In the Line of Fire, Part II

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It was a sobering reply.

I had asked Riley Pilgrim, a captain with the Unified Fire Authority, if he’d send engines to defend our home in the event of an

Juniper density prior to fuel reduction project

Juniper density prior to fuel reduction project

intense, fast-moving wild fire.

“Probably not,” he said.

And Pilgrim is a nice guy. But junipers line our long, steep driveway and surround the house. Fire fighters don’t like to risk getting boxed in and overcome by such dense fuels in close proximity.

Therefore, the task for the Department of Natural Resources and me, as outlined by the DNR’s Urban Interface Coordinator, Brianna Binnebose, was to reduce the fuel and make Cayuse Crest defensible without sacrificing aesthetics. Or, as Binnebose’s boss, Trent Bristol, stated: “We’re charged with assisting private landowners, helping them meet their forestry management goals.”

Sounds mighty magnanimous. But it’s actually just good fiscal sense. According to Utah’s Catastrophic Wildfire Reduction Strategy report, issued after 2012 fires claimed over 400,000 acres, each dollar of prevention equals $17 in suppression. Binnebose said based on her review of current

Juniper density afterwards

Juniper density afterwards

research, the figure is actually even higher. It depends on the values (properties) at risk and the cost of mitigation.

As development and drought exacerbate the wildfire issue, the problem is hottest in northern Utah, where the population is projected to grow by 60 percent in the next 35 years. That’s an extra 600,000 people butting up against the wilderness of the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. Read report here.

Home by home, community by community, buffers are being created. For instance, the Bureau of Land Management conducted a fuel reduction project about 10 years ago on hundreds of acres nearby. My property and my neighbors’ property would add to the treated area, thereby reducing the suppression costs in the event of a fire here. Read In the Line of Fire, Part I

Brianna Binnebose and Robert Sanders

Brianna Binnebose and Robert Sanders

Starting at the end of last year, the DNR’s Brianna Binnebose coordinated efforts with several colleagues in her department. Initially, six of us walked the 10-acre property perimeter. Binnebose flagged trees for removal or limbing and we discussed strategy and project scope. Half of the junipers would either be limbed or removed. (In the end, only about 60 trees were taken down, but hundreds were limbed.)

I met Robert Sanders, Davis County Fire Warden and the main engineer of fuel reduction here at Cayuse Crest. He cut with a shrewd eye, balancing aesthetics with fire savvy. Sanders worked for three decades with the US Forest Service, fighting fire in southern California and in Utah before joining Utah’s DNR in 2012.

With grant money, a private company was contracted to chip about half of the juniper. Then, as the official 2015 fire season opened (clearing funding for state and federal employees) engine and Hot Shot crews cleaned up the balance. The place is awash with juniper chips, but nowhere is it more than a few inches deep. That’ll keep down the dust and allow for revegetation.

Cayuse Crest after fuel reduction project

Cayuse Crest after fuel reduction project

Additional funding allowed Binnebose to provide me with 90 pounds of fire-wise grass seed (mostly wheat grasses) to help with planting anew.

In total, I estimate about $20,000 of work was completed. The property was transformed for the better. We can see the road through the junipers and see the horses in the pasture, yet plenty of cover remains for privacy, shade, etc.

Coming next. Part III, fire savvy in small packages.

Read Part I

Finding Fondness for Cheese and Chocolate

36fdb1a35cd2f54f95cf2119fb5bc7ed_MI live on the outskirts of Herriman, a fast-growing, baby-filled suburb of 30,000 on the southwestern edge of Salt Lake County. It’s a landscape devoid of independent business. Read of one restaurant that stands out.

Finding interesting stuff means leaving town.

Yesterday, it was to the Chocolate and Cheese Festival at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Beehive-Cheese-1-195x300I chatted with the Beehive Cheese folks, from Uintah. Beehive makes my favorite cheese of late: Barely Buzzed. It’s an Irish style, cheddar-y cheese rubbed with ground espresso beans and lavender. I know. Sounds weird. But it’s delicious.

Beehive started with two brothers-in-law taking cheese-making courses at Utah State University a decade ago. Now, Pat Ford and Tim Welsh employ about 17 people and boast a national distribution.

Nine years ago, they started rubbing “fun, crazy’ flavors into their base cheese, Promontory, recalled Ford. “People said, ‘you can’t do that!’ But do you like it? I asked them. ‘Yes!’”

The result was award-winning and attention-getting.

Barely Buzzed, with ground espresso beans and lavender.

Barely Buzzed, with ground espresso beans and lavender.

Barely Buzzed, TeaHive (with bergamot), SeaHive (with Redmond’s Real Salt and honey), and Big John’s Cajun have all garnered national awards and can be found across the country.


A younger company, Millcreek Cacao Roasters, caught my eye. Their small, upscale “Farm to Bar” chocolate features Ecuadorian heirloom cacoa beans. “No middle man,” said co-owner Dana Brewster, who started Millcreek Cacao four years ago with Mark DelVecchio.

Their mission and packaging are equally attractive. But, of course, none of that matters if the chocolate isn’t yummy.

377375_325282860818785_474092429_nIt is.

They start with 70 percent cacao and air-infuse it or otherwise flavor it with peppermint, tart cherry, ginger, orange and espresso. Their blog features a nifty How-To for “experiencing” chocolate. And here’s a video of how they make it.

And an even younger Utah company is Amour Spreads. Founders John and Casee Francis pair fruits with herbs for jams that make you pay attention to what’s on your tongue: apricot rose, pear lavender, blood orange rosemary marmalade. These

yummy Amour Spreads

yummy Amour Spreads

are as far as you get from those plastic units of grape jelly you see stacked by the salt and pepper in dinners.

For the savory-inclined, there’s heirloom tomato, which should permanently replace ketchup in your fridge. The three-year old company uses as much produce as possible from local farmers and gives back to named charities each year. Spreading love, as they say.


Allosaurus Art

Morrison Formation

Morrison Formation

A long time ago (about 150 million years), dinosaurs ruled southern Utah. When they died, if the conditions were right, their bones turned to fossils. Most fossils here are from the Morrison Formation, a huge swath of sedimentary rock from the Late Jurassic period, extending from southern Canada to Arizona and New Mexico.

A short time ago (in the 1970s), Charley Hafen stumbled across agatized dinosaur bone and had friends who collected pieces, too. (The Antiquities Act of 1906 requires a permit for excavating any cultural or natural resource on public lands, but only a nod from the landowner stands in the way of hunting and collecting on private lands.)

The Salt Lake City jeweler now has an excellent inventory of stunning rocks with which he makes equally stunning pieces of one-of-a-kind jewelry. Read more about Hafen here.

Agatized dinosaur highlights a custom bolo tie at Charley Hafen Jewelers

Agatized dinosaur highlights a custom bolo tie at Charley Hafen Jewelers

I stopped by to check on the process of a custom belt buckle made from some black and quartz dinosaur bone. I’m guessing it was an Allosaurus, one of the most common dinosaurs around here back then. In 1988, it was declared the state’s official fossil.

For starters, Hafen carefully sliced a section of the bone-turned-stone and reinforced it with PaleoBond, a structural adhesive made especially for this purpose. He then shaped it best for the centerpiece of the buckle, in which the sparkling quartz of the piece would favorably highlight its black body.



Hafen then fashioned a wax mold around the stone. Using the Lost Wax Casting technique, he carved and filed the wax to a precise design that would, in time, be silver.

Hafen worked the wax with skill, using three different files and a tiny Al Mar knife, blowing away wax dust while fluidly turning the mold in his hands.

“I like the idea of going as far as I can with wax,” said Hafen. “More detail will be done when it’s metal, but I can get it to nearly a jewelry finish in wax.”

charley2Once he achieved the desired look, he placed the mold in a ceramic cylinder and in a kiln. Using centrifugal force, the wax melted and spun away. Silver took its place.

The process is an expedited variation of what happened to the dinosaur bone way back when. A sort of swapping of substances. Gradually, minerals from the surrounding ground water were deposited in the big and small microscopic holes of the bone and blood vessels. The color and composition of the resulting fossil varied according to the chemistry of the water and the density of the bones, said to Dr. Randall Irmis, assistant professor of geology at the University of Utah and paleontology curator at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Art, history, and science all in a belt buckle.


In the Line of Fire, Part I

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“X” marks our property, Cayuse Crest, which borders BLM land and sits on the outskirts of Herriman, Utah


From UtahOutsider’s perspective, it seems folks here take the “Worry Later” approach when it comes to the state’s fast-moving development and population growth.

But behind the scenes, especially within certain pockets of government, there is plenty going on. Read one planning official’s comments here.

UtahOutsider is dedicating a three-part series, In the Line of Fire, to report on one aspect of human encroachment and wild lands. Specifically, we’re looking at a Wildland Urban Interface project completed right here at Cayuse Crest, my 10-acre home office in the Oquirrh mountain foothills.

Why does it matter?

"X" marks our property. Yellow-orange stripes indicate BLM land

“X” marks our property. Yellow-orange stripes indicate BLM land

With the state’s population expected to double to six million by 2050, more and more developments will bump up against the wilderness. Add current and predicted drought conditions to the mix and we’re sitting in a tinderbox: lots of people next to wildfire-ready, heavily-forested land.

To tackle this specter, government agencies have been working with communities to mitigate the risk and impact of wildfires. For the most part, that means getting rid of fuel, ie, cutting down trees or limbing them so fires don’t spread as quickly or as intensely.

The state Department of Natural Resources, funded with a federal grant from the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition, is charged with helping communities “reduce hazardous fuels, restore fire-adapted ecosystems, and improve community fire planning,” according to Brianna Binnebose, the DNR’s Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator.

I met Binnebose at a Fuels Reduction meeting of Hi Country Estates, the homeowners’ association we live in.

Our area has had its share of wild fires. In 2010 and 2012, fires consumed a total of 5,000 acres and forced evacuations of about 1,600 residents. Last year, we had a small fire within our small HOA community of a hundred homes.

Our own "fuel reduction" project. Spring, 2014. Horses helped haul juniper to chipper.

Our own “fuel reduction” project. Spring, 2014. Horses helped haul juniper to chipper.

Hi Country has its own fire plan, a 51-page document that includes risk assessments of each home, evacuation plans, resource lists, and actionable items.

I was interested in learning more about protecting our homes and wanted to know how it could be tackled on a community-wide scale. And if so, how would Cayuse Crest fit in?

As I learned, several factors made our property a perfect fit for fuels reduction work:

  • We abut Bureau of Land Management land that’s already been treated with fuels reduction (ie, more than half of the junipers have been removed).
  • I was willing to offer our property as demonstration area to show interested homeowners how fuel treatments would look on an entire parcel.
  • As an individual homeowner, we’d already dedicated significant resources to
    Our informal fuel reduction project.

    Our informal fuel reduction project.

    fuel reduction. That “in kind” initiative started a year ago, when five of us worked to reduce the number of junipers in the “pasture.” The pasture is really just juniper, sage, and rock on a rugged parcel of gully and ridge. It was an exhausting week. We worked non-stop with chainsaw, a rented chipper and two horse-and-rider pairs hauling huge bundles of juniper out of the pasture. Yet, it seemed to put nary a dent in the juniper density.

At the fuel reduction meeting, I learned in hindsight that our efforts would pay off.

Part II

Letting the chips fall

Kissing Farmers Goodbye


Randall Ercanbrack

Population growth and housing development are strong, brotherly winds that Utah farmers have leaned into for years. They’re as relentless as the passage of time.

“You can fight it, but you can only fight it for so long,” said Randall Ercanbrack, a fifth-generation farmer in Orem. “When you get surrounded, the pressure is too great. There are too many obstacles.”

Ercanbrack, whose family started farming here in the 1880s, predicts his hometown will be devoid of agricultural acreage within five years. The homestead is surrounded by new, expensive homes. Neighbors complain about his early hours with machinery and with chemical spraying, he said.

“They don’t particularly like what I’m doing. They don’t particularly understand what I’m doing,” Ercanbrack said. Aside from 20 acres of peach and cherry trees in Orem, he maintains several orchards in Payson, Santaquin and Genola. All told, he takes care of 400 acres with 67,000 cherry, peach and apple trees. Many will disappear within 20 years; by then, Santaquin and Payson will become as congested as American Fork and Lehi are today, he told me.

An old farm implement left abandoned in Herriman

An old farm implement left abandoned in Herriman

Realtor Bryan DeGroff agreed. DeGroff remembers cutting through another Orem orchard as a kid 30 years ago. Now, that orchard is gone and DeGroff lives in Santaquin where his wife wishes there were more amenities and shopping options. “I’ve told her, ‘wait five years. We’re going to have everything here,’” said DeGroff, who works for Coldwell-Banker. He’s right.

With the population growing at twice the national average, Utah will add another million people to its census by 2030, according to recent reports by the Utah legislature and the Governor’s Office. Salt Lake and Utah counties will bear 60 percent of that growth, the reports say.

In response, city and county planners are seeing housing and zoning trends starting to adjust. Acre lots with lawns, fences, and gardens are being forsaken. Apartments and townhouses are becoming new norms. “Large lot development is slowing down. We’re seeing higher density housing,” said one Salt Lake County planning specialist. “People are starting to live in townhouses and near public transportation. That cuts down on the consumption of raw grounds.”

Repurposing old industrial quarters is another applauded strategy.

“We’re doing a better job of consuming land than we used to. The solution to maintaining rural is not with one-acre lots or even five-acre lots. The solution to maintaining rural is increased density.”

Billboards for housing units in Herriman

Billboards for housing units in Herriman

In other words, pack ‘em in.

DeGroff, the realtor, shared a market research report showing land from Lehi to Nephi (a 60-mile stretch following Interstate 15) as filling “solid” with homes in 10 years. As farmland disappears, so too are the farmers.

“They’re getting old. Really old,” said DeGroff.

According to a report by Harvest Public Media, there are five farmers over 75 years old for every one younger than 25. Within the last generation, farmers’ average age has crept up 10 years to nearly 60.

“I love my job,” said Ercanbrack, who was born the same year his family planted those Orem peach trees 58 years ago. “It’s a hard job. It’s a dirty job. Nowadays, people don’t want that. They want to do high tech.”

His son is a doctor; his daughter a businesswoman.

“This is the end of the line. There are no more farmers in the family.”

Kurgo solves Mud Season

muddy-dog-by-wout-1024x768Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me follow, down to the hollow
And there let me wallow in glorious mud
Flanders and Swann

Mud Season’s around the corner. How will your back seat look?
Is it enthusiastically trashed by your beloved canine? Does she look at you with that “What? Me?” look as you grind your teeth and pinch your nose?

Kurgo_square_logo_600x600_hi-res copySeat covers are crucial if you don’t want your car still smelling like Mud Season in August or October. There are lots of choices. I recently returned a fancy, expensive “custom-fitted” seat cover. It didn’t fit, wasn’t well made or well designed and attracted dog hair like a magnet.
Then I found Kurgo. It’s a young, Salisbury, Massachusetts company dedicated to all things dogs: beds, collars, drinking bowls, harnesses, even life jackets and car booster seats.
They sent me an Allagash Bench Seat Cover.

Hooray!  I finally have relief from a truck perpetually smelling doggy and featuring a stubborn layer of multi-shaded hair.

IMG_8693The best feature of the Allagash seat cover might surprise readers: it’s the lack of customization:
Let’s face it, so-called custom seat covers never really fit well and can be incredibly hard to take off once you get them on.
Kurgo seat covers are simple and adjustable. They have slits to allow for seat belts and zippered pockets for stashing leashes and travel water bowls.

The next impressive feature is its material:

It’s Hydraweave, a tough, waterproof fabric made especially for the Allagash line. Hydraweave does not attract hair like most every other seat cover.
Yesterday, my three boisterous dogs jumped in and got the IMG_8697back seat muddy. Really muddy. I unclipped the seat cover, hosed it off, and put it back on the seat in a few minutes.
When Kip got excited and had a little accident, I just cleaned it with soap and water. No more smelling smells for months or spitting out dog hair when the windows finally get rolled down.

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