Fire recovery work continues in Payson Canyon

May 26, 2019

The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires ravaged over 100,000 acres in southern Utah County in September, and recovery work from that damage will be ongoing for many months to come.

There are 96 miles of trails within the Nebo Loop area, said Spanish Fork District Ranger Paul Gauchay. Only half of those are likely to be open once the snow melts and hazardous trees are removed.

“We want to make sure it’s safe to the public before we open,” Gauchay said.

Some of that work is relatively minor, while some areas will require more substantial attention, but Forest Service and contracted crews are ready to start performing that work as soon as the snow melts and trails become accessible.

The good news is, in areas where the snow is starting to melt, vegetation recovery in burn areas is looking good, Gauchay said.

“We’re very encouraged with vegetation recovery we’re witnessing, and most of it is occurring naturally. The plants are coming back really well,” Gauchay said.

The fact that the fires were fast moving means a lot of areas did not burn so hot as to wipe out all vegetation, Gauchay said. Most root systems weren’t destroyed, and vegetation is coming back naturally.

For areas that underwent more substantial burning, reseeding efforts took place last fall. More than 24,000 acres were reseeded last fall in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources.

The new vegetation coming in is fragile at this time of year and can be easily trampled. New vegetation is also critical for the restoration of watershed areas.

“We do not want people to impact that with foot travel,” Gauchay said, cautioning that the area is extremely sensitive.

A year with above-average snow pack combined with a cool spring means snow is slowing down some mitigation efforts.

“We’re just kind of following the snowline up the hill, allowing resources to recovery, plants to become established and eliminating hazardous trees,” Gauchay said.

However, the cool spring has offered one relief: the debris flows and mudslides that were feared to come off the burn scars during spring runoff have not yet happened.

The Forest Service will work to open new trails and recreational areas as they go in and remove hazards from those areas, and have already been at work in many areas.

Hazard trees are one of the biggest dangers if members of the public wander into areas that have not been opened for the year yet.

“We’ve been up there for about four or five weeks doing that work,” Gauchay said. “With that, we need the assistance of the public to stay out of areas that are closed down for their own safety as well as resource protection.”

People should practice situational awareness, realizing that there are many weakened trees in the area.

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