraim is the highest of any,” he said.
Collin also said that means Ephraim will see lots of logging trucks coming down Ephraim Canyon, as many as 2,000 over the first couple of years, and maybe 18,000 trucks over the next 10 to 12 years.
That concerned the council in several ways. One, the trucks will be going through roads with two Ephraim schools very close by; and two, the trucks will pound the existing streets, from the mouth of Ephraim Canyon to U.S. 89.
When asked if the forest service could mitigate the road deterioration in some way, Collin said that the forest service’s responsibility ends at the forest service boundary. However, the county could impose requirements of entities buying those trucking contracts that could mitigate the damage.
“Up to this point, most of our reduction programs have had trucks exiting the area to the north, along Skyline Drive to Fairview Canyon, but in the future, Ephraim will definitely see far more truck traffic down the canyon,” Collin said.
“This is a very long-term project. It will probably take 100 years before the forests look like they should. This is a solution that our grandchildren will benefit from, but it won’t be a lot of fun for us in the short run,” Collin said.
However, reduction programs are better now than a major fire, which could destroy the mountains and drainages east of Ephraim. Wildfires threaten the watershed and water pipes because of slides and the ecological destruction. “Reduction programs now are far better than a major fire,” Collin stated.
There is also a problem that could and probably will be caused by 4-wheelers who take advantage of forest service access roads that could further damage the forest environment. “We hope those who use the mountains on 4-wheelers will follow the rules when choosing where to recreate,” Collin said.