Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative Beginning 36 New Fire Restoration Projects
While a few fires are still burning in Utah, the smoky haze is finally clearing from much of the state. But what happens to the burned landscapes once the fires are out?
The Watershed Restoration Initiative is a program run by Utah’s Department of Natural Resources. The initiative will begin wildfire restoration projects this month with cultural resource surveys, seed purchasing and testing. Thirty-six projects are funded this year for over $16 million.
“Postfire is not what WRI was built for, but postfire does tend to be what we do on the side,” said Tyler Thompson. “So, 15 years, we’ve now broken the two million acre mark and about 40% of that is post-fire restoration.”
Thompson is program manager for initiative. He said increased wildfires have driven the change in focus for his organization from an initially wildlife-centered approach to watershed restoration and improvement. Project benefits are not always visible to the public, Thompson said, and that sometimes leads to questions-- like why a favorite tree at a family hunting camp has been cut down.
“The work that we do is sometimes pretty ugly up front,” said Thompson. “What we’re after is trying to create a healthier watershed and an overall resilient system that can actually have natural disturbance come in and not be devastated by it.”
Thompson said the annual state cost of restoration work is typically around $5-6 million or about 16% of fire suppression and restoration costs combined. Utah’s stewardship agreement with the federal government has increased forest fuels reduction work and prescribed fires, putting Utah ahead of some western states.
This year Thompson said the initiative faces a couple of uniquely challenging projects.
“On the Red Cliffs Reserve, the Turkey Farm Road fire and then around the corner the Cottonwood Road fire, that burned in the Mojave Desert, the wild tortoise population that inhabits that area, we’re extremely concerned about,” said Thompson. “And because it’s such a unique desert environment, we oftentimes have a difficult time getting native seed for it.”
For more information on WRI projects, please visit watershed.utah.gov.