SALT LAKE CITY– While wildfires are still burning in Utah, the Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is already planting seeds to mitigate problems left from thousands of charred acres of land.
Tyler Thompson, the water shed program director for the DNR, said they want to move fast and get seeds in the ground before winter.
“The goal is to get seeds planted before the snow flies,” he said. “Winter came early last year so we have some planting to do that didn’t get done last year.”
This year wildfires have burned approximately 294,930 acres and there are six still burning.
“We will be seeding at Goose Creek, Dennis Hill, and Messix in Box Elder County,” Thompson said. “The Messix fire scare on the top of Promontory is one of the biggest rehab projects.”
They will be using a combination of methods to plant the seeds in the burned areas.
“We can use the drill seeding methodology like farmers use, we can also drop seeds from an aircraft and drag a chain using two bulldozers,” he said. “If we aren’t successful using those methods, we can always use a hand hoe.”
The DNR and its partners are trying to get grasses and other vegetation destroyed by this year’s wildfires in the ground and its partners will soon begin restoring thousands acres of land burned in 36 wildfires this year through Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI).
The currently approved restoration list does not include Utah’s most recent fires or those still actively burning, so the number of fires and acres approved for treatment is expected to increase as the wildfire season concludes.
“Fire season does not end once the flames are extinguished. There’s a lot of effort and collaboration with our partners that goes into restoring critical watersheds and wildlife habitat areas,” Thompson said. “Healthy watersheds are necessary for how we manage natural resources in Utah. Wildfire restoration is one of the most important actions we can take to reduce future catastrophic wildfire, restore native vegetation and watershed functions, and increase habitat and forage for wildlife and agriculture.”
Work will begin immediately with cultural resource surveys, as well as seed purchasing and testing. Nearly 1.3 million pounds of seed will be used for reseeding beginning from now until next year.
The state of Utah will be responsible for one third of cost of the estimated $16.5 million price tag. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service all have a stake in the rehabilitation work.
Reseeding areas after wildfires, WRI also works to decrease catastrophic fires in Utah by implementing preemptive habitat projects that will help reduce fuel buildup. In 2020, there are over 100 projects that will be implemented to reduce fire fuel buildup.
WRI is a partnership-based program designed to improve high-priority watersheds throughout Utah. The program is in its 15th year and is coordinated by DNR. Since its inception in 2005, WRI partners have completed over 2,250 projects and treated nearly two million acres of upland, stream and riparian areas statewide with an investment by all partners of about $275 million. Over 40% of WRI’s project work over the life of the program involves wildfire restoration.