The US Forest Service has received a lot of criticism over the years for their handling of fire. From the policy of not letting fire burn to allowing burns in some places, there has been confusion by the public. There have been prescribed burns that have flamed out of control and caused fires to burn larger areas than intended. The forest service recently held a meeting in Castle Dale to inform the public of a proposed controlled burn in the Graben area. Prescribed burns have been successful in the Pines and on Ferron Mountain in recent years.
The forest service explained its plans for the Graben prescribed burn this season and the following seasons in the area north of the Reeder Canyon Drainage and south of the Potters Canyon Drainage. The burn is being called Graben Rx and will take place when weather and fuel conditions are most favorable, sometime in late June or early July. A number of specialists from the forest service discussed the burn plans and answered questions regarding the prescribed burn and the use of fire as a management tool. Brandon Jensen is the project manager and can be contacted at 435-636-3599.
One of the purposes of the prescribed burn is for aspen regeneration. Aspen are popular trees. They regenerate from shoots and suckers and seldom from seeds. Most aspens in the forest are 100 years old and the suckers die. As aspen age they need a disturbance to send up new shoots. Fire has been used to encourage this regeneration. Conifers are well known for taking over aspen stands. Aspen grow rapidly. Aspen is having a hard time in places where conifers are taking over. Fire cannot burn too hot or it will destroy the aspen roots. The conifer will be cut and removed before the prescribed burn. Cutting old aspen also regenerates new aspen. Sometimes fencing is used to give the young aspen seedlings a chance as they are a popular food for grazing cattle as well as wildlife. Another danger with the loss of aspen is the loss of watershed, wildlife forage, grazing and scenic value.
The Graben burn is being initiated because conifer and spruce have invaded the aspen stands. Also in Black Canyon a remnant aspen stand has been choked out. Having aspen in the area will benefit the wildlife, aid in fire suppression and will protect the forage.
Healthy aspen stands are better for wildlife and the fawns and calves will be larger and stronger. Large conifer stands are more susceptible to larger and hotter fires. When the aspen aren't doing well the wildlife is affected.
In old aspen stands there is very little regeneration. The ideal situation is to have aspen of all age classes in the aspen stand. There are many places on the Manti which contains aspen of one age class only.
Soil is also more healthy in an aspen stand. When conifers increase there is less yield for the water production because conifer use more water. The soil is less productive in conifer stands because the base soil is more acidic. It was pointed out if you check out a conifer stand you will notice that there isn't growth under the trees.
There isn't much said about water shed health and the health of the trees, but it is an important factor. More emphasis needs to be placed on water shed health as it pertains to aspen regeneration.
In some hard to reach areas logging isn't an option and with a prescribed burn there is more control. Prescribed burns are less damaging to the soil. Prescribed burns usually take place in June or July when the firefighting crews are more readily available should a fire get out of control. Hot smoke can also damage soil by penetrating into the soil. The hotter the fire the more coating occurs and water will only penetrate the first inch of soil and then it will bead up and run off. If the controlled burns are completed when there is more moisture in the soil it is better. It is cheaper to do prescribed burns than to wait until a major fire starts on its own due to build up of fuels. Prescribed burns are doing their job if they burn in a mosaic pattern.
Prescribed burns avoid areas where sage brush is present because that is such an important source of food for wildlife. Prescribed burns sometimes burn for a month.
The prescribed burn will be lit with a helitorch, there will be some hand ignition as well. The area to be burned will be closed to the public during the burn. The Graben project will be completed incrementally during the next three years. The forest service expects rapid regeneration after the burn. It's important not to let the fire get so hot as to burn the seed source. The Jungle burn was completed three-four years ago and the new aspen are three-four feet tall there now. Other areas which have been treated are also seeing success. There are aspen regenerating out of the mulch piles in some areas. In Joe's Valley a buffer zone was created around the subdivision and pinion and juniper were removed with the bullhog.
Prescribed burn areas recover more quickly than natural fires and there is less soil erosion. There has been some erosion due to the Ty Fork fire last summer. There is usually regrowth even the year the burn takes place, the key is not to let the fire get too hot.
Wind conditions as well as moisture content of the soil are all taken into consideration before the dates for the prescribed burn is determined. The forest service consults with the weather service to pick a suitable time frame of two weeks with the right weather conditions. There are 2,720 acres involved in this three year project.
The forest service wants people to be aware conditions will be smoky in the area and roads will be closed during the burn. The benefits of this fire will be to reduce wildfires in the area and benefit wildlife and livestock grazing. Potters Pond campground will be closed during the burning.
The dates for the Graben burn have not been set yet. The project may be delayed due to fire fighters being busy with other fires throughout the west.
All aspects of the controlled burn will be evaluated before the dates are set.