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Erosion From Last Season's Wildfires Can Be Good And Bad For Wildlife

Last summer headlines were monopolized by the nearly half a million acres that burned throughout the state. The Pole Creek, Dollar Ridge and Goose Creek burn areas have forest and fishery experts concerned about erosion from the heavy spring run-off and they’re worried about the effects it will have on wildlife habitat.
The Dollar Ridge fire started in Wasatch County July 1st and burned nearly 70,000 acres. Duchesne County was most impacted by the fire, losing hundreds of structures. The DWR has issued a report that identifies the erosion impacts to wildlife habitat and fisheries. Last fall, a million pounds of seed was distributed to re-vegetate scarred areas.

Habitat Conservation Coordinator for The Division of Wildlife Resources, Daniel Eddington says invasive weeds can cause permanent damage to lower elevation areas.

“Yeah, it just tends to be drier, so a lot of the plants tend to grow a lot slower. Tend to have a lot more invasive weeds and those elevations as well, that really need some competition you know that's why we do a lot of seedings on those lower elevations is just to try to keep the invasive weeds out like cheat grass so that they don't expand across the landscape 'cause once they expand they have their own problems that come with that and a lot of times it means the sage brush and the native plants don't come back.”

With the very heavy snowpack last winter, erosion this spring could be a big problem. He says the extent of the erosion damage in the coming months will depend on whether Utah experiences a warm spring that causes the snowpack to melt quickly or there is a more gradual warmup, and the snowpack slowly melts.

Eddington says the higher elevation fires can improve wildlife habitat for deer and elk.

“In this last summer, we had actually quite a few higher elevation fires, which probably in the long run pretty beneficial to a lot of our wildlife species.  Grass, a lot of the new Aspen shoots that come up after that fire are just going to create a lot of excellent food for wildlife as that responds.”

According to Leann Fox, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands Communications and Prevention Coordinator, the 2018 wildfires and spring runoff in burn scar areas can be better restored if the public takes an active role.

She asks people to stay on established roads and trails, don’t drive or park on dry grass or brush, maintain vehicles so nothing loose is dragging, be extra cautious when target shooting, keep campfires small and always extinguish them, get a permit before burning debris and fireworks are illegal on all state and federal lands. Do not use fireworks anywhere except in designated areas and seasons.  

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