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Utah leaders tour forest management projects

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Alex Gonzalez

(Utah News Connection) Last week federal, state and local leaders visited forest management projects in Utah to examine how land managers are addressing what some are calling the wildfire crisis.

Governor Spencer Cox said it was a "great opportunity" to see how partners are managing Utah forests proactively, which not only improve wildlife habitat, but also helps to ensure better grazing and water quality. Cox noted Utah uses science behind their forest restoration techniques, which has caught the eyes of other states in the region. He argued forest management has become a bipartisan issue. 

"The science is very clear on this one," Cox asserted. "We did get those pushbacks, because you are, you're going in, knocking down trees, you are cutting trees down. You are burning trees. It turns out that is exactly what these forests need."

Cox added many forests actually need disruption to ensure they stay healthy. If they are not, he contended, forests can experience overgrowth which can lead to what he called "catastrophic wildfires." He outlined the combination of mechanical treatments such as logging and prescribed burns end up protecting property, lives and air quality.

Mary Farnsworth, Intermountain regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service, said Utah's Shared Stewardship program is working. She explained it has granted agencies and partners the ability to communicate more effectively, noting it has facilitated federal, state and local cooperation.

Farnsworth added while the initiative was started to address the wildfire problem, it has managed to encompass other areas of focus.

"It's kind of a way of working instead of just these set agreements," Farnsworth observed. "I see us working on shared stewardship on all kinds of things, not just the wildfire crisis, but other things, too. Where do we need to have some communications about recreation management?"

Since the initial Shared Stewardship agreement in 2019, more than $20 million from state and federal appropriations has been invested in active forest management projects on a "cross-boundary and landscape scale." Leaders realized more can be done and would like to see more federal dollars to match state and local investments.