Serving Our Communities: BLM Blanding East Fuels Project

Jason Kirks
A UTV drives on a road surrounded by lit burn piles.

Story by Jason Kirks, Canyon Country District Fire and Fuels Manager

After six years of planning and work on the land, the BLM has completed the Blanding East Fuels Project. This project will provide wildlife habitat and support diverse vegetation while also decreasing risks from large wildfires to the City of Blanding, Utah. Keep reading to learn more about the extensive work behind the scenes and the BLM’s use of modeling and scientific information to inform the project.

In 2016, the BLM Canyon Country Fire program started working with a contractor to thin and pile dense pinyon and juniper trees to lessen the effects of possible wildfire near the town of Blanding and to promote balance to the vegetative ecosystem. Areas for thinning were selected using historic imagery from the 1930's to see exactly where pinion and juniper trees had expanded into sagebrush openings. Other scientific models for wildfire probability, vegetation condition class, soil composition, wildlife habitat and tree age-class were all analyzed to design treatment the areas, totaling approximately 1,200 acres. BLM Fuels-team staff field verified the specific locations and conducted preliminary monitoring inventories. A Class III archaeological survey was conducted to protect and avoid cultural resources. 

As a result of environmental analysis, the BLM determined that hand thinning with chainsaws and piling the cut material was the most appropriate method to achieve fire resistance and enhance ecosystem resilience. After the thinning was completed, thousands of piles were created. These piles are usually burned in the winter months with snow covering the landscape to prevent fire from spreading. Many years of drought, lack of snow, and other prescribed fire obstacles prevented the piles from being burned. However, conditions were favorable to complete the work this year. This season the BLM hired a fire crew from northern Utah to get this important work done. The crew of 13 personnel worked 12-hour shifts for a full month to complete the project. In total, the crew completed 1,090 acres of pile burning, chunking (throwing unburned material into the fire), and pile-burn mop-up. 

A line of people in protective gear stand in the snow during a prescribed burn.

We are pleased to have the Blanding East project complete and hope it will serve the community of Blanding and promote balance for wildlife and diverse vegetation. The BLM will continue monitoring the project area to quantify desired effects and determine if any follow up treatment is needed.