Kane County Commissioners Wade Heaton, Patty Kubeja and Celeste Meyeres visited the capital the week of January 23. The State Legislature convenes at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on the third Monday of January for an annual 45-day session, and the visit provides an opportunity for county officials to meet with state and other local legislators.
Drought mitigation has been a legislative priority for several years. Current and past Kane County elected officials have advocated for tree thinning as an important industry for the area, as well as an effective means for mitigating fire danger and controlling drought.
The initiative gained traction as Salt Lake County Council member and biologist Dea Theodore enlisted the help of hydrologists to bring the issue to the attention of Governor Spencer Cox and other leaders, asking for action to be taken this session.
In a meeting on Thursday, January 26, Randy Julander of the Utah Natural Resources Conservation Service pointed out to law makers that Utah’s five million forested acres include 1.2 million acres of dead trees. He explained that the reason for this is insufficient water to support crowded growth.
Julander also described photographs from the turn of the century showing 10 to 20 trees per acre, adding that surveys today show “upwards of 100 to 200,” which he said is not sustainable.
In the same meeting, Ben Burr of the Utah nonprofit Blue Ribbon Coalition, discussed his organization’s “Fill Lake Powell” initiative, and the positive impact that thinning trees in the Upper Colorado River Basin would have on their efforts.
The Kane County Commission is dedicated to supporting tree-thinning to mitigate water loss and is working hard to see these legislative initiatives through. Forest management is an important economic driver as well as a drought control method.
Kane County Commissioner Celeste Meyeres, spearheading local support for the initiative on behalf of the county, said, “We as Kane County Commissioners are united, with elected officials throughout the State of Utah, on judicious and thoughtfully sustainable forest management to maximize source water availability,” going on to add, “Careful, targeted implementation has been demonstrated to increase our watersheds by 20 percent, in a cost-effective, instantaneous and taxpayer-friendly manner.”
The commissioners shared a letter signed and sent to Utah State Representative Phil Lyman in support of the watershed initiative at the Kane County Commission meeting on January 24, 2023.