SGI Featured Friend | Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative

January 7, 2016

Download a PDF of this story on the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative.

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“The Watershed Restoration Initiative partnership enables true landscape level management with no hard lines between federal, private and state lands.” – Paul Briggs

Dynamic Partnership Restores 1.2 Million Acres of Wildlife Habitat

In Utah, as well as states across the West, conifers are marching into sage-steppe habitats and choking out wildlife communities. Due to past suppression of naturally occurring wildfires, these trees are taking hold in places where they never used to grow, pushing out sage grouse that don’t tolerate them. This habitat change is one of the primary factors erasing the bird’s habitat range-wide. But in Utah, a dynamic partnership is making colossal strides to cut back the trees for sage grouse, mule deer, elk, songbirds, and many other sagebrush-dependent critters.

There are 122 partners enacting landscape-scale conservation projects with the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI). Since its inception, WRI partners, including the Sage Grouse Initiative, have treated over 1.2 million acres, leveraging over $160 million to complete 1,400 conservation projects. This includes over 400,000 acres of conifer-encroached sage-steppe that are now restored to healthy and productive sage grouse habitat.

These Utah sage grouse are using a WRI project area.

These sage grouse are using a WRI project area that was recently cleared of conifers. Photo courtesy of the BLM.

Meet the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative

The WRI restores and improves watershed health in priority areas throughout Utah. It enhances and protects present and future quality of life, improves water quality and quantity, reduces catastrophic wildfires, restores watersheds following wildfires, and increases wildlife habitat and forage alongside sustainable agriculture. This initiative is the definition of a collaborative bottom-up organization. Its projects are reviewed by partners and ranked by regional teams, and then funded from a variety of sources.

Seeding these native plants helped halt the Black Mountain fire in Utah.

The 2002 Maple Springs fire was treated by WRI to seed native plants. These plants helped halt the 2013 Black Mountain fire. Photo courtesy of the BLM.

Role With Sage Grouse Initiative

With sage grouse as a focal species, WRI’s natural partner is the Sage Grouse Initiative. One example of WRI’s significant collaborations for sage grouse habitat was on the Milford Flat Fire, the largest wildfire recorded in Utah’s history. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Fuels Management Specialist Paul Briggs said this fire kicked off a vast partnership by requiring an “all hands- all lands” response. “If it hadn’t been for the WRI and the partners, we could not have addressed the immense scale of this fire and other large fires in southern Utah.” WRI provided the BLM with native plant seed, as well as field support to remove conifers in places that did not burn completely or were too steep and rocky for drill seeding.

WRI is a crucial player in landscape conservation due to their expertise at leveraging funding among many partners and maximizing limited resources to restore the largest amount of acres. They are a shining example of an SGI Featured Friend because they work successfully in the highest priority areas to create resilient western landscapes for sage grouse and other species.


Alan Clark, WRI Watershed Program Director

Phone: 801.244.4366

Find out more at:

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The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.