Miller Creek in August 2020. Willow stems planted in May 2020 show signs of successful growth three months later.

Salt lake city – The Seeley Fire burned approximately 45,000 acres in Carbon and Emery counties in 2012. Nearly a decade later, habitat biologists from the Utah Wildlife Division and Other partners involved in the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative are still working to rehabilitate the landscape.

Forest fires can often be beneficial to landscapes by creating a new beginning for wildlife habitats. Although it often takes decades for affected lands and water bodies to fully recover on their own, active practical management can often accelerate and enhance recovery. After the Great Seeley Fire burned the landscape, the US Forest Service worked with habitat biologists from DWR to reseed much of the area in the fall of 2012. Numerous wildfires in Utah require immediate reseeding to prevent invasive weeds and other less beneficial plants from taking over. The area. Seeding can also help decrease severe erosion in areas of burn scars.

“However, seeding can be expensive, so we generally need to prioritize areas that will be reseeded,” said DWR Wildlife Impact Analysis Coordinator Nicole Nielson. “We often prioritize areas that could have impacts on human health and safety, including potential erosion that could impact infrastructure and watersheds.”

After the reseeding and natural establishment of the Seeley Fire area, there were lots of new grasses and wildflowers in the landscape. These types of plants are very beneficial and provide a large amount of nutrients for deer, elk and other wildlife. However, it may take a few years to recover enough vegetation on the slopes to stabilize them and prevent massive erosion.

“With the Seeley fire, large rainstorms after the fire caused many debris flows with large amounts of sediment,” Nielson said. “Unfortunately, much of this sediment has drained into nearby rivers. Large amounts of sediment in the water reduce the amount of oxygen in the water and usually kill fish. A result.”

Typically, intensive stream restoration efforts do not begin until about four years after a forest fire, in order to give the slopes time to stabilize and see if some areas will recover naturally without the use of any fire. additional tools and techniques.

“Sometimes you have to give restoration projects time to regenerate or stabilize for a few years to know if you need to continue these efforts,” Nielson said. “When active restoration efforts are underway, it is very important to stay out of these areas, in order to reduce erosion and not disturb new vegetation or other stabilization efforts.”

In 2016, the DWR partnered with Trout Unlimited, private landowners, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Sageland Collaborative used an innovative method of constructing man-made beaver dams to help restore Miller Creek, which was heavily damaged by runoff after the Seeley fire. This unique imitation dam technique was conceptualized in Utah and decreases erosion, raises river levels, and even improves water quality. The beaver dam analogues were such an inexpensive and effective method of restoring Miller Creek that they were also installed in Nuck Woodward Creek and other rivers in the area.

The DWR and its partners also used heavy equipment to restore other parts of the stream, including reconstructing some of the river channels to prevent further erosion and create habitat for fish. Additional restoration efforts for the areas affected by the Seeley fire zone are planned for the coming year.

The majority of the restoration that occurs after a wildfire is made possible through funding from Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative. Created in 2006, this partnership program aims to improve priority watersheds throughout the State. It focuses on improving the health and biodiversity of watersheds, water quality and opportunities for sustainable use of natural resources.

“This program creates great partnerships, ranging from communities and government agencies to non-profit groups and private landowners. It leverages different skill sets and funding opportunities to get the best restoration efforts on the ground, ”Nielson said. “As a wildlife agency, a lot of our focus is on improving landscapes for fish and wildlife, but healthy watersheds are just as important to humans as they are to animals.”

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