SALT LAKE CITY — In 2018, Utah had the most fires in one year since 2012, which burned more than double the acres burned in 2017. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has begun their initiative to restore the environment damaged by the fires.
The Watershed Restoration Initiative is the DWR’s plan to restore the burned areas and other environments impacted by the recent wildfires around Utah. New trees and shrubs will be replanted to help speed up the forest recovery, and grass will also be planted to supply food for wildlife and to prevent erosion, according to a DWR statement.
The seeds for the trees will be planted through aerial seeding and drill seeding. Aerial seeding is when seeds are sprayed from a plane or drone, according to DWR habitat manager Scott Walker. He also mentioned that drill seeding makes sure that seeds are placed deep enough in the soil and spread evenly apart.
After the seeding is complete, crews will also chain the area, a process where a large anchor chain is dragged between two enormous bulldozers, often used to remove dead trees. The chains work the seeds into the soil so they don't get swept away by wind or water.
However, once the seeding is completed, don’t expect to see immediate changes in the areas. Complete restoration and growth of the trees could take multiple years, according to DWR habitat manager Robert Edgel. He said that this reseeding is the best option for restoring burned environments and that recovery will be made slowly, but surely.
"I kind of work with ... other agencies, and every year when there are forest fires in my region (depending on whether it burns on private property or federal grounds), I'll work with those landowners and the WRI to get funds and federal funds and work on projects. This year we had the Pole Creek, Bald Mountain, Hilltop and Coal Hollow fires. Those were the fires in the central part of Utah that we identified as high priority for restoration."
Edgel said that forest fires typically occur in his area of central Utah (and around the state) in the summer and fall when the environment is especially dry. This gives him and the Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI) a lot of restoration projects to spearhead.
"We quickly identified about 20,000 acres in the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires where there was lower elevation or steep slopes that may not recover well on their own," Edgel said. "So we want to get in there and get those more native and beneficial plants for wildlife and livestock. That process begins immediately. That's what's good about the WRI is we are able to move very quickly because we have all the infrastructure in place and a way to move money from different agencies. Fire rehab needs to happen quickly."
Here are some of the current and future projects that the Watershed Restoration Initiative is working on for fire restoration in Utah:
Black Mountain Fire
Aerial seeding will be done in affected areas in Beaver and Iron County, along with the installation of erosion control structures to control flooding. More information can be found here.
Coal Hollow Fire
Chaining and reseeding will occur on over 3,600 acres of private property, city watersheds, U.S. Forest Service land and DWR land (south of U.S. 6 and west of the Dairy Fork Road).
Goose Creek Fire
About 25,000 acres will be reseeded to help provide more food for sage grouse, mule deer and other wildlife, according to the Watershed Restoration Initiative website. This will occur west of the town of Grouse Creek in Box Elder County.
Over 1,800 acres in Sanpete County will be reseeded, along with chaining 1,100 acres in the fire scar area. More information can be found here.
Horse Valley Fire
Over 1,000 acres of land were burned in the fire, including Bureau of Land Management lands and Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration lands. Chaining and reseeding will begin to restore habitat for sage grouse and prairie dogs, according to the Watershed Restoration Initiative website.
Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires
Aerial reseeding will begin on over 22,000 acres of land that was burned in the fires. The area is near the junction of U.S. 89 and U.S. 6. Find more information about the project here.
West Valley Fire
Reseeding and chaining will begin sometime in 2019. The goal is to aerial seed nearly 2,000 acres of the burned area, according to the Watershed Restoration Initiative website.
Wood Canyon Fire
Aerial reseeding will help restore the 2,050 acres burned in Millard County. More information can be found here.