Taking care of a forest is a complicated balance of managing forest health, human impact, and interagency collaborations. Within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, there are multiple governing agencies working together to manage an area that takes up 2.2 million acres.
The US Forest Service works on a variety of forest health projects such as managing invasive species like the Mountain Pine Beetle, carrying out prescribed burns, and controlling herds grazing throughout the year.
According to the US Forest Service website, “The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests utilize a variety of fire management tools including fire suppression, fire prevention, and fuels management. The use of these tools, in combination, enhances protection of forest resources, homes, and adjacent lands.”
The Mirror Lake Corridor Hazard Tree Removal
Have you driven into the Uinta Forest and asked yourself what is going on with all those piles of dead wood along the Mirror Lake Corridor? Have you wondered if the piles are going to be removed or burned? Well I got the answers from a bona-fide park ranger.
Daniel P. Jaurequi is a park ranger for US Forest Service. The end of his email signature reads, “Caring for the land and serving people.” He has worked for the forest service for 25 years—starting in 1997 as a seasonal employee and becoming a biologist two years later. In 2017 Jaurequi was made a district ranger.
He explained that the purpose of the Mirror Lake Corridor Hazard Tree Removal project was to strategically place vegetation treatments on the landscape, “These strategic locations are meant to ‘break-up’ the continuity of the landscape for three main purposes: to reduce the intensity, size, and duration of wildfires on the landscape, allow for the use of prescribed fire by the Forest Service, and to provide safer opportunities for fire fighter engagement.”
According to him, the primary challenge for this specific project was building capacity to increase the pace and scale. He explained that working with the state and other partners like the National Wild Turkey Federation had a really positive impact on achieving the project’s initial goals and targets.
By breaking up the areas that are likely to burn, they might prevent larger fires from getting hot and big enough to destroy wide areas of the forest. This technique that fights fire with fuel treatments is used during large fires but also throughout the year in preparation for fire season.
The indigenous people of this land used controlled burns for millennia to control different plant species, wildlife, and crops. They used fire to promote ecological diversity and reduce the risk of what we now call ‘crown fires’, which can kill trees past the point of producing life again.
The Piles and Protecting Watersheds
During the project, the dead wood was cleared and piled roughly eight feet high and eight feet wide. The piles will likely be burned during the fall/winter season or early spring by Forest Service personnel. The larger-diameter wood that came from bigger trees was strategically placed into ‘decks’ that will be sold to create revenue for the US Forest Service.
Know that it is not illegal to remove wood from the piles, but if you do remove wood make sure that you build the pile back up. “Our district burned nearly 50,000 piles last season, so efficiency is very important to the operation. As a part of our operation, we are having the contractors leave larger logs outside of the piles for campers and firewood permit holders to take and use,” Ranger Jaurequi explained.
The Mirror Lake Corridor Hazard Tree Removal was part of the ongoing Upper Provo Project targeting a 91,000 acre watershed. The project has been ongoing since 2015 and has treated over 20,000 acres through vegetation work and prescribed fires. A large portion of Utah’s population depends on this watershed for culinary purposes and as a secondary water source for irrigating residential gardens and landscaping.
The Big Picture
Given the large scale of the project, many individuals and state agencies worked towards its success—including the collaboration of Forest Service Specialists, the State of Utah via the Watershed Restoration Initiative, the National Wild Turkey Federation, biologists, and contractors.
Projects of this nature have occurred for years but on a much smaller scale. “In recent years through partnerships and shared stewardship the district has been able to increase the pace and scale of these projects,” Jaurequi explained.
Moving forward, the goal is to strategically remove the vegetation from certain areas and then maintain those treatments via natural or prescribed fires. This project is focusing on vegetation treatments along the Mirror Lake Highway and up near Washington/Trail Lake this season. They will continue with efforts in 2023 in Murdock Basin and near Lost Creek Lake.
“This project is one of the highest priority projects on the Forest and is important to the State of Utah. It has been a success not only in the accomplishments of the treatments on the ground, but a very large success in meeting the goals in a formal Shared Stewardship Agreement between the Forest Service and State of Utah,” Ranger Jaurequi reflected on the project’s success.
Citizens can Make a Difference Too!
As the fire season intensifies and grows longer, Firefighters are often pulled away to other fires around the state and country. In light of that, this season a new volunteer-run wildland fire unit was created in Park City and will most likely be put into action this year. They have passed their training and certification requirements and are on stand by.
Park Ranger Jaurequi, his team, and many others will continue to work on this and other projects in highly visible areas along the Mirror Lake Corridor. The Forest Service asks for public patience and understanding if some areas have to be temporarily closed due to the treatments.
Besides improving forest health and mitigating fire risk, dead tree removal can also help create really fun glades for backcountry ski touring. When avalanche danger is raised or if you’re just in the mood for a casual tour, low-angle glades can offer safe touring options. The Mirror Lake Corridor has many options for enjoyable ski touring. Though closed during the winter, UT SR 150 remains open for snowmobiles, skiers, and other winter recreationalists.
When you’re getting ready to go skiing in the backcountry, make sure you have all your avalanche safety gear and that you’ve completed an avalanche safety course. For remote areas like the Uintas, a larger ski pack that can fit some extra layers, food, and water in addition to your safety gear is a must. Be ready for deep snow! That means wide touring skis and powder baskets on your poles. Follow the links below to get your backcountry skiing gear sorted this winter.
By Calindra Revier, Content Writer
Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative
Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Fire Management