Multi-use policies can prevent fires like Brian Head

Utahns should be tired of charred trees, black smoke, and forest mismanagement. The Brian Head Fire has grown to over 50,000 acres with no end in sight.

Unfortunately, false choices in public lands policy are putting Utah public lands in harm’s way.  Land management is much more than a choice between locking up public lands or privatizing them. This false choice masks reality, stifles collaboration, restricts dialogue and prevents us from reaching sensible and creative public land management solutions. It’s time we cut through the rhetoric and acknowledge the invaluable role multiple-use policies play in bettering our public lands– especially when it comes to risks of wildfire. For example:  

  • For years the Utah Farm Bureau has argued that grazing livestock is a valuable and proven tool to reduce the risk of wildfire. Targeted grazing removes the fine grasses and vegetation that easily catch fire and provide ignition sources for heavier fuels.   
  • Responsible logging practices thin forests and mitigate the risk of severe fires.
  • On-the-ground rancher-run rangeland fire protection associations mobilize as first responders – often extinguishing blazes long before federal fire crews arrive. In 2015, 146 Idaho rangeland protection firefighters fought 56 wildfires.
  • The roads built and improved by logging companies provide access for fire crews to move trucks, personnel and equipment into hotspots speeding up firefighting efforts.  

It would be almost impossible to quantify how many watersheds, how much wildlife, and how many acres of Utah’s forests these activities have saved over the years. Environmental stewardship and economic development like grazing and timber harvest are not mutually exclusive.

Utah’s public lands are a garden and must be weeded, trimmed and pruned regularly to ensure their health and vitality. When tended properly, they provide us with abundant recreational opportunities, secure watersheds and offer unparalleled beauty. But when neglected, they darken our skies, decimate wildlife, and endanger our rural communities.

When we actually step back from the bombast and view multiple-use policies for what they truly are, we see their essential role in protecting Utah’s forests. Rigid ideological thinking shouldn’t guide public land management. By framing confining every management decision in terms of “either/or” we lose out on opportunities to protect our public lands, promote recreational opportunities, and meet the needs of rural communities.

As the Brian Head fire rages, it is time to have a serious discussion about how multiple use land management policy protects our public lands. Let’s think outside the box, and realize that everyone can win when sound principles and policies guide land management.

Matthew Anderson is a policy analyst at the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.