A Talk on the Wild Side.
A portion of the project area after stream restoration and grazing management. Photo by USFWS
Utah is the second driest state in the nation with wet habitat making up less than 1 percent of the landscape, especially across Utah’s sagebrush sea, a habitat vital to the greater sage-grouse and many other species. Water can mean life in the West, and wet areas in the sagebrush steppe are disproportionality important to the landscape. But, although Utah is predominately public land, these are mostly privately owned. Understanding this, conservation partners are working with landowners across the sagebrush landscape to restore and enhance these wet areas for wildlife and communities alike that rely on them to water crops, livestock, and boost economies through recreation.
Partners work with the landowners to plant willows to line the stream. Willows once lined the stream and will provide bird habitat, beaver forage and building material, and shade the stream to decrease water temperature for fish. Photo by USFWS
In Piute County, Utah, one family decided to collaborate with local conservation partners to improve conditions for livestock and wildlife. For most of the decade, the landowners have worked with the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Utah Division of Wildlife, Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Grazing Improvement Program.
One area of the project: in September 2010 (left) and in August 2017. Photos by USFWS
Several generations of the family have grown up around the Otter Creek property and have a strong connection to the landscape. The property serves the family as a place to get away, connect with the outdoors, teach the next generation the principle of work, and feed livestock.
Work begins on rebuilding floodplain terraces and bankfull benches. Photo by USFWS
On the property Otter Creek meanders through a valley bottom with adjacent wet meadows and then moves up a slope into sagebrush/grass communities. Since 2010, partners have been working with the landowners to improve upland, wetland, and river habitat, and grazing opportunities. On the river, the team worked to rebuild banks, floodplain terraces, bankfull benches and floodplain connectivity. They then moved onto planting and seeding of native riparian vegetation including missing woody vegetation such as willows and sumac.
Adding a tree trunk for habitat diversity in-stream. Photo by USFWS
Tree trunks were put in-stream to create fish and macroinvertebrate habitat. Riparian pasture fencing was installed to provide future grazing management to those plant communities separate from the uplands. A hardened crossing was installed to give livestock access to water and other pastures on the property. In the uplands, seeding and targeted thinning of rabbitbrush and sagebrush were done to increase herbaceous vegetation for grazing and wildlife.
A hardened crossing provides the landowners a way to access other parts of the property as well as livestock access to water and access to other pastures. Photo by USFWS
The financial burden for the project has been shared by all partners, including the landowners and could not have been done singlehandedly. The landowners have spent money out of their own pocket and spent countless hours building fence, and planting and seeding.
In 2017, beavers started building dams on the property. Beaver dams have been absent for decades. These dams will help reconnect floodplain habitat, wetlands, increase water table and water storage, as well as add diversity to in-stream habitat. Photo by USFWS
As we start the eighth year of the project it’s satisfying to see how the wildlife, and the landowners’ family, is responding to the project. The landowners now have a house trailer and small structure on the property with beds and a fireplace to spend weekends and holidays together enjoying the fruits of their labor. Wildlife visitation is increasing as well. Sage-grouse with GPS trackers are confirming their affinity for the project site, more waterfowl broods being seen, herons fishing, big game browsing, pollinators buzzing about from flower to flower in the wet meadows, more songbird singing, and a colony of beavers building dams.
Casting a wide net to bring in a variety partners helps address needs in all habitat types, the landowners’ farm or ranch operation, and wherever else there may be a resource need. Working like this can increase innovation and the probability of a sustainable and successful project.
By Clint Wirick, Wildlife Biologist, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program