The History of our National Forests

Click to view larger image of Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees clearing the land for soil conservation, Photo Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (NLFDR)

Civilian Conservation Corps
enrollees clearing the land
for soil conservation
Photo Courtesy National Archive
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (NLFDR)

Click to view larger image of Terraces near Mount Nebo Trailhead, Photo Courtesy & Copyright © 2011 Lyle W. Bingham, Photographer

Terraces near Mount Nebo trailhead
Payson Canyon
Photo Courtesy & Copyright © 2011
Lyle W. Bingham, Photographer

Click to view larger image of Albert Potter, Photo Courtesy USDA Forest Service, The Greatest Good Memorial Film Website

Albert Potter
Photo Courtesy USDA Forest Service
The Greatest Good
A Forest Service Centennial Film

Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

The History
of our
National Forests

Warm springtime weather brings clear trails up in the mountains, and hiking through the shade of Douglas-fir on a warm weekend day had me wondering about Utah’s National Forests and how they came to be.

Back in the days of the early pioneers, Utah’s mountains were recognized as resources for survival, providing clean water for drinking and irrigation and lumber for building homes. The high mountain pastures were also valuable summer forage for livestock. In the late 1840’s, Parley Pratt declared, “The supply of pasture for grazing animals is without limit in every direction. Millions of people could live in these countries and raise cattle and sheep to any amount.” Many settlers shared this view, and unmanaged grazing resulted in deteriorated rangelands in just 20 to 30 years. By 1860, some Utah towns were experiencing regular flooding and heavy erosion due to insufficient vegetation to stabilize the soil. Unregulated wholesale timber harvesting during the same period also contributed to these conditions.

In 1881, the US Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry (later renamed the Forest Service) was established, and its first job was to gather information about the condition of the nation’s forests. In 1902, Albert F. Potter, who was the inspector of grazing for the General Land Office, conducted a survey of potential Forest Reserves in Utah. Potter stated that “the ranges of the State have suffered from a serious drought for several years past, and this, in addition to the very large number of livestock, especially of sheep, has caused the summer range to be left in a very barren…condition.”

The demand for lumber and wool during the First World War again led to increased timber harvesting and grazing on our forests. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to help implement conservation projects across the country. The CCC was fundamental in re-foresting much of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain ranges, planting over three million trees in nine years.

Utah’s Forest Reserves were created in the years soon after Albert Potter’s surveys, and were gradually combined into Utah’s seven National Forests that now cover approximately 10,500,000 acres, or about 20%, of the state. Grazing and timber harvesting still occur on much of Utah’s National Forests, but our practices are supported by scientific research and over a century of experience, ensuring more sustainable multiple use and management of our forests today.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.


Images: Courtesy National Archives, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

and Courtesy and Copyright © 2011 Lyle W. Bingham

Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
Additional Reading:

Baldridge, K.W. The Civilian Conservation Corps in Utah. Utah History To Go.

Prevedel, D.A., and C.M. Johnson. 2005. Beginnings of Range Management: Albert F. Potter, First Chief of Grazing, U.S. Forest Service, and a Photographic Comparison of his 1902 Forest Reserve Survey in Utah with Conditions 100 Years Later. United States Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service. R4-VM 2005-01.


CCC Camps in Utah,

Investigating the Causes of Wildfires

Investigating the Causes of Wildfires: A wildfire near Hyrum, UT, Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Holly Strand, Photographer

Wildfire near Hyrum, UT
Showing Fixed-Wing Retardant Drop
Courtesy & Copyright 2013
Holly Strand, Photographer

Fulgurites, caused by lightning
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons,
John Elson, Photographer
Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License v 1.2

Utah Sand Fulgurites
Found on Mount Raymond
Courtesy Utah Geological Survey
Carl Ege, Photographer

Rock Fulgurite (circled)
Found on quartzite at the summit of
Mount Raymond, Wasatch Range,
Salt Lake County, UT.
Courtesy Utah Geological Survey
Carl Ege, Photographer

‘Frozen’ leaves pointing in the direction of prevailing winds during the passage of the fire.
From the ‘Wildfire Origin & Cause Determination Handbook’
Courtesy National Wildfire Coordinating Group(

Hi I’m Holly Strand of Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources.

It’s fire season in UT. The hill slopes have turned a parched yellow-brown and the trees look thirsty and flammable. As of Aug. 13, there were 7 fires burning across the state.

One of the first questions that arises with any wildfire is “What started it?”

And I wonder: “How in the world would you figure this out given the destruction that a fire leaves in its wake?”

The first step toward identifying a cause involves finding the exact spot where the fire started. To do this, investigators look for witnesses. And having information on wind direction for the duration of the fire helps a lot. But even in the absence of these, the fire itself leaves clues regarding the direction of movement. And if you know the direction of movement, you can trace the path backwards to the ignition site.

For instance, on a tree or post, the side exposed to the oncoming fire will show deeper charring, more loss of wood and more white ash than the unexposed side.

However the leeward side of a tree may have the highest char mark. That’s because as strong winds blows the fire past a tree, the flames are drawn into the eddy zone on the leeward side and extend higher up the trunk. Still, the deeper char will be on the side facing the advancing flame. So to get to the area of the fire origin, you’d want to follow direction indicated by the most damaged tree face.

When green leaves of shrubs or trees are scorched, they tend to become soft and pliable and bend in the direction of the prevailing wind. After the fire passes they become fixed in this position as they cool, still pointing in the direction of the wind. So the opposite direction of the pointing leaves will take you closer to the fire origin.

Another thing that generally helps fire investigators is the fact that all fires need time to achieve their maximum spread rate/intensity. A newly ignited fire may take 30 min or more to ramp up. As a result even with high intensity fires, the area of initial ignition will show relatively less damage; upper foliage and branches may even remain intact.

Once the area of origin is identified, investigators look for the human or natural source of the blaze. Footprints, tire marks or evidence of a campfire are noted with interest. Nearby power lines, railroad tracks or electric fences may have provided the initial spark. Investigators often end up on their hands and knees searching for things such as cigarette parts, ignitable liquid residue; bullets or empty shell casings.

If lightening is a suspected source investigators look for strike marks or splintered wood fragments. Lightening can also leave a glassy residue, called a fulgurite, when the strike melts sand on the ground or on vegetation.

Thanks to Wesley Page of USU’s Department of Wildland Resources for sharing his wildfire expertise.

For sources and more information on investigating the cause of wildfires go to

For Wild About Utah and USU’s College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand.


Images: Hyrum Fire, Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Courtesy Wikimedia, John Elson, Licensed under GNU Documentation License V1.2
Also images from Wildfire Origin & Cause Determination Handbook, Courtesy National Wildfire Coordinating Group(
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Cheney, Phil and Andrew Sullivan. Grassfires: Fuel, weather and fire behavior. 2008. CSIRO.

Wildfire Origin & Cause Determination Handbook. 2005. A publication of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Fire Investigation Working Team NWCG Handbook 1. PMS 412-1. May 2005.

Investigating Wildfires: Part One. Interfire online.
(accessed August 14, 2013)

Investigating Wildfires: Part Two. Interfire online.
(accessed August 14, 2013)

Map of current large active wildland fires in Utah.
(accessed August 14, 2013)

Live Worldwide Network for Lightning and Thunderstorms in Real Time, Blitzortung, [URL inactive as of 1 Aug 2020}]

The Amazing Uintas

The Amazing Uintas: Mirror Lake in the Unitas, Courtesy Wyoming Department of Transportation, Talbot Hauffe, Photographer
Mirror Lake in the Unitas
Courtesy Wyoming Department
of Transportation
Talbot Hauffe, Photographer

The Amazing Uintas: Kings Peak, Courtesy Wikimedia, Hyrum K. Wright, PhotographerKings Peak
Courtesy Wikimedia
Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License,

Hi, I’m Holly Strand.

Coming from Colorado, I’m something of a mountain snob. So while I always found Utah’s mountains to be agreeable, I admit to thinking they were somewhat petite. Then I saw the Uintas. About 200 miles long and 30-40 miles wide, the Uintas lie south of the Wyoming border primarily in northeastern Utah but with its eastern flank extending into Colorado.

There are several interesting features that make these mountains stand out in my mind.

For one thing, the Uintas are one of very few east-west trending mountain ranges of significant size on the planet. The only other one in N. America is the Brooks Range. This east-westness can feel strange to someone who orients themselves on a north-south axis. Because the path the sun follows the range instead of crossing it, my sense of direction was thrown off. Perhaps this happens to others too and that’s why we often hear about people getting lost in the Uintas.

Glaciation is another interesting aspect. The Uintas were more heavily glaciated than any other part of Utah. The most recent glacial episode was approximately 30,000 to 10,000 years ago. These Pleistocene glaciers left wide-bowl shaped valleys and scooped steep-walled cirques near the main ridge line. Nowadays, sparkling lakes, streams and meadows grace the ice-carved basins and valleys.

Speaking of lakes, even a Minnesotan might be impressed with the density of the Uinta Mountains lakes. Of course, the total number depends upon what you define as a lake. But most sources say there are between 800-1000 heavily concentrated in the High Uintas.

Utahns gets a lot their water from the Uintas. The mountains are an important source for several Wasatch Front rivers and streams including the Bear, the Weber, and the Provo. Precipitation and snowmelt on southern slopes either flow into the Duchesne River or directly into the Green River.

Because they are below 14,000 feet, the Uintas didn’t fit my Colorado-derived definition of “real mountains.” However there are 17 peaks all over 13000 feet–the highest is King’s Peak at 13,528 feet. Considering the beauty and wildness and the water features in these 13ers and their surroundings, the Uintas definitely scored with me. I’m looking forward to returning to explore some more.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.


Images: Courtesy Wyoming Department of Transportation, Talbot Hauffe, Photographer
Courtesy Wikimedia, Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Map of the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway,

Guide to the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway,

Biek, Bob. Grant Willis, and Buck Ehler. 2010. Utah’s Glacial Geology.

Dehler, C.M., Pederson, J.L., Sprinkel, D.A., and Kowallis, B.J., editors, 2005. Uinta Mountain
Geology: Utah Geological Association Publication 33, 448 p.

Hamblin, Kenneth. 2004. Beyond the Visible Landscape: Aerial Panoramas of Utah’s Geology. Provo: BYU

Jeffrey S. Munroe, Benjamin J.C. Laabs, Joel L. Pederson, and Eric C. Carson. 2005.
From cirques to canyon cutting: New Quaternary research in the Uinta Mountains
Field Guides, 6, p. 53-78.

Kirkland, Gordon L. Jr. , 1981. The Zoogeography of the Mammals of the Uinta Mountains Region. The Southwestern Naturalist Vol. 26, No. 4.

Shaw, John and James Long. 2007. Forest Ecology and Biogeography of the Uinta Mountains, USA. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, Research 39(4): 614-628.

Wildfires in Utah

Wildfires in Utah: Click to view larger image of Fireweed growing in burned area, Photo Courtesy US FWS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fireweed Grows in Burned Area
Photo Courtesy
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

Prior to settlement by the pioneers at the end of the 19th century, wildfires were relatively common throughout the mountains of Utah. Wildfires were a result of natural disturbance, such as lightning strikes, but many were purposely set by Native Americans. Wildfires restarted the cycle of forest succession and also created a mosaic of plant communities across the landscape.

Although Utah’s changing climate has had a major influence, human factors have considerably altered the natural fire regime over the past 150 years. Fire frequency slowly declined prior to settlement by the pioneers due to a period of global cooling; however, fire activity increased considerably to its highest point during the settlement period between 1856 and 1909. This increase was linked to the dramatic growth in human population and activity, which lead to increased surface fuel from extensive timber harvesting, and inevitably to more ignition sources for more frequent fires.

Between 1910 and 1990, there was a dramatic decline in wildfires throughout Utah, despite the gradual increase in global temperatures. This was due to intensive livestock grazing, habitat fragmentation as a result of development, agricultural expansion, and effective fire suppression. As a result, shade-intolerant trees that relied on fire for regeneration, such as aspen and lodgepole pine, were often replaced by long-lived, shade-tolerant trees, such as spruce and fir. In general, this resulted in a gradual decline in diversity of plant communities.

As a result, more homogenous forests that are densely populated with trees and accumulated fuels are more susceptible to intense fires that burn hotter and are more difficult to control. In 2007, Utah had a record-setting fire season that burned over 629,000 acres, including the 363,000-acre Milford Flat Fire. We’re halfway through the fire season this year, and approximately 400,000 acres have burned in Utah, costing over $47,000,000 to control. Additionally, wildfires that have burned about three-quarters of the acreage this year were classified as large in size. It seems that increased temperatures, decreased snowpack, and a century of land use and management has resulted in a dangerous wildfire situation in Utah and much of the West. It will take some creative management strategies, such as sustainable timber harvesting or prescribed fires, to tackle this ongoing issue if we want to limit the risk and cost of larger and more frequent wildfires.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.


Images: Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
Additional Reading:

Madany, M. H., and N. E. West. (1983). Livestock grazing-fire regime interactions within montane forests of Zion National Park, Utah. Ecology 64:661-667.,

Neugebauer, C. (Jul 15, 2012). Burning through money: the cost of Utah wildfires. Salt Lake Tribune.,

Utah Fire Info webpage:

Williams, J., D. Albright, A.A. Hoffmann, A. Eritsov, P.F. Moore, J.C.M. de Morais, M. Leonard, J.S. Miguel-Ayanz, G. Xanthopoulos, P. van Lierop. (2011). Findings and implications from a coarse-scale global assessment of recent mega-fires. 5th International Wildland Fire Conference. Sun City, South Africa.,

Live Worldwide Network for Lightning and Thunderstorms in Real Time, Blitzortung,