Mountain-Prairie Region  Partners for Fish & Wildlife
Conservation Strategies


When settlers moved west into Utah, they altered streams to provide water for irrigation of crops, haylands, and pastureland. The diversion of water from streams increased until entire streams were, and still are, dewatered during the summer months.

Dams were constructed to store water for irrigation and public drinking water. Entire streams have been diverted from one watershed to another so that the water storage potential in existing reservoirs could be increased. Water manipulation had an impact on riparian areas and instream habitat.

Streams were heavily utilized by sheep and cattle as they provided a water source, shade, and longer period of forage production.

Spraying willows with herbicides was a common practice to remove them from the streambanks. Settlers thought that trees were removing vast amounts of water from the streams. Woody vegetation was also eradicated to increase the amount of grass growing along the streambanks. These practices resulted in a loss of riparian habitat and stream degradation over time.

Loss of riparian and instream habitat was also experienced over the years as streams were straightened to improve flow and reduce flooding potential.

Currently, development is the greatest threat to Utah wetlands and the associated upland habitat around the Great Salt Lake. Eighty-five percent of the state’s population live within the area containing 75% of the wetlands. In the 2000 census, Utah was ranked fourth in overall percentage of population growth. The counties bordering the Great Salt Lake have increased in population by an average of 24%, and the development of more housing and industry has risen accordingly.

Upland habitat or rangeland decreased in diversity and health over the years. Invading cheatgrass caused a decline in range health. Fire suppression allowed various shrubs and trees to expand and compete with native grasses and forbes. Native rangeland has been plowed, sprayed, and planted with non-native species to increase production.

Conservation Strategies

constructing new dikes photoDuck clubs are very common around the Great Salt Lake, and a majority of the wetland preservation work has been done in conjunction with these clubs. The main focus of the Partners Program while working with the clubs has been to improve their water management capability to provide habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds by constructing additional dikes to subdivide existing impoundments and repairing existing dikes.

Another area for wetland work has been in the western part of Utah. These isolated wetlands are vital to numerous types of wildlife. One such species benefitting from this work is the spotted frog.

Wetland restoration or enhancement wwork costs about $650 per acre to complete.

Riparian and In-Stream Habitat Work

This habitat type is extremely valuable for wildlife, livestock, and the general public. It provides a much needed water source as well as shade and canopy cover. Native fish are still found throughout numerous watersheds, and restoration efforts are focused within these areas.

Some of the problems associated with this habitat type are loss of the riparian vegetation and the degradation of streambanks resulting in increased water temperature and decreased water quality.

Many landowners have realized the benefits associated with a healthy stream system. Benefits such as reduced erosion, better water quality, improved fishing opportunities, and improved forage production are all sources of pride for landowners when they participate in stream and riparian restoration efforts. Riparian and in-stream restoration activities cost about $16 per linear foot to complete.

restored instream and riparian habitat photo. Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Don Wiley
Restored in-stream and riparian habitat
Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Don Wiley

Rangeland/Upland Restoration Activities

Past management techniques for rangeland improvement included discing up sagebrush and seeding single species stands of crested wheatgrass. This practice is changing, and landowners are interested in re-seeding these areas to provide a wider variety of forbs and grasses. Many areas containing native sagebrush have become climax communities with limited species in the understory.

aerator with seeder attachment. Photo courtesy of Desert Land and Livestock
An aerator with seeder attachment.
Photo courtesy of Deseret Land and Livestock.
photo of an area treated with the aerator
An area treated with the aerator.

Mechanical treatment is one method used to reestablish a more diverse plant community in these areas. One such mechanical treatment used by a rancher involves the use of an aerator. The aerator crushes the old decadent sagebrush leaving behind residual litter and small flexible woody plants while established grasses and forbs. If there is limited plant variety in the understory, seeding can also be done in conjunction with the aerator.

Grass seedings are also being done around the Great Salt Lake to provide nesting habitat. Much of the current upland habitat is infested with cheatgrass and other noxious weeds.  Grass seeding with native grass seed costs approximately $40 per acre. no-till grass seeding photo

Future Needs

It is anticipated that the Utah Partners Program will continue working with private landowners well into the future.

Potential restoration work includes:

  • Native trout streams - 800 miles
  • Wetland work - 90,000 acres
  • Range/upland restoration - 250 million acres

In Utah, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program’s main objective is to help landowners improve upon management techniques, learn new techniques, help them implement these techniques, and then monitor projects to see if they are attaining the goals of the landowners and the Fish and Wildlife Service.