Wildfires and watershed – Parley’s Canyon is mismanaged
A recent KSL article reports on ongoing forest thinning activities in Parleys Canyon aimed at reducing wildfire risks. This practice brings up concerns about the ecological impact of selective vegetation removal and the effectiveness of thinning in mitigating wildfires.
“Crews already thinned about 262 acres of oak brush on Salt Lake City land, as well as 70 acres of public land managed by the Forest Service during work that began in the fall. The team is slated to continue thinning an additional 128 acres of Salt Lake City land and 194 acres of federally-managed land, as crews move toward Lambs Canyon by the Salt Lake-Summit county border,” the article writes on the extent of the project.
Thinning the forest to “restore” forest health is no more appropriate than thinning your lungs to improve breathing. The paradigm that trees compete against each other for survival is an anachronism. Trees help each other survive stresses by sharing resources like water and nutrients through underground “mycorrhizal networks,” (mazes of communal roots, fungi, and bacteria). Thinning amputates these networks leaving remaining trees more vulnerable to disease, pest attack, and drought, shortening their life span.
According to the KSL article, the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities is involved in the project. Laura Briefer, the director, stated that it’s crucial for the protection of Salt Lake City’s watershed. Wildfires pose a serious potential risk to the water supply.
UPHE’s Dr. Brian Moench previously touched on the relationship between fire mitigation strategies and water supply in an op-ed in the Deseret News. He wrote, “Newer research shows even short-term increased streamflow is not a consistent result of deforestation. In some cases it actually decreases stream flow, in particular, in more arid forests like in the Southwest. To increase stream flow significantly would require essentially denuding our forests, and as the climate crisis advances, the drought continues and temperatures rise, even any benefit from clear cut logging will be lost.”
If we are really concerned about reducing wildfires and protecting our watershed, we must address climate change. Utah has not made mitigating climate change a priority in where it matters most – reducing dependence on fossil fuels and reducing emissions. Instead, the state has decided to prioritize private businesses profits over the public health of residents.
Even if thinning was an effective fire mitigation strategy, it would be a bandaid on a bullet hole.