In July 2019, an agreement was signed by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert that focused on the “Shared Stewardship” commitment to protect communities and watersheds (that provide our drinking water) by addressing the threat of catastrophic wildfire on National Forest Systems lands in Utah. A priority area identified by State and Forest Service officials was the canyons east of Salt Lake City, managed by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Salt Lake Ranger District.
Maintaining the resilience of our drinking water is imperative when faced with the challenges of drought, rapid population growth in the Salt Lake Valley, and fire suppression over the last hundred years. Suppressing fires has resulted in heavy accumulations of dead surface fuels (e.g. things that will carry a fire such as dry leaves and twigs, trees, or grass), and unnaturally dense stands of mature trees. Additionally, over the last few decades, trees have died from various diseases and insects such as spruce beetle, mountain pine beetle, and balsam wooly adelgid. These dead and dying trees increase the potential for severe fires that may impact drinking water and other values we care about, like recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, infrastructure, and human life and safety.
The project known as the Parleys & Lambs Canyons Fuel Reduction Projects, was strategically designed to help to reduce the fuel loading in areas along Lambs Canyon road, I-80, and around the communities in lower Lambs and Parley’s Canyons by a collaborative group comprised of the U.S. Forest Service, State of Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Salt Lake City Public Utilities, and Save Our Canyons.
The project is now being implemented with $1.75 million dollars of funding from partners contributions and received through Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative. The accomplishments will include: 500 acres where trees and branches will be cut and piled (later to be burned), 30 acres of trees will be cut and then chip debris, 800 acres of trees will be removed by a tree masticator, and 1,670 acres where smaller trees and branches will be cut and dispersed within the area.
The Salt Lake County Fuels project is a great example of shared stewardship work in action. Through this project, a local collaborative is mitigating wildfire risk to important drinking water resources, building partnerships, and creating opportunities for public education.