GARFIELD COUNTY – A resolution declaring a state of emergency was approved at Wednesday’s meeting of the Garfield County Commission seeking to prohibit prescribed burns by the U.S. Forest Service.
The state of emergency was declared “as a result of drought conditions and excessive fuel loading,” according to the County Commission’s resolution 2014-3. It places a moratorium on prescribed fires in Garfield County and encourages mechanical treatment.
It also states concern that smoke conditions attendant to prescribed burns create health hazards for the residents of Garfield County.
“That’s the welfare of our people in Garfield County,” Commissioner Leland Pollock said.
Prescribed fires are also a disaster for the tourism industry, Pollock said. There is too large of a risk for the fire to get out of control due to high winds in the area.
The resolution states:
No prescribed burning of Dixie National Forest lands in Garfield County shall occur without the written concurrence of the Garfield County Commission.
The commissioner said that mechanical treatment should be done instead of prescribed burning, and that a local sawmill could complete the job at minimal cost.
“The idea is to reach a resolution where things can be done that benefit both sides,” County Engineer Brian Bremner said.
The approved resolution has been sent to the regional forester, the supervisor for Dixie National Forest, and rangers for the Cedar City, Powell, Escalante, and Fremont districts.
Mechanical treatment is an effective treatment that can be used in some situations, but not for all, said Joe Harris, public affairs officer for Dixie National Forest.
“One of the treatment methods we have out there is mechanical, and that’s for flatter ground,” he said. “Anything over 30 percent slope, for hydrological reasons, we can’t put heavy equipment on there.”
Some areas need to have prescribed fire, Harris said, or it would be impossible to treat the area, noting that some of the current projects on the books aren’t analyzed for mechanical treatment but for prescribed fire.
“There is always some amount of risk with prescribed fires,” Harris said, “but we have a prescription that we have to meet. If we are outside of that prescription we’re not going to light that fire. If we’re in that prescription then prescribed fire becomes an option for us.”
Since the resolution was approved, the Forest Service has agreed to not go forward with any prescribed fires in the area until both parties can meet and agree on what is best for the area.
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