Record number of acres proactively improved through Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative habitat projects in 2020–21
Salt Lake City — Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative works to improve and restore high-priority watersheds and habitats throughout the state, and a record number of acres were proactively treated during this past fiscal year — between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
Created in 2006, this Utah Department of Natural Resources partnership-based program focuses on improving watershed health and biological diversity, increasing water quality and yield, and improving opportunities for sustainable uses of natural resources. Between 2020–21, 147,215 acres were restored and improved, the most in a single fiscal year since the program began 15 years ago. Another 74,910 acres were rehabilitated after wildfires, for a total of 222,125 acres restored in that same timeframe. Over 1.3 million pounds of seed were mixed and spread on various landscapes (including those burned by fires) across Utah.
Crews completed 174 habitat restoration projects, resulting in 223 miles of stream improvements. Over $43 million of total funding was invested by various partners to pay for the different restoration projects.
Part of the funding for these projects comes from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Habitat Council. In 1995, the Utah Legislature created the Wildlife Habitat Account (Habitat Council), which is funded by a portion of revenue from the fees customers pay for licenses, permits, stamps and certificates of registration. Money deposited into this account can be used for the enhancement, preservation, management, acquisition and protection of fish and wildlife habitat and for improving access for hunting and fishing. Between 2020–21, the Habitat Council contributed $3.2 million to restoration projects, land/water acquisitions and maintenance of Utah's wildlife and waterfowl management areas.
Habitat work through this program includes:
- Aerial seeding after a wildfire.
- Removing encroaching trees for sagebrush preservation and rangeland fire management.
- Prescribed fires to reduce fire fuels in an area (which reduces the risk of a catastrophic wildfire) and to enhance the aspen habitat utilized by many wildlife species.
- Stream restoration through various techniques, including an innovative method of building artificial beaver dams. This unique dam-mimicking technique was conceptualized in Utah and decreases erosion, raises river levels and even improves water quality.
- Planting shrubs and sagebrush to provide feed and shelter for mule deer, sage-grouse and other wildlife species.
"Because of Utah's desert climate, these proactive projects to improve wildlife habitat and watershed health throughout the state are crucial," WRI Program Director Tyler Thompson said. "We are especially grateful to the many funding partners who make this restoration work possible."
Since 2006, this program has improved over 2.25 million acres of Utah's landscapes through 2,460 restoration projects and has created an estimated 5,500 jobs. Visit the WRI website to see where these projects have taken place across the state.