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"Those are pretty wild, roadless mountains," he said, "and they should remain that way."
But the Uintas also have large stands of dead pines. Utah State University forest science professor Michael Jenkins said timber sales in the past created a more vigorous patchwork of age classes, with young trees better able to fend off beetles. Across the region, he said, fire suppression is a real factor.
Online Read the seriesThis story continues The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of “Our Dying Forests.” For previous articles, photos and a video in the award-winning series, go to sltrib.com/topics/dyingforests
"Many of our forests are over-mature because of the lack of fire in the system for the last 100 years, so we have many more older trees, higher fuel loads, increased mortality."
More thinning, he said, could help prevent big infernos.
Fire threat from beetle-killed trees is situational. New research suggests red needles clinging to trees — for the first several years after death — greatly increase the chance of fast-moving "crown" fires moving along the treetops, Jenkins said. After the needles fall, though, there’s less fuel and potentially less danger than in a living forest.
Blazzard and his wife, Jackie, showed a green area in the Soapstone Basin that they logged during the past decade or so — half a century after Blazzard’s dad cut in the same place. Blazzard envied his father, who axed more of the large trees that might be old and susceptible because he wasn’t constrained by today’s restrictions.
"He took away the food for the beetles," he said.
One large spruce rising next to a stump showed signs of beetle infestation. Loggers would have taken it down before that happened, but forest managers hadn’t marked it for removal.
"They should’ve been more aggressive," Jackie Blazzard said.
Still, the area boasts more live trees than the surrounding forest and has young trees springing up.
Schramm, the forest ranger, said his district will offer another 300-acre sale in the Soapstone area next year to remove beetle-killed trees.
The Farm Bureau organized Friday’s tour in part to support rural economies, including those that rely on Utah’s remaining sawmills. Fire is one way to regenerate forests, said John Keener, adviser to the bureau’s forestry committee. But it doesn’t pay bills.
"Those that believe in management of the land," Keener said, "put a pretty healthy value on using the product that the forest produces."
Michael Mower, Gov. Gary Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, said the administration agrees that saving small-town mills is a healthy prescription for forests and towns.
The governor is working with the congressional delegation in seeking more timber for mills.
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