In March of 2018 the Bureau of Land Management in Utah accomplished its one millionth acre of fuels treatment since 2001 and the inception of the National Fire Plan. This one million acre millstone is a monumental accomplishment.
These fuels treatments have benefited all three tenants of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy; providing for more resilient and resistant landscapes, protecting Fire Adapted Communities, and improving the safe and effective wildfire response within Utah.
With the National Fire Plan, funding levels were increased significantly to address fuels management. With this influx of funding and a separate line item, the Hazardous Fuels Management Program was created. The primary goal of these Fuels Management projects are to address hazardous fuels concerns including:
- Create resistant and resilient landscapes to
- Allow for wildfire ignitions to mimic natural
- Provide for the protection of the Wildland/Urban Interface including Communities-at-Risk, and
- Allow for the safe and effective response to wildfires.
There are many times multiple secondary objectives met from fuels treatments and differ based on site specific variables, some of which include:
- Restore the function of watersheds by providing more available water into the system,
- Improve wildlife habitat for mule deer, elk, and many other species including sage brush obligate species,
- Conserve, maintain, and restore sage brush communities to be resilient towards wildland fire and invasive species at a landsc
- ape scale,
- Reduce encroachment of pinyon pine and juniper and other conifer species into sage steppe habitat,
- Promote the establishment of native and desirable species from seed to limit the occurrence of invasive species and erosion, and
- Improve the density and species diversity for grazing.
Utah Fuels Accomplishments 2001 – 2018
To reach this one million acres, an investment of $165,708,895 in Fuels Management funding was expended. Thus the BLM Fuels Management funding cost per treatment acre was $165 per acre. In addition to the Fuels Management funding, various other BLM funding sources have contributed including Wildlife, Sage-Grouse, Healthy Lands, Forestry, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and other funding. In addition to the BLM Funding, significant collaborative funding has been provided through the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI) and collaborators associated with the Utah Partnership for Conservation and Development. Work completed through the WRI include: 210 projects have been vetted through the partnership with 189 seed mixes for 117 projects from the Great Basin Research Center, with $26,642,412 in BLM Fuels funding, matched with $28,151,048 in WRI partnership funding, along with $2,654,142 of In-Kind funding (contracting, equipment, time, etc. provided by all partners) for a total of 253,542 acres.
Utah Fuels Management Budget Allocations
(FY2000-FY2018 Allocation vs. Spent)
These one million acres are not footprint acres, but actual treatments. For example, there might be an acre where thinning, piling of the slash, and burning of the piles, occur as treatments, thus three acres of treatments would be counted. Breakdown by treatment type include prescribed fire at 167,856 acres (17%), mechanical at 801,657 acres (80%), and other chemical and biological at 28,462 acres (3%).
To reach this accomplishment, 2,045 individual treatments were completed. Along with the implementation of the treatments, fuels had the lead on 699 administrative activities including community assistance, NEPA, cultural surveys, planning, monitoring, and administrative activities. This included completion of numerous large landscape scale Environmental Assessments. To determine treatment effectiveness, 459,329 acres have been monitored following treatments, many times multiple times over the years following a treatment. Research and academia have been involved with these efforts to support the science behind fuel treatments with the following institutions of higher education and other organizations involved: Utah State University, Brigham Young University, Southern Utah University, University of Utah, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Arizona State University, University of Nevada – Reno, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, The Nature Conservancy, and US Geological Survey.
Nearly than 120 individuals within Utah BLM were identified as having a significant contribution towards this accomplishment. In addition, many people indirectly contributed towards this accomplishment within the BLM along with cooperators from other state and federal agencies. Much of this work was contracted with Utah based contractors and other contractors from throughout the western United States. The return on investment from these fuel management projects can be seen in a number of areas. Based on economic analysis by BLM and US Geological Survey economists on several projects within Utah, it is estimated that for every million dollars of investment 17.5 job years were realized, with labor income at a one to one return, and a total economic output of 2.25 times the overall investment. Thus 2,887.5 job years were produced with a total economic output of $371 million. A conservative estimate is that one-third of these economic impacts were experienced in local communities within the vicinity of the treatments.
In addition to the fuels management work and the related required prescribed fire and contract administration qualifications, individuals involved with the Fuels Program serve in various wildfire leadership positions and support the wildfire effort during the summer. These wildfire management positions include Incident Commanders, Division Supervisors, Task Force Leaders, Fire Behavior Analyst, Strategic Operations Planners, Operations Section Chiefs, and SEAT Base Managers.
Within Fuels Treatment Effectiveness Monitoring, Utah continues to report a significant number of intersections and is a lead within the Bureau for reporting Treatment Effectiveness. Overall through FY2017, there have been 2,045 treatments completed within Utah with 240 wildfire intersections being reported that meet Bureau standards. This represents 12% of all fuels treatments having wildfires either start within or burn into the treatment, changing fire behavior and helping in the control of the wildfire.
Utah BLM Fuels Treatments Impacted by Wildfire
2002 – 2017
While other parts of the Great Basin have experienced record levels of acres burn in wildfires, Utah BLM has seen an overall downturn in acres burned. In only one out of the past ten years, more acres burned in wildfires then have been treated through Fuels Management within Utah BLM. For the past ten years, an average of 63,095.5 acres of fuels treatments have occurred while only 34,817.4 acres per year have burned in wildfires While a direct correlation cannot be made, the number of wildfire vs. fuels treatment interactions could be having an impact on this decreased level of wildfire acres within Utah along with environmental factors.
Utah BLM Fuels Treatments vs. Wildfires
2001 – 2017 acres
Looking ahead to the next million acres, Utah BLM will continue to strive to implement quality Fuels Management treatments and activities that will reinforce the Cohesive Strategy while supporting an interdisciplinary effort that benefit other resources throughout Utah. Utah BLM has been fluid and adaptable in adjusting to varying priorities from the Department of Interior and within the Bureau of Land Management; be it having the planning done with shelf ready work for implementation of projects that protect Communities-at-Risk and the Wildland/Urban Interface, impact large landscapes, to protecting identified species at risk, such as Sage-Grouse.
In recent years, our capacity to implement work on the ground in an “all hands, all lands” approach has been bolstered in part due to the great partnerships created throughout the State and in particular, the Utah Partnership for Conservation and Development and it’s Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative. Not only has the Utah WRI provided financial leverage that has increased the acres treated or added seeding to the treatment, but they have also provided the infrastructure used in contracting work including providing personnel to administer contracts during government shut downs, and political and social support to promote efforts within Utah and beyond to Washington, DC. Utilizing contemporary scientific research, partner collaboration and multi-discipline best management practices we are fulfilling the BLM’s mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
Canyon Country – Mitigating Fires, Protecting Communities & Partner Collaboration
The Canyon Country Fire Zone celebrates this monumental one million acres of fuels treatments within BLM Utah. At present Canyon Country Fuels is on track to reach a 100,000 treated acres milestone by the end of this fiscal year. Over the past decade and a half of fuels management projects, the Canyon Country Fuels Program has reduced the probability of high fire prone environments around numerous Communities-at-Risk and critical natural resources. Fuels reduction over these years has transformed from fire mitigation focus to the adaptation of multi-faceted planning in conjunction with various disciplines and collaborative partnerships to achieve a holistic approach to vegetation management. The past 10 years of partner driven fuels projects, collaboration has forged the Utah Water Restoration Initiative (WRI) program which is the most robust program of its kind in the western United States Partnerships with WRI include all Utah land management agencies, and many private land owners, universities, science institutions, and non-governmental organizations. By partnering projects with WRI, the BLM is able to leverage funding and join in projects that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
Through fuels reduction and restoration we have enhanced plant cover diversity and increased functional wildlife habitat for the benefit of game, range, and imperiled species. Overall ecosystem biodiversity has improved for our incredible red rock landscape to various habitats including ponderosa pine stands, aspen, PJ woodlands, sagebrush, grasslands and riparian corridors of the Green, Colorado, Dolores, and San Juan River systems. Wildland/Urban Interface communities in the four counties of southeast Utah are less prone to destructive wildfire and thousands of tons of fuelwood has been provided to the general public and Native American tribes. In addition, our fuels projects have led to the discovery of ancient petroglyphs and fuels funded class three surveys have significantly added to the archaeological record of human occupation. Fuels project planning has also increased geospatial and remote sensing technology for applications to informed project design. Multi-year fuels project monitoring has facilitated our learning process and continues to help our program to not only reduce fire potential but develop projects which create resistant and resilient treatments.
Color Country – Proactive Treatments Create Savings
Utah’s accomplishment of treating one million acres demonstrates BLM’s commitment to restoring Utah’s landscapes on a meaningful scale. Although, the unparalleled, collaborative partnership efforts of Utah’s WRI are just now being realized, the foundation has been built for generations of resilient landscapes, less reactive fire management, and more sustainable land management.
The investment of reducing catastrophic wildfire and protecting Utah’s Communities-at-Risk appears to be paying off as catastrophic wildfire occurrence in southwest Utah is declining as mechanical treatment acres increase. Furthermore, millions of taxpayer dollars are being saved by creating resilient landscapes and Fire Adapted Communities as land managers are hosting less Incident Management Teams and spending less on Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation on BLM administered land since the establishment of the Utah WRI.
This proactive footprint on public land provides better wildlife habitat, in addition to bolstering Utah’s big game hunting opportunities, while reversing decades of decreasing Mule Deer winter range. While significant progress has been made to restore Utah’s landscapes by reducing catastrophic wildfire, pinyon and juniper encroachment, and invasive grasses, much work remains to be accomplished to ensure the best management of America’s public land moving forward.
West Desert District – Collaboration, Partners, and Roadmap to Next Million Acres
The West Desert District BLM is excited and proud of the district’s contribution to BLM Utah’s accomplishment of one million acres of fuels and vegetation treatments. The West Desert District has had a large impact on protecting Communities-at-Risk in northern and central Utah through hazardous fuels removal and management. The district has also been focused on protecting and restoring critical habitat for greater Sage-Grouse, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, and other important species in the northern Great Basin and far western Wyoming Basin. The West Desert District’s efforts are widespread and diverse and have had a positive impact on the resistance to large catastrophic wildfires on several important landscapes throughout the district and the subsequent resilience of these landscapes when a wildfire does occur. The WDD has been able to answer the challenge of creating meaningful change at a spatially significant scale.
While there have been real positive results on the ground from the past two decades, the most significant benefit is from the relationships and collaboration that has been built from planning, design, and implementation of these impressive accomplishments. The partnership with the State of Utah, local communities and other partners, especially through the Utah WRI, have fostered an unprecedented culture of cooperation, problem solving, and financial responsibility in relation to fuels and habitat management. These relationships have allowed the West Desert District’s funding to be leveraged to promote better projects that go beyond fence lines and property boundaries, and engage partners in meaningful and mutually beneficial ways.
Finally, the WDD fuels program is looking forward to the next decade, the next one million acres, and are encouraged by both successes and failures of the past. The WDD has laid the ground work through planning, collaboration, and work force development to continue the mission of protecting communities and landscapes, and promoting resiliency through active management. These touchstones provide the roadmap to continued success and stakeholder engagement; and while tangible results are always meaningful and obvious, the strength of the WDD fuels program has been, and will continue to be, the people that care for the resources and communities that make the West Desert District unique.
Green River District – Success through Collaboration
The Green River District has accomplished 146,000 acres of hazardous fuels treatments, and projecting 160,000 acres by the end of 2018. The program would not have had success without the collaboration of all of our stake holders in northeastern Utah and the Uintah Basin. As a team within the BLM and our partners, we work together with the common objectives being habitat restoration, reduced risk of wildfire, and watershed improvement. The treatments are all designed with common goals in mind. One intention we have for every hazardous fuels treatment is reducing the risk of wildfire and protecting communities. Safety for firefighters and public is our number one priority. With every acre treated, we are reducing the risk of catastrophic fire. Other project goals include habitat restoration and watershed improvement. We are increasing the land’s ability to thrive for generations to come while determined to protect and restore critical habitats for greater Sage-Grouse, mule deer, and other important species in Eastern Utah.
Utah is an amazing state and we are proud to be a part of the efforts to keeping the land in its best form for years to come. We are excited to see what the next decade of fuels treatments bring to our Green River District.