By Lane Stilson
Uinta National Forest officials are planning a prescribed burn during the first few weeks of October for the Halls Fork area, which is approximately 21 miles east of Provo.
The project will last one to three days and will treat 2,408 acres of national forest. Residents in Spanish Fork, Springville and Wallsburg may experience some temporary air quality degradation, but Provo residents are unlikely to experience any air quality problems.
“Provo residents may see some haziness, but the effects will be very minimal,” said Loyal Clark, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
Despite the likely haziness in parts of Utah County, the air quality will remain within the State Department of Air Quality clean air standards.
The prescribed burn will only take place if weather forecasts allow for good smoke dispersal from population centers, Clark said. The service also takes into consideration air temperature, relative humidity and fuel moisture when prescribing burns. If the optimal conditions are not present for the burn, officials will reschedule it for next spring or later.
Prescribed burns serve two main purposes: first, the projects help clear out areas with dead vegetation, giving way to new plants on which animals can feed. Second, they help reduce the risk and severity of catastrophic wildfires, protecting residents and property.
Still, some ecosystems that depend on fire have not been able to evolve naturally.
“We”ve suppressed for so many years that the ecosystem is a little out of whack,” said Riva Duncan, a fuels specialist for the Uinta and the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. “We look at large areas that seem to really need fire reintroduced. The Diamond Fork watershed was analyzed in 1999, and there are several prescribed units that came out of that project.”
The Uinta National Forest has been using prescribed burns as an ecosystem management tool for the past 10 years. Out of the seven prescribed burns, one went afoul. Last fall, a prescribed burn went out of control in American Fork Canyon because of unexpected changes in the jet stream.
Though all prescribed burns have risks associated with them, Duncan said the benefits outweigh the risks and the Forest Service will continue to prescribe burns for certain areas.
“We”ve done a [few burns] in the past, but we”re trying to do more,” Duncan said. “Right now we”re really trying to get the program up and running. This is the only fall burn we plan on doing.”
The Sierra Club, a national environmental group, also supports the Forest Service”s prescribed burn agenda.
“Many forest types have evolved with fires as a part of their regime,” said Mark Clemens, Utah chapter coordinator for the Sierra Club. “So taking fires out of the regime means that in many cases the forest will be unhealthy as a result. The Sierra Club is very much in favor of returning fire as a management tool to those forest types that evolved with fire.”
The only problems the Forest Service encounters when issuing prescribed burns come from the public. Many people have a problem with the smoke and haze from the fire. Duncan sees the problem otherwise.
“Putting up with a couple of days of smoke is much better than putting up with weeks of smoke from a wild fire,” she said. “So if this area burned with a wild fire under windy conditions, then the public would have to put up with a lot more smoke.”