Letter: Why should Utahns pay for experimental land management, for the benefit of a private company?

(106 Reforestation) This image from a promotional video shows how a Utah company called 106 Reforestation bulldozes overgrown forests on the Tavaputs Plateau with the hope of restoring aspen that have been crowded out by subalpine fir and other conifers. The Utah Legislature has appropriated $4.4 million dollars since 2019 to promote the experimental forest treatments as a way to enhance stream flows.

Utah legislators might once again squander our tax dollars for one private company’s experimental and potentially destructive land management practices. The owner of the misleadingly named “106 Reforestation,” Mike Siaperas, recently requested $700,000 from the Utah Legislature to fund his private operation. Siaperas’s “reforestation” consists of roller-felling, which involves dragging huge chains between two bulldozers through mature forests.

Siaperas, along with lobbyist Don Peay, has repeatedly claimed that roller-felling reduces fire risk by reducing fuels, generates more water, and “restores” forests. The best available science suggests these claims are unverified at best, and self-serving lies at worst. Roller-felling creates dry slash piles, i.e., tinder. While removing trees may allow more snow to accumulate in winter, that snow will also melt earlier and run off the land faster once the trees have been mowed down. Further, any additional water in summer may occur solely due to soil compaction, which reduces infiltration, increases erosion, and clogs streams with sediments. Siaperas’s claims just don’t hold water.

This is not the first time Utah legislators have cozied up to 106 Reforestation. The Legislature has already spent more than $3.4 million of state funds on Siaperas’ experimental roller-felling. The Legislature also mandated a study by Utah State University on roller-felling’s effectiveness, but prohibited scientists from comparing roller-felling with other management practices that have quantifiable and known benefits, such as thinning or prescribed burning. Why should we pay for experimental land management, for the benefit of a private company and individual, and then prohibit an objective evaluation of its effectiveness?

If you value healthy forests, soils, and streams, or just responsible public spending, please write to your legislators. Tell them that if Mike Siaperas wants to take a hike, or a dozer ride, he should do it on his own dime.

Alex Anderson, Logan

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