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Pair of bills seek to help prevent, fight wildfires

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers joined state forestry and law enforcement officials Thursday to tout a pair of bills designed to help prevent and fight wildfires.

"When fires are started on federal lands, these fires affect all state lands, affect safety, affect people, affect the budget and affect the air quality of our state," Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said during a news conference Thursday at the Capitol. "The fire season is not a distant memory, and we are dealing with budget issues still now that are a result of what happened."

Dayton is sponsoring SB62, which would authorize the governor to use "all water sources as necessary for fire suppression," and SB120, which would allow the state forester "to restrict or prohibit target shooting in areas where hazardous conditions exist."

State Forester Dick Buehler said last summer was a "rather intense fire season" in Utah. There were more than 1,500 wildfires in 2012 that cost $50 million to suppress, with $16 million coming from state funds.

Roughly half of those fires were human-caused, Buehler said, including 33 that were caused by target shooting. Buehler also noted the lives lost in fire-related accidents in 2012, including two pilots killed fighting fires in southwestern Utah.

"We have a great need to ensure that we continue to do necessary prevention and suppression of fires," he said.

Buehler also talked about how federal restrictions on state management of forests has prevented the Forest Service from adequately protecting land against wildfires, mentioning the Church Camp and Shingle fires.

"There have been numerous cases where the Forest Service tried to do the right thing and the feds wouldn't let them do it," he said. "If the Forest Service could properly maintain the forest, it would be much more healthy and have less fire potential."

Mary Mellor

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