Manti LaSal officials asking for input on increasing prescribed forest burns

Forest officials are asking for public comments on a proposal to increase prescribed burns on the Manti-La Sal National Forest every year, up to 48,000 acres of forest annually.

This action is designed to restore the health of the forest and reset the clock on forest lands, which are overstocked with fuel because of decades of fire suppression, said Sanpete District Ranger, Johnny Collin.

The Forest Service has initiated the scoping process for this project and would like public comments by Aug. 2. A copy of the proposed action can be found on the project website.  

“It is unlikely we would be doing prescribed burns during drought conditions.”

— Sanpete District Ranger, Johnny Collin

In essence, the plan is to increase the pace and scale of prescribed burning on the mountains above Sanpete Valley to reduce a lot of deadwood and restore the vitality of the forest. Prescribed burns are often described as “planned fires” or “controlled fires” designed to meet management goals.

According to forest service documents, this action will increase resiliency of existing vegetation groups; restore proper ecological function to native vegetation communities and wildlife habitats; and improve firefighter and public safety.

Collin mentioned that forest stands are over overstocked because of fire suppression, which has occurred since the 1900s. There are more fuels up on the mountain than ever before, he said. 

The prescribed fires will leave the forest lands in an earlier stage of development, which is typically more resilient to fires in general, he said.

The scoping process will take several months, so the prescribed fires will not take place until next fall, at the soonest, Collin said.

At that depends on the drought. “It is unlikely we would be doing prescribed burns during drought conditions,” he said. Typically, prescribed burns are done in the spring or the fall, when conditions are optimum for controlling a fire, he said.

Sanpete County Economic Development Director Kevin Christensen also supports the project and is encouraging the public to comment on it. This is his personal opinion, and not the official stance of the county commission, he said.

“This will be a good thing,” he said. “Because there is so much fuel on the mountain, built up over decades, that everybody is worrying about catastrophic wildfires; and what if it happens here.”

“This will be a good thing, because there is so much fuel on the mountain, built up over decades, that everybody is worrying about catastrophic wildfires; and what if it happens here.”

Sanpete County Economic Development Director Kevin Christensen

The Forest Service is doing several things right, Christensen said. They are stepping up the logging and increasing the prescribed burns.

“This will not only help out with fire risk,” he said. “But it will make the forest healthier, more beautiful, better for grazing, better for wildlife and better for our watershed; it’s a good thing all the way around.”

According to the forest service, the burns are needed because human activities have altered the natural fire burning process: “Throughout the 20th century, human activities, including fire suppression, mining, introduction of invasive species, timber harvesting and livestock grazing, altered this natural fire regime. Without regular, sometimes frequent wildfire or surrogate, stand composition and structure has been altered and fuel loading has increased.

This, in turn, has caused the size and severity of wildfire on hot, dry years to increase. Reduced winter precipitation, an earlier spring snowmelt, and longer summer dry seasons have also played a role in this shift.

Recently, several large wildfires have burned on and around the Manti-La Sal National Forest with increasing frequency, size, and cost.”

In support of the project, the Forest Service stated that management action, such as prescribed fire, can increase the amount of low to moderate intensity burning consistent with the natural fire regime in these fire-adapted ecosystems and habitats and help to improve vegetation and habitat into the future.

In addition, in the long term, this burning could reduce the amount of large, high severity fires.         

For additional information on this project, visit the scoping documents or contact Russell Bigelow, Forest Fuels Planner, at russell.bigelow@usda.gov or 636-3313.