Water Hollow fire

The Water Hollow fire near Causey Reservoir burned 164 acres in July 2020.

Big game winter habitat destroyed by a summer wildfire near Causey Reservoir is being reseeded this month before invasive weeds can take over.

The Water Hollow watershed restoration project aims to replace grasses, shrubs and herbaceous broadleaf plants that were burned away in the July blaze, which was blamed on target shooting.

The 164-acre area is considered important low-elevation winter habitat for deer, elk and moose.

Oh, and the local sheep, too, will be happy with the new eats.

Morgan Mendenhall said the land is privately owned and has doubled as grazing acreage for sheep flocks and habitat for game.

Mendenhall, area forester for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said Wednesday he has been working with the landowner for five years on how to best leverage the area for all involved.

That already established relationship came in handy when this year’s list of watershed restoration projects was put together.

In a news release this week, the Utah Department of Natural Resources said 100,000 acres burned in 36 wildfires this year are being restored.

It’s done through the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative, whose directors say has rehabilitated nearly 2 million acres of fire-damaged lands since 2005.

About 40% of the work has involved wildlife habitat restoration, a trend reflected in the Water Hollow project in eastern Weber County.

Mendenhall said the state is buying the seed and delivering it to the landowner, who will have the seed spread by helicopter or plane.

The reseeding’s timing is crucial, said Nathan Long, habitat biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“If we can capture the site with these beneficial species, it keeps the invasive and noxious weeds out,” Long said. “It’s critical to get that seed down on the ground this fall before the snow flies so it can get a good foothold.”

According to project documents, the reseeding will result in fewer weeds and annual grasses, replaced by new crops of fire-resistant perennial grasses and shrubs.

“This project will improve water quality by reducing the potential for erosion and maintaining valuable perennial plants,” the project plan said. “The fire scar is in an important watershed for Causey Reservoir which services significant agriculture and secondary water for Weber County.”

Sheep will be kept off the land for two years as the habitat recovers.

Mendenhall said his agency helps private landowners create stewardship plans to manage their lands.

“When there’s something like fires or insect infestations or disease, we try to step in and help them get their property back,” Mendenhall said.

In the Water Hollow restoration, the landowner having “skin the game” is important to get the reseeding done in time, Long said.

About $13,000 in public funds is going toward the project, much of the cost due to the seed buy, the project plan showed.

“There’s obviously some concern with public funding, but there is wide public value when it comes to the watershed and reducing weeds,” Mendenhall said.

Without the project, weeds would overtake the range, harming the landowner’s sheep grazing operation and the region’s big game herds.

“This benefits everybody,” he said.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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