Do you wonder why you see piles of dead wood and brush throughout the mountains of Sanpete County?
It’s part of a collaboration between the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and the Manti-LaSal National Forest Service to help restore habitats for wildlife, as well as reduce fire danger in the forests and mountains.
The Utah DWR watershed restoration initiative, begun in 2007, allows collaboration among agencies, to rehabilitate entire mountain and forest landscapes. With the DWR’s goal to protect wildlife and the forest service’s goals to promote healthy forests, it is a natural partnership.
Habitat restoration biologist Robby Edgel says the hardest part of the process is to complete all the many state and federal permits, surveys and studies to make sure all agencies sign off on the restoration work. “The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) governs actions that can be done on federal lands,” Edgel says. “We still must involve biologists, botanists, archaeologists and a host of other disciplines. It’s time consuming and expensive, but after three years of filling out forms, we are finally almost done with them all.”
When fully authorized, the actual work will involve the entire west side of Skyline Drive, from Highway 6 on the north, down to I-70 on the south, and encompass over 100,000 acres.
“In Ephraim Canyon, we have already completed three years’ worth of pilot projects as part of the NEPA permits for the larger 100,000-acre project that will begin in the fall of 2022 in Twelve-Mile Canyon,” Edgel said.
Besides the actual habitat work, trail systems will be improved and revised. In the Twelve-Mile Canyon project, the goal is to reduce conifer encroachment, regenerate aspen stands and improve vegetation for game.
In these projects, work will begin from when snow is gone (mid-spring) until the snow is too high in the winter to do the work. “Depending on the steepness of the terrain, we either restore the area by hand, or use machines designed for this work,” Edgel said.
Specifics of the major management areas affecting Sanpete County that will be underway this year or that have already been completed, are:
Lasson Draw – A pinyon and juniper thinning project of 1,400 acres was just completed in order to reduce competition with the shrubs and grasses that deer and elk need to eat during the winter.
White Hill – The agencies flew in herbicide to kill invasive cheatgrass and aerially seeded native plants to help restore habitat. The trail plan is also being modified to reduce impacts from recreation on wildlife.
Black Hill – A project to plant 10,000 shrub seedlings to increase available food for deer and elk in the winter has now been completed, and the next step will be closing user-created dirt bike and mountain bike trails to reduce the impacts of recreation on mule deer.
Six-Mile – The plan is to thin pinyon and juniper over about 200 acres of land to increase understory vegetation for deer and elk.
Bald Mountain – The agencies have already masticated 100 acres of oak brush and junipers to increase understory vegetation for wildlife and reduce fire risk to neighboring communities in Ephraim Canyon. This work is adjacent to the work being done on the Manti La Sal National Forest.