Phil Lyman: Salt Lake City and County need to protect their watersheds from fire danger

Pledge to work with Outdoor Retailers to protect the environment should start on the East Bench.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fire crews remain on the scene where three homes were destroyed by wildfire in Bountiful along the East bench that grew to 150 acres early Friday morning, Aug. 30, 2019.

According to recent news reports, the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show is returning to Utah. This, of course, is good news for the outdoor industry and the state of Utah.

According to Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer Senior Vice President & Show Director, OR has “a strong relationship with Salt Lake City and a committed partner in Mayor Erin Mendenhall, whose values align with ours.”

Both Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Wilson enthusiastically welcomed OR back to Salt Lake, touting the city and county’s environmental stewardship.

Wilson proudly proclaimed, “Salt Lake County has led in environmental protection and conservation.” While Mendenhall announced, “We share the same enthusiasm, appreciation, and reverence for these great natural assets … we’re uniting our momentum to make change.”

These leaders’ enthusiastic commitment to environmental stewardship is commendable.

Might I suggest that Ms. Nicholson, along with Mayors Wilson and Mendenhall, start with Salt Lake County’s east bench and the Salt Lake City controlled Wasatch Canyons as they channel their unity and momentum to “make change”?

According to The Utah State Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2019, Section 11.2 Table 4, page 259, Salt Lake County leads Utah with 60% percent of its lands at high risk of wildfires.

A recent report places Utah at the top of several western states for homes at risk of wildfires. As Salt Lake County leads Utah in high-risk wildfire lands, does this place Salt Lake County as one of the highest in the nation for wildfire danger?

Unfortunately, not only are thousands of homes, multiple ski resorts and untold outdoor recreation guests in grave danger of raging wildfires, but so are Salt Lake City’s precious watersheds. These vital lands, nestled in the heart of some of the nation’s most extreme wildfire danger, provide culinary water to hundreds of thousands of Salt Lake County and City residents.

A recent report published by the American Geophysical Union says, “Wildfires have well-documented effects on the quality of surface waters, and although wildfires can destroy forest ecosystems within days, changes in DOM (Dissolved organic matter) quantity and composition can persist in burned landscapes for decades.”

Salt Lake County has its land-use authority, a General Plan and its Resource Management Plan to address forest health and implement Best Management Practices. In addition, Salt Lake City has the enormous power of “Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction”, which was granted them by the Utah Legislature over 100 years ago, to protect its watersheds.

Between Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, their close working relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, and now the exciting collaborative efforts of OR, we look forward to these organizations leading by example to ensure public safety, wildfire prevention and mitigation and healthy watersheds for all.

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) In this Jan. 28, 2019, photo, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, is shown on the floor floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.

State Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, represents District 73 in the Utah House of Representatives.