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Lawmaker points blame at environmentalists for spread of Brian Head Fire

SALT LAKE CITY – It was movie day at the Utah State Capitol.  One lawmaker showed his committee a portion of a film he made which has serious allegations against certain environmental groups.  Representative Mike Noel says those groups are partly to blame for the rapid spread of the Brian Head Fire.

Noel acknowledges the fire was sparked by one man, Robert Lyman, who reportedly burned a pile of weeds.  However, Noel claims environmental groups are responsible for a massive amount of fuel being left to burn.  He says the fire burned slowly until it reached federal land, which is when it burned too quickly to control.   He says, “It made a run when it was hot and heats up in the day, it made an eight mile run.  That’s unheard of.  That’s because of the dead and downed timber.”

Noel says, decades ago, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance sued to prevent the U.S. Forest Service from allowing timber companies to remove beetle-infested trees.  The lawsuit was eventually rejected, but, Noel claims the beetles spread to other trees, eventually killing them and making them easier to burn. Plus, he says there were far too many trees to be manageable on this land, and he believes logging regulations need to be relaxed.  “That’s what’s happened, all over the west.  When logging stopped, management of the forest stopped,” he states.

These claims are not sitting well with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “It seems like Mike Noel is reaching far back into the past to pull out his favorite Boogeyman, which is environmentalists,” according to SUWA Communications Director Matthew Gross.

Gross also claims the winds were the main reason for the rapid spread of the fire, not simply the dead trees.  He says fire burns at a lower temperature from this kind of vegetation, so there’s debate in the scientific community about how intense certain fires can be.

Plus, he adds that SUWA hasn’t been involved in litigation over logging for a very long time.  “The Forest Service has had almost two decades to address any issues or concerns about dead, standing trees.”

Noel is hoping to form a pilot program that would give Utah authority to contract with federal officials to better manage U.S. Forest Service land.  He wants to adopt an arrangement similar to the one lawmakers in Wisconsin came to.

Noel confirms the film was partially funded with public money from a southern Utah water conservancy district.