Utah receives federal funding to help reduce risk of wildfires

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SALT LAKE CITY — Fighting fire with fire is one way to try to keep Utah's forests safer.

It is the type of work being done to the Fishlake National Forest.

"It's very important," said Ben Newburn, fire manager with the U.S. Forest Service's Intermountain Region. "This is another example of a place where we can lean in and effect changes to a way those outcomes will happen when we do get a wildfire."

It is part of a $66 million package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce wildfire risk, protect water quality and improve forest health across the nation as part of President Joe Biden's Investing in America program.

Of that, $3.5 million was approved for the U.S. Forest Service's Intermountain Region, which includes Utah.

Not only is the Fishlake National Forest getting federal funding, but also the Ashley National Forest and the Vernal Municipal Watershed Project.

It is all aimed at reducing fire fuels, helping wildlife habitat and even seeding areas to help restore forest health.

With the Vernal Municipal Watershed Project, the goal is to safeguard the water supply for Vernal and surrounding communities from the effects of wildfire.

The project will also help habitat for wildlife and fish, and restore rangeland environments.

The Ashley National Forest project is for nearly 4,000 acres on the South Slope boundary with the Ute Indian Tribe to also protect culturally sensitive sites, fuels reduction, forest health treatments and wildlife habitat enhancement.

The Fishlake National Forest will complete mastication and seeding to reduce the risk of wildfire and restore forest conditions.

"It will be a combination of treatments," Newburn said. "Mostly vegetation oriented, prescribed fire, some thinning and some mastication work as well."

Reducing future wildfire risks

All the work is being done to mitigate wildfire risks for the future.

However, fire managers across the state said this year they are already seeing conditions they do not like.

"We are very concerned this year that we have a lot of potential for a very busy fire season," Newburn said.

Numbers are already up this year compared to the past two years when it comes to wildfires.

But the number that is even more concerning is those wildfires that are human-caused.

According to Utah Fire Info, 257 of the 327 wildfires this year are human-caused.

In 2023, 96 of the 155 wildfires were human-caused. In 2022, there were 269 wildfires of which 216 were human-caused.

Hotter than normal temperatures this early in the year are leading to drier conditions sooner.

"Having the public aware of the fire situation and what's going on as they go out and recreate in our great state is very important," Newburn said.


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Alex Cabrero
Alex Cabrero is an Emmy award-winning journalist and reporter for KSL-TV since 2004. He covers various topics and events but particularly enjoys sharing stories that show what's good in the world.


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