Interagency wildfire fuel treatments continue in Parleys Canyon to address watershed health

SALT LAKE CITY (June 1, 2023) — The multi-agency treatment of wildfire fuels (mulching) in Parleys Canyon will resume with mechanical treatments beginning on June 1 on the south side of I-80. It will continue up to Lambs Canyon as a part of more extensive fuel reduction work to improve watershed health and wildlife habitat. 

Due to the impacts of fire suppression in the area over the last century, there is an unnatural dense overgrowth of oak brush in this area. The project intends to mimic the results of a natural fire cycle on the landscape by using a bullhog masticator to reduce the overall fuel load. 

In the fall of 2022, 262 acres of oak brush were thinned on Salt Lake City-owned land and 70 acres on U.S. Forest Service-owned land located in the Parleys Creek watershed in Parleys Canyon as part of the project. Over the next month, an additional 128 acres will be thinned on Salt Lake City lands and 194 acres on U.S. Forest Service lands within this watershed. 

With the work occurring within the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and on city-owned land, this project has been a collaborative effort and has sought to provide as many benefits to the ecosystem as possible. The Parleys Canyon project is a joint venture between the USDA Forest Service, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands; the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Summit and Salt Lake Counties, and the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.

“This project demonstrates the Forest Service’s commitment to partners and communities in reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, while protecting critical watersheds and improving forest health and resilience,” said Bekee Hotze, Salt Lake District Ranger for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

A byproduct of this fuel work is the effects on wildlife habitat in the area.  

“The work we did last year along I-80 to thin the oak brush has already been really beneficial,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Habitat Restoration Biologist Robby Edgel said. “We are seeing a reduction in oak brush and a significant increase in the quantity and diversity of understory vegetation. This new vegetation will help provide food for wildlife in the area, including for big game animals, like deer and elk, to help them build up body fat for better survival during heavy snowfall like last winter. This treatment work and new vegetation will also help increase the amount of wildflowers on the landscape, which benefit our pollinator species, such as bees and butterflies. We are excited to build upon the great work that was started last fall and continue to make positive changes to the landscape for wildlife species.”

Currently, there is a native seed bank that is waiting to be released, which will limit the amount of reseeding that will be required. 

Reducing the risk of a large wildfire in the area helps to promote the safety of surrounding communities and can protect Salt Lake City’s drinking water from pollution. The Parleys Creek watershed provides about 20% of the water supply to Salt Lake City’s residents.  

“This project is an important component of Salt Lake City’s overall watershed protection efforts,” said Laura Briefer, Director of Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities. “Salt Lake City’s drinking water quality is very important to our community. A catastrophic wildfire would pose a significant risk to the City’s drinking water quality and supply.”

This watershed health project received funding through the state’s Shared Stewardship agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, funding from the Utah State Legislature through Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, and local conservation groups. Additionally, this year, the project will benefit from the Innovative Finance for National Forests (IFNF) grant funding. To see a full list of funding sources, you can visit the Parleys Canyon Watershed Restoration project on the WRI database:

Work begins in early June, following a year of record snowpack and runoff, and is expected to continue throughout the summer. Those planning to enjoy recreational activities in the area should exercise caution and possibly seek out alternative sites in the area.