Forest Service considers harvesting, selling timber burned in Brian Head Fire

Vegetation is charred in the town of Brian Head where a wildfire started two weeks prior, Iron County, Utah, July 1, 2017 | Photo by Scott Young, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Much of the wood from the trees burned in this summer’s devastating Brian Head Fire is still useful, and the U.S. Forest Service is proposing a timber salvage along roads in the burn area.

In this file photo, vegetation is charred just outside the town of Brian Head where a wildfire started two weeks prior, Iron County, Utah, July 1, 2017 | Photo by Scott Young, Cedar City News / St. George News

Officials from the Cedar City Ranger District say standing dead trees comprising mostly ponderosa pine and incidental amounts of spruce, fir and aspen have merchantable value if they are harvested before succumbing to insects and disease.

The project proposal also cites public health and safety concerns, as some of the trees are along highly traveled routes and may produce road hazards.

The first phase of the project falls within approximately 250 acres of Dixie National Forest in Iron and Garfield counties. The project area is located southeast of Brian Head and northwest of Panguitch Lake along state Route 143 and Forest Service Road 050.

The salvage project is under review by the Cedar City Ranger District. The project is expected to go forward after an analysis concludes Dec. 1.

“The first analysis addresses the first couple hundred acres, but there will be more coming later – maybe a thousand-plus acres,” Richard Jaros of the Cedar City Ranger District said.

The analysis will determine the project’s potential impacts on wildlife, fish, rare plants, threatened, endangered and sensitive species, cultural resources and other resources.

The district accepted public comments on the proposal in early November.

So far, comments have indicated support for the proposal, Jaros said, adding that some concerns were expressed regarding possible effects on the environment, including the impact on wildlife and hydrology.

In this file photo, crews remove timber blocking a road during the Brian Head Fire, Utah, July 2, 2017 | Photo courtesy InciWeb, Cedar City News / St. George News

Salvage activities would be accomplished with minimal road construction using skidders and fellers, with landings constructed in pre-existing clearings or natural openings where possible.

After completing the harvest, the area would be hand-planted with ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and Engelman spruce where insufficient natural growth occurs.

The timber is viable for up to two years after being burned.

“If it goes longer than two years, it changes the product,” Jaros said. “It may not be saw logs after that point, but they may use it for some other use – purchasers may buy it just for firewood.”

If approved, the salvage project will be performed in phases, with the first phase expected to begin in early 2018.

The human-caused Brian Head Fire started in mid-June and burned through more than 70,000 acres, forced around 1,500 people from their homes and cost about $34 million to fight before it was contained in July.

Robert Ray Lyman, the 60-year-old man accused of accidentally sparking the massive fire, was charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless burning and burning without a permit in July.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • Richard November 14, 2017 at 7:22 am

    it is good that officials are recognizing that the wood can be utilized.. There are lot of older folks still willing to use the wood for heating their homes. Fire wood permits would be picked up pretty fast for this resource… R. Berrett of Dammeron Valley..

  • Caveat_Emptor November 14, 2017 at 7:49 am

    My guess is this action could accelerate the revegetation process that our kids would enjoy the benefit of in the future.
    If the harvesting could be coupled with a general fuels reduction, that could be a huge improvement to the status quo.

    A true optimist would hope that success here, could be transferred to other National Forests that have suffered fire damage. As pointed out the window is only a couple years, but the timber could be milled and sold. Frankly, the British Columbia foresters figured this out years ago, and have been using this technique successfully.

    Pine Bark Beetle damage is widespread in Western North America. Get used to even wider vistas of dead trees, and their removal will reduce some of the potential fuel for the next huge wildfire.

    • Real Life November 14, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Utah can send it’s resident idiot with weed torch in hand to help speed the process.

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