Forest Service says warm winter weather bad for water supply, tourism

Posted at 5:18 PM, Feb 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-11 19:18:03-05

SALT LAKE CITY --- While some of us have been enjoying the mild temperatures this winter, U.S. Forest Service leaders are worried about problems we could face in the spring.

The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is typically busy year round, with 9.1 million visitors from all across the country. Forest Supervisor Dave Whittekind said that number exceeds attendance at the national parks in Utah.

“We estimate about 9.1 million visitors annually on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache,” he said. “That’s more than the Mighty Five national parks combined.”

But the warm weather and lack of snow is having an impact.

Whittekind said: “With the weather down here, do you even think about going up and enjoying the snow? It’s kind of messed things up."

He also said potential water supply issues are cause for concern.

“We’d like to see more snow in the mountains, because what we're afraid of is what it’s going to bring in the spring and summer with lack of, lack of runoff, not able to fill reservoirs,” he said.

And the lack of water could mean trouble as fire season approaches.

“We're not sure what the fire season will be, but if we continue on this path it could be a challenging fire season,” he said.

Forest Service officials said they are prepared to bring in more resources if the fire season worsens, and they said they will be working closely with the Bureau of Land Management. Whittekind said they are also taking steps to keep visitors coming back to the area, including fish restoration, controlled burns and managing watershed needs in canyons.

“Our American Fork Canyon, we just redid the fee areas, and we continue to put those fees into the improvements in American Fork Canyon, to improve our campgrounds, improve our picnic grounds, work on our trails,” he said.

They also have plans to preserve areas from development, a plan called Mountain Accord.

Whittekind said that plan aims to answer questions, like: “How do we move people more efficiently and effectively in and out of the canyons and over to Park City, if people want? How do we take care of recreation areas that are in there, and how do we accommodate what we think are going to be a lot more people?”