Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, coordinated by the Utah Department of Natural Resources, recently announced $34 million in funding for a record 208 wildland restoration and rehabilitation projects statewide, which will improve over 280,000 acres of land.
The projects are scheduled for the 2017 fiscal year.
While each project is unique, WRI projects are designed to restore damaged watersheds; improve water quality and yield; reduce catastrophic wildfires; restore watershed functions following wildfire; and increase habitat for wildlife populations and forage for sustainable agriculture.
The $34 million in funding for this year’s projects come from over 100 state, federal and private sources, including the Utah Legislature, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Services, U.S. Forest Service, sportsmen groups, private land owners, oil and gas companies, private foundations and public land grazers.
“Healthy watersheds are necessary to how we manage Utah’s natural resources. Because of our coordinated efforts, we’re better able to identify needs and improve priority watersheds statewide,” said Alan Clark, DNR watershed program director. “WRI is critical to Utah’s need to secure more water, prevent future catastrophic wildfires and increase habitat for wildlife. Our partners see the value and through their support we’ve been able to grow the initiative substantially from where it started.”
WRI is a partnership-based program designed to improve high priority watersheds throughout Utah. The program is in its eleventh year and is coordinated by DNR. Since its inception in 2005, WRI partners have completed over 1,500 projects and treated almost 1.5 million acres of upland, stream and riparian areas statewide with an investment by all partners of over $150 million. Last year WRI completed 105 projects, restoring 100,000 acres.
“The Watershed Restoration Initiative is BLM’s model partnership,” said Jenna Whitlock, acting BLM Utah State Director. “WRI produces on-the-ground results across state and federal boundaries on a landscape level using locally led teams. With 1.5 million acres improved across the state, the program remains strong.”
Utah relies on partner involvement. For every $1 spent by the state to restore watersheds, WRI receives $5 from contributing partners. For every $1 spent by the state on fire rehabilitation, WR receives more than $20 from its partners. While the state has invested about $20 million total, Partners and in-kind donations have paid the rest.
2016/2017 Regional Snapshot of Projects
While there are over 200 watershed restoration projects scheduled statewide, below is a brief summary of three projects from each region.
- Dry Basin Phase Two Treatment, Box Elder County: Remove encroaching junipers and implementing strategic green stripping on 1,910 acres in order to protect and enhance an important sage grouse leking area.
- Pentz-Smith Morgan Valley Diversion Reconstruction, Morgan County: Reconstruct an irrigation diversion on the Weber River near the city of Morgan, to achieve fish passage and vertically stabilize the river channel in proximity to a sewer line crossing under the Weber River.
- North Slope of Uintas Restoration Prescribed Fires, Summit County: Three large prescribed fires (total 2,900 acres) are ready for implementation on the Evanston-Mt View Ranger District of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. All three fires share the common objectives of regenerating aspen and improving wildlife habitat.
- Shiner Basin, Uintah County: Remove encroaching pinyon-juniper from 3,696 acres of Wyoming sagebrush habitat types by hand with a chainsaw crew.
- White River Enhancement Project Phase Two: The project will target 174 acres of Russian olive and tamarisk by cut and piling sawed trees, and treating the stumps with paint-on herbicide.
- Monument Ridge Bullhog Implementation Phase one and two, Uintah County: Project will treat 2,000 acres using a bullhog to remove hazardous fuels and improve/enhance habitat for sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligate species in the Bookcliffs.
- Yellow Star Thistle Control, Salt Lake County: Control pioneer and established populations of Yellow Starthistle by ground herbicide applications to improve biodiversity, wildlife habitat and protect a critical water supply area.
- Sheep Creek Phase Four, Utah County: Improve the watershed conditions and mule deer winter range by reducing juniper density and canopy cover on 1,427 acres through chaining and lop and scatter.
- Utah Lake Shoreline Restoration, Utah County: Begin treatment of 2,257 acres on the east side of Utah Lake to remove phragmites and other invasive vegetation. Continue ongoing maintenance of previous treatment efforts.
- Dark Canyon Plateau Phase Three, San Juan: Project will treat 1,899 acres using a bullhog to thin pinyon and juniper encroaching into sagebrush ecosystems.
- West Slope WUI Hazard Fuels Reduction, Grand and San Juan counties: Project will reduce hazard fuels and the associated risk to forest resources, wildlife habitat and life and property through mechanical thinning treatments on 2,446 acres on La Sal Mountains east of Moab.
- Courthouse Wash Interagency Restoration Initiative Phase Two, Grand County: The project will continue riparian restoration efforts on 957 acres within the Courthouse Wash Watershed with the mechanical and manual removal of invasive species such as tamarisk and Russian olive and herbicide applications and pile burning as needed.
- Hamlin Valley Habitat Restoration Project and Sagebrush Restoration, Beaver and Iron counties: Project would result in the immediate removal of pinyon /juniper from the sagebrush community on approximately 14,195 acres of BLM managed lands in crucial winter/summer/brood-rearing sage grouse habitat.
- Paunsaugunt Boreal Toad Habitat Improvement Project, Kane County: Aspen regeneration cuts on 59 acres. Protect aspen regeneration on 86 acres and willow regeneration on 29 acres of riparian habitat through domestic and wild ungulate fencing along the headwaters of the East Fork Sevier River and Upper Kanab Creek. Repair Blubber Creek outflow to maintain two acres of potential boreal toad breeding habitat. Plant willows on 18 acres of riparian area where willow regeneration is problematic. Build three beaver dam analogues.
- Monument Peak Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project, Garfield County: Reintroduce fire to the ecosystem through prescribed burning approximately 3,036 acres to improve wildlife habitat, structural diversity, promote aspen regeneration, and reduce the hazardous fuel loading.
The WRI project database, as well as an interactive, statewide map of all WRI projects can be found at http://watershed.utah.gov.