Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI), coordinated by the Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), announced $36 million in funding for 121 wildland restoration and rehabilitation projects statewide, with a goal of improving over 173,000 acres of land. One of the biggest projects in Northern Utah is the Red Ryder Pre-commercial Thinning, Rich and Cache Counties with a price tag of $805,600.
The Red Ryder project will use a combination of commercial timber harvesting, precommercial thinning, and prescribed fire to reduce tree density and improve stand structure in order to promote larger tree growth and provide a healthy and diverse habitat for a variety of wildlife.
Morgan Mendenhall, Area Forester for Forestry Fire and State Land, said the main reason for doing a project like this is to reduce the number of trees per acre. Many of the trees in this area were harvested 30-40 years ago and haven’t been touched since.
“It’s like scattering corn seeds and not thinning out plants for correct spacing,” Mendenhall explained. “The result is small, underdeveloped trees. It’s extremely dark, no grass is growing underneath.”
By thinning out the trees, Mendenhall said light will be able to come down to the ground and the trees left will be healthier. He said while there is a benefit to the general public, “the main benefit is for the wildlife.”
Currently, this area is not used by wildlife because it’s too thick. But Mendenhall said after this thinning it will be “extremely accessible” to animals like Bull Moose or Elk.
Tyler Thompson, Watershed Program Director, said these projects matter to the community, even though the project locations can be secluded.
“In the summer everybody is paying attention to wildfires and this is the work that needs to take place in these forest ecosystems so we don’t see the size and intensity and destructive wildfires as we did last year,” Thompson explained.
According to the project details, by reducing the number of trees, the potential for a ground fire to move into the canopy and cause a high-severity wildfire is reduced.
Several other objectives for this project were listed including enhancing and restoring habitat for wildlife including big game, federally listed species, sensitive species, and migratory birds. The project also hopes to “reduce the current effects of tree mortality associated with the Mountain Pine Beetle and Spruce Beetle epidemic in order to restore healthy ecological conditions and scenic quality.”
The project details said delaying treatment will “result in increased cost in the future as the Subalpine Fir continue reproducing and increasing in size; therefore, becoming more difficult to remove along with larger diameter Lodgepole Pine. Any additional delay in treating this stand will create a perfect breeding ground for Mountain Pine Beetle, which thrives in high-density stands that are heavily competing.”
As one of the largest projects, expected to take two years to complete, Thompson said it is the type of work the state of Utah has been working to implement for years.
“We have been trying to increase our participation with this type of forest restoration with the forest service all along,” he said.
Thompson said he doesn’t anticipate this specific project to interfere with residents in the surrounding areas. “The location is pretty remote,” he said. The project is located Southeast of Hwy 89, West of Meadowville and Laketown. 439 acres are in Cache County and 563 acres are in Rich County. 85.4 acres included are privately owned. 877.8 of the 1,001.93 acres are owned by the United States Forest Service
In addition to the 121 wildland projects, 24 livestock and wildlife water development projects were also funded. The projects are scheduled for the 2020 fiscal year.