Utah habitat and conservation programs pour millions of dollars into restoration and research


Photo credit: Trail Kreitzer

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) Habitat Council recently allocated approximately $4 million dollars to a number of habitat restoration projects that begin later this year. The Habitat Council was created in 1995 to provide a means of putting money back into the preservation and restoration of wildlife habitat. The funds are generated through the sale of licenses, permits, stamps and registration fees that correlate to hunting and fishing. The council is composed of four public representatives and four UDWR or Utah Department Natural Resources employees. 

"We are very appreciative of the hunters and anglers who are the backbone of wildlife conservation," said UDWR Habitat Conservation Coordinator Daniel Eddington. "Anyone who buys a hunting and fishing license helps fund many of the crucial habitat restoration projects that help to maintain fish and wildlife populations for future generations to enjoy."

The Habitat Council funds are in addition to the $4.2 million in conservation permit funds that were raised and recently allocated to wildlife research and additional habitat projects. The Utah Conservation Permit Program, which was launched in 1980, has continued to generate significant funds for wildlife conservation throughout the state. The Utah Wildlife Board designates a number of once-in-a-lifetime and limited-entry permits as conservation and expo permits. These permits are auctioned off at banquets or offered through the Western Hunting Expo draw, which is held annually each February. Since 2001, the conservation permit program has generated around $59 million for research and conservation work. 

"These funds and projects help improve wildlife habitat and watershed health throughout the state, leading to healthier and more abundant wildlife populations and increased opportunity for the hunting public," said Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative (UWRI) Program Director Tyler Thompson. "These permits and funds help make these projects possible."

Both of the programs noted above utilize UWRI, which serves as a centralized portal for establishing habitat focus areas and helps plan, fund and implement habitat restoration projects on the ground. As you can see, Utah has been extremely active in its quest to maintain and  improve ecosystems across the state. UWRI was founded in 2006 and is a unique approach that allows partnership and pooled resources among public land management agencies, private landowners and UDWR. The UWRI is going into its 16th year and has facilitated the completion of 2,465 wildlife habitat projects covering over 2 million acres across Utah. It's been an incredibly successful and impactful program for the health of Utah’s wildlife. 

UWRI utilizes a bottom up approach where five regional teams elect their own leaders, establish focus areas, review, score and rank project proposals and then assist their members in implementing projects. Each regional team is composed of state and federal habitat and wildlife biologists, fisheries biologists, natural resources specialists, foresters and even private landowners. After the teams establish areas of focus, the individual biologists or resources specialists have the opportunity to evaluate the landscape and develop habitat restoration projects. The great thing about UWRI is that it gives agencies the ability to work together across land ownership boundaries and develop larger landscape level projects that flow rather than stop abruptly at boundary lines. In addition, the ability to pool money and resources also yields larger projects with better results for Utah’s fish and wildlife resources. One great example is the Monroe Mountain Aspen Ecosystems Restoration project. This project will help to improve aspen ecosystems on Monroe Mountain by thinning conifer trees and seeding more aspen trees. The Monroe Mountain is one of Utah’s most renowned elk units and aspen are a key component to that herd’s summer range. The project will occur on USFS land with contributing assistance from UDWR habitat biologists and others. This is an excellent example of how truly well the UWRI partnership program works. 

There are a variety of projects currently in the developmental and implementation stage. Everything from controlled burns to regenerate aspen stands, chaining and bullhog treatments to remove encroaching trees and invasive vegetation, stream and river bank plantings and restoration to reduce erosion and improve river corridors for fish and wildlife as well as reseeding burn scars with desirable grasses, forbs and shrubs. 

You can read more about those projects right here. As well, you can view maps and descriptions of the ongoing, proposed and completed habitat and research projects.

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