The Shingle Creek Fire, a human-caused conflagration that threatened the second-home community of Duck Creek, could have been stopped in its infancy had the Forest Service allowed Kane and Iron counties to attack it with four bulldozers that were available, Roberts' resolution contends. But the agency allowed only one, limiting the fire break's width to a single blade and its depth to two inches, said committee chair Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. As a result, the fire was able to spread and consume 8,000 acres of forest.
The lightning-sparked Seeley Fire has left Huntington Canyon at serious risk of erosion, but the Forest Service is not taking sufficient steps to protect the watershed, Roberts alleged.
"If we are good environmental stewards, we are not going to allow this to happen," he said. "There were a number fires that could have been prevented or put out much sooner were it not for the jurisdictional struggles and confusion over federal lands many of these fires were burning on."
HB164 would set up a procedure to enable action by local authorities. They must first notify the land-management agency of the situation that poses a risk in writing and specify a prescribed course of action along with a deadline.
If the agency fails to respond or act, the local officials may perform the work they deem necessary to address the problem. As long as they follow the law's guidelines "in good faith," the state would indemnify them for any damage they do, Roberts said.
Members of the committee were troubled that the bill gives officials who lack expertise in forest management a great deal of discretion in deciding when a forest "may" pose a risk and how to address that risk. Democratic Rep. Joel Briscoe of Salt Lake City voiced doubts about the bill's constitutionality and the state's liability exposure arising from its indemnification provisions.