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PRICE — Two decades ago, a massive beetle epidemic killed 90 percent of a spruce species growing in two districts of the Manti-La Sal National Forest in central Utah.
Now, 20 years later, forest authorities will commence an extensive, 15-year forest restoration project to remove over 30,000 acres of those dense and dead spruce trees, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.
Dubbed “The Canyons Project,” the undertaking is an effort to both improve the forest’s condition and prepare for the wildfire seasons ahead.
It was in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the beetles killed nearly the entire population of Engelmann spruce trees in the Ferron-Price and Ephraim districts. And during the last 100 years, the aspen spruce population has also begun to decline, the news release says.
Now, the forest is composed of an unhealthy and potentially dangerous diversity of trees, including 5 percent spruce, 85 percent subalpine fir and 10 percent other species. Subalpine firs are typically smaller trees and during large wildfires can throw embers up to a half mile away, causing the fire to spread even quicker.
Last year, fires in the Manti-La Sal National Forest burned 70,000 acres at a cost of $50 million and the work of hundreds of firefighters.
To avoid similar devastation, forest authorities plan to clear the acres of dead spruce then plant new aspen saplings and seedlings, regenerating the spruce trees and restoring a healthy balance to the forest.
The wood cleared during the restoration project will be sold in a salvage timber sale. If it all sells, about 50 to 60 percent of the dead spruce will be removed.
“The Canyons Project is a critical step in restoring the Manti-La Sal National Forest to a healthier condition,” forest supervisor Ryan Nehl explained in the news release. “By removing these dead spruce, we can improve vital community watersheds and reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire.”
While the Forest Service did not release details about the project’s budget, the news release estimated about 153 miles of temporary road will need to be built to complete the removal. The Forest Service has not, however, found that the project will cause any significant negative impact on the environment.