SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources released Wednesday its Watershed Restoration Initiative numbers for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, saying that more than 148,000 acres of high-priority watersheds and other habitats were improved across the state.
The agency said the initiative completed more than 100 projects between July 2022 and June 2023, using over $37 million in funding. These projects included work on wetlands around the Great Salt Lake and improvements to 31,518 acres of areas recently burned by wildfires.
“This is a benefit not only for our fish and wildlife species, but also for the residents of the state, because a lot of these projects are directly connected to our watershed areas,” said Faith Heaton Jolley, a spokesperson for the DWR.
These watershed-related projects, she said, improve water quality for communities, as well as boost the water yield pulled from natural resources.
As for restoring burned areas, those projects involved techniques like aerial seeding, where helicopters or other aircraft sow seeds over recently charred lands. According to figures in a DWR news release, the initiative spread more than 520,000 pounds of seed over the last fiscal year.
Conservation crews also improved these recently burned landscapes by removing invasive shrubs or trees, often by mowing them down with heavy machinery.
“These [invasive] trees, in a lot of places will kind of take over the rest of the vegetation, and they’ll outcompete some of our more beneficial grasses and plants,” Jolley said, adding: “We replace them by planting and reseeding those areas with native grasses and more beneficial plants and shrubs.”
Also improved over the last year were more than 250 miles of streams. In a process unique to Utah, wood poles and branches are placed along riverbeds to help collect sediment and bolster the riverbanks. The end result looks something like a small beaver dam.
According to Jolley, these tools help improve water clarity in the streams, so it’s “not quite so sooty.”
Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative began in 2006. Since then, the program has improved over 2.5 million acres of Utah’s landscape.
In the last fiscal year, the initiative was credited with creating an estimated 644 jobs.
The millions of dollars spent for the recent round of projects came, in part, from the DWR Habitat Council, which is funded by revenues from the fees Utahns pay for licenses, permits, stamps, and certificates of registration.