Unique program boosts Utah wildlife recovery

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:50 PM


SALT LAKE CITY— State wildlife officials say a unique program will put Utah ahead of other western states in recovering from this year’s wildfires.

Under the Watershed Restoration Initiative launched in 2005, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials moved quickly to secure $5 million worth of seed to be planted this fall.

Other states in the West are scrambling to find the resources to re-vegetate scorched land, and the delay may cost those states as seed becomes scarce, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Wildfires have burned more than 500,000 acres across the state this year, and officials note most of it is home to wildlife.

DWR Director Jim Karpowitz hails the initiative, which is a partnership of state and federal agencies designed to coordinate conservation concerns and priorities.

"This is a unique program and because of it we have the people, the facilities and equipment to respond quickly," he told the Tribune. "It is not common for a wildlife agency to do this. Utah is really unique in the regard that we so strongly believe in habitat."

The seed is a mix of native and nonnative plants, including grasses, forbs and shrubs, that are selected for their benefits to wildlife and erosion control.

They also are selected for their ability to compete with nonnative nuisance vegetation such as cheatgrass, which quickly becomes established after fires and provides little food value for wildlife.

Karpowitz said the seed mix the state has been using to re-vegetate wildfire areas seems to be fire resistant.

Since the initiative began, more than 800,000 acres of Utah land has undergone restoration work at a cost of about $80 million.

Karpowitz said his agency will go to the Legislature to cover this year’s $5 million for seed, and some lawmakers already have indicated approval won’t be a problem.

While Utah appears to be in good shape right now, Karpowitz is hoping the fire season ends soon.

"The seed is mostly gone now," he said. "It will be really problematic if we burn a lot more."

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