Drought dominates much of the department’s focus in 2021
Despite the continuation of a worldwide pandemic and extreme drought conditions that triggered unexpected challenges, the work of managing and protecting Utah’s natural resources moved forward in 2021. Drought dominated much of the Department of Natural Resources’ focus, impacting every division to some degree. Divisions worked in tandem to monitor the water supply and adjust as needed, including curtailing water use, changing fishing limits and recreation guidelines, asking for the public to take “drought actions” to stretch the water supply, calling for people to use good “Fire Sense” to reduce human-caused wildfires, and much more.
DNR staff responded with professionalism and dedication. And the public responded, saving billions of gallons of water as many residents, businesses, and institutions embraced the “yellow is the new green” ethic and let lawns go dormant. Drought provided a wake-up call to many who previously took water for granted and highlighted the need for collaboration and continued conservation as we work to manage this limited resource.
Conditions at the onset of wildfire season were bleak. Through a successful public information campaign, people were encouraged to exercise good “Fire Sense.” As a result, human-caused starts decreased over 50%. Compared to the 2020 wildfire year, that translates into more than 500 wildfires that didn’t happen. Hard work by firefighters led to 93% of all fires being caught at 10 acres or less.
As in 2020, much of our workforce continued to work remotely until June, when in-office attendance opened up. Telework has been permanently adopted by many of our employees who found productivity gains and work-life balance opportunities during this unexpected time.
DNR also has new leadership in the department (two deputy directors and the communications director) as well as several divisions (Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Water Resources and Wildlife Resources). The DNR family of seven divisions also grew! The Division of Parks and Recreation was separated into two divisions, and the Office of Energy Development and the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office were aligned to provide closer coordination with DNR. We look forward to continuing to integrate these groups. We recognize our role in protecting our state’s abundant natural resources and will continue to engage state, county and local officials; collaborate with community members, organizations and groups; and coordinate with our federal partners.
Brian Steed, DNR executive director