ENVIRONMENT

National forest officials thin out thousands of acres to reduce wildfire danger

Sep 19, 2023, 6:45 PM | Updated: Sep 20, 2023, 8:48 am

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah — U.S. Forest Service officials are working on thinning more than 140,000 acres of national forests in Utah, all in order to protect against catastrophic wildfires.

Because fire season allows workers to catch up and prepare for the upcoming dryer season, thousands of acres of forestry are being thinned out in the Dixie National Forest.

“The type of fire behavior we’ll get in something like this will be a lot more weakened,” said Kevin Wright, Dixie National Forest supervisor.

Wright says the area of Pine Valley is being targeted in part to create better protection for the nearby New Harmony community but also because of how much the area has become overgrown.

“The treatments that we’re doing on this landscape, we’re trying to mimic what a natural fire would do, and so, it is a form of restoration that we’re trying to do,” Wright said.

Workers thinning out the forestry with heavy equipment in Dixie National Forest.

Workers thinning out the forestry with heavy equipment in Dixie National Forest. (KSL TV)

The U.S. Forest Service believes decades of putting out wildfires as quickly as possible has gotten us to where we are today, with the head of the agency declaring a wildfire crisis.

This effort comes as part of about $500 million going toward similar projects across 21 landscapes in the western U.S. Utah is getting about $160 million of that funding.

“This doesn’t eliminate the risk of fire, but reduces that risk and changes fire behavior on the landscape, so it provides a lot better opportunity for us and our firefighters to mitigate and put out those fires,” Wright said.

However, some environmental groups are pushing back against the policy, claiming that in some studies, fires moved more quickly through thinned-out areas.

Wright says in their first-hand experience, it gives firefighters and property owners a better chance of survival.

“Instead of having like a fire that produces 10 to 20 feet flame lengths, we have a fire that produces 3 to 5 feet, and it’s a lot easier for our firefighters to fight those types of fires,” he said.

Wright says it’s important enough to forest managers that nearly 20,000 acres have been treated so far in Utah. Another 135,000 acres will be treated within the next six to nine years.

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National forest officials thin out thousands of acres to reduce wildfire danger