Controlled burn plans in works for 3 Utah national forests

Volunteer wildland firefighters from multiple agencies use drip torches to start a prescribed burn within Fish Lake National Forest, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. The day's weather conditions of overcast skies and high relative humidity forced the cancelation of the burn after the sagebrush, juniper, pinyon pine and gambel oak would not catch fire. Utah's national forests are ramping up their use of controlled burning to improve forest health. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — For decades, the U.S. Forest Service’s practice of putting out wildfires was a huge success. But the policy backfired, setting the stage for the massive destructive wildfires that have flared with increasing regularity across the West.

While putting out fires remains a priority, deliberately setting them is becoming more common, especially in Utah, as a more cost-effective and ecologically sound strategy for fixing forest health, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The pitfalls of fire suppression are evident across Monroe Mountain in central Utah. The plateau’s historically abundant aspen stands are disappearing under thickets of fir and other conifers that have long impeded fresh aspen growth that should be succeeding the aging trees, but aren’t.

In the hopes of restoring the historic role of fire, at least three Utah national forests plan to sharply expand the use of “prescribed fire” to nurse sickly forests back to health.