Restoration project will inhibit wildfires, promote forest health
By Robert Stevens
MANTI-LA SAL—The Forest Service has committed to a massive restoration project spanning more than a decade that should have a positive impact on the canyons of the Manti-La Sal and on the local economy.
According to Sanpete District Ranger Kyle Beagley, the project has been dubbed the Canyons Project and will focus on clearing 36,000 acres of strategically chosen dead, dense, standing and downed spruce, through roughly a dozen timber sales, the first of which will take place in this summer.
“Some people ask me why this wasn’t done 20 years ago,” Beagley says. “I wish it had been. It is only through industry that this project will be successful. Industry and the agency have had to lean on each other and grow together for a project like this.
“Now, I think the Forest Service is ready to think big picture. And we hope to support industry to every extent possible while implementing this important project responsibly.”
The main goal of the Canyons Project is to mitigate wildfire risk by cutting down on dangerous and dense fuels in the project area.
“One of the main objectives of this is to change wildfire behavior,” Beagley says. “Before the Seely fire of 2012, this forest had never had a fire that burned more than 5,000 acres. If we can be effective in clearing some of this fuel out, it will do enough to break up the landscape so these mega-fires can’t take hold and tear across the mountains.”
If successful, Beagley says the project will improve watershed health and encourage a healthier composition of forest species.
The timber sales will take place in the northern zone of the forest in Sanpete, Emery, Carbon and Sevier counties and will be completed over 15 years.
Uncharacteristic wildfire has become more frequent in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The fires of 2018 burned a total of 70,000 acres, required hundreds of firefighters and costing $50 million. Reducing hazardous fuels in the forest will also reduce risks to firefighter health and safety.
The project is also a response to the spruce beetle epidemic that decimated the Engelmann spruce population in the Ferron-Price and Ephraim Districts in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
When the dead spruce is removed, the Forest Service will reduce sub-alpine fir and plant conifer seedlings. Forest Service officials say they believe roughly 20-49 percent of the timber sale areas will naturally regenerate to aspen.
In addition to getting a healthier forest, the project has the potential to create economic benefits. Sanpete may see the most positive impact of all the counties, Beagley says Local companies of Satterwhite Log Homes, Sanpete Shavings Supply and Timberline Lumber will be able to get lumber for their businesses at a great deal.
The logging companies that cut and remove the timber will benefit from plentiful contracts, and their employee ranks are expected to swell.
Even the turkey industry could benefit because the wood chips and shavings that growers use for bedding in turkey sheds can be produced from affordable lumber.
For the logging trucks to take out the logs, they have to be able to reach them. So another benefit will be the improvements in roads and trails in timber sale areas.
Beagley says nearly 12 miles of Skyline Drive, from Spring City to Ephraim, will be improved. Long after the sales are over, anyone who travels that stretch of Skyline will reap the benefits. The income the Forest Service receives from timber sales will be poured entirely back into replanting, Beagley says.
To achieve project goals, Forest Service officials say they must treat 21,367 acres of inventoried roadless areas and 14,700 acres outside of inventoried roadless areas.
About 153 miles of temporary road will need to be built outside of inventoried roadless areas, but no new temporary roads would be constructed in inventoried roadless areas.
A big supporter of the Canyons Project plan, Beagley says one of the reasons he took the job as the Sanpete District Ranger was because he wanted to be involved in such a landscape-scale timber sale project.
An environmental assessment has been completed on the project with a finding of no significant impact. To view the environmental assessment, draft decision notice and finding of no significant impact, see https:// go.usa.gov/xmBQP.
People who submitted written comments during the scoping period/opportunity for public comment will have 30 days to object to the project. If no objections are received, a final decision can be made within five days of the objection period ending.
If objections are received, the objection reviewing officer has 30 days to respond in writing to all pending objections. The decision cannot be signed until the responsible official from the Forest Service has addressed any concerns and/or instructions identified by the objection reviewing officer.
“The Canyons Project is a critical step in restoring the Manti-La Sal National Forest to a healthier condition,” says Forest Supervisor Ryan Nehl. “By removing this dead spruce, we can improve vital community watersheds and reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire.”