SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is planning to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for permission to thin forests, clear out dead trees and do controlled burnings on protected areas that account for nearly half of national forest lands in the state.
The Republican governor is seeking to adjust how the U.S. Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule is applied in the state to allow for better state influence over national forests following a particularly brutal wildfire season, The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week.
The rule protects listed national forest lands that do not have roads from some activities that would require new roads. The rule covers more than 6,500 square miles of forest lands in Utah.
The state’s effort is intended to give forest managers the flexibility they need for projects to make forests more resilient and protect watersheds, air quality and wildlife habitat, Herbert spokesman Paul Edwards said.
“In no way is this a backdoor effort to create ATV trails through national forest. There is no hidden agenda to clear-cut swaths of forest,” Edwards said. “This does not abandon the roadless rule. It modifies it to meet the needs of specific locales.”
Conservationists see the proposal as a ploy to use wildfires to open the lands to commercial logging.
“They are just using the threat of wildfire as a tool to get what they want,” said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons. “The state is going to open up roadless areas to activities that are going to exacerbate fire, not diminish it over time. They will be fragmenting these areas, which would make them less resilient, and that’s what their own map suggests.”
State officials plan to submit their petition to revise the roadless rule in the spring. The Department of Agriculture would conduct an environmental analysis if Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue accepts it.