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Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative
Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative
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Paunsaugunt boreal toad habitat improvement project
Project Status: Completed
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1) Protecting/improving aspen regeneration/recruitment: a. Constructed wildlife net fence around three completed aspen coppice cuts along Mill Creek adjacent to historic beaver activity. b. Completed a coppice cut an aspen stand, removing all live overstory trees to stimulate aspen sprouting along the head of Crawford Creek. c. Completed a shelterwood harvest preparatory cut in a mixed conifer stand along the head of Crawford Creek d) completed fencing around the portion of the Crawford Creek apsne work that had the highest potential for aspen regeneration 2) Protecting and improving native riparian woody browse regeneration/recruitment. a. East Fork Sevier River - Three temporary experimental riparian fences were constructed at locations chosen to facilitate expansion of current willow stands by a Dixie National Forest Interdisciplinary team and vetted by Regional DWR personnel (Upstream from Kanab Creek confluence, downstream from the Crawford Creek confluence, and upstream from the Seiler Creek confluence. Approximately half of each fence was constructed using wildlife net fence and the other half was constructed as 4 strand barbed wire fence. Woody browse, stubble height, and bank alteration have been monitored annually within each side of the exclosure and will be evaluated within 5-7 years to determine when the exclosures should be removed. b. Left Fork Kanab Creek Exclosure -- Temporary wildlife net fence was constructed within the existing exclosure footprint. protecting 36 acres of mixed upland and riparian habitat. c. Willow planting i) Left Fork Kanab Creek exclosure - Willows were planted over approximately 14 acres of stream bank, wet meadow and riparian habitat within the Left Fork Kanab creek exclosure, as well as 3 acres along Kanab Creek and Middle Kanab Creek and along 1 acre of Blubber Creek. Cuttings were harvested along the East Fork Sevier River downstream from Dave's Hollow and between Blubber Creek and Kanab Creek and planted every 6-12 feet depending on the habitat. In general three stems were planted per hole. Willow success monitoring has been conducted annually since plantings were completed in 2017. 3) Maintaining and improving Left Fork Kanab Creek breeding area for boreal toad -- Three beaver dam analogues were constructed on failing, in active beaver ponds that have historically been used for boreal toad breeding. Using a Hydraulic post pounder (see attachments and budget) posts were placed vertically along the downstream base dams spaced 0.5-1.0 m apart (Pollock, Lewallen, Woodruff, Jordan, & Castro, 2015). Slash and willow cuttings were placed and woven between the posts. Structures have required maintenance at least twice a year to continue to maintain water in autumn 2019 erosion control fabric was placed behind each BDA to help prevent water cutting underneath the structures. 4) Slowing channel erosion/incision and reconnecting the floodplain on the East Fork Sevier River near the Mill Creek and Seiler creek confluences -- Three beaver dam analogues were constructed around the confluence of Mill Creek and two were constructed just downstream from Seiler Creek. Posts were spaced 0.5-1.0 m apart and slash and willow cuttings were placed and woven between the posts. Additionally, silt, sand, cobble, and other substrate was placed on the upstream side to reduce permeability. 5) Maintaining grade control and establishing vegetation on Blubber Creek outflow structure. a. Grade control -- Log roller structures were constructed with an excavator and chainsaws. The excavator was used to grade and create bankfull sills to specification. A trencher and logs were used to help create sills and to key in log structures preventing lateral erosion around them. Willows were planted along approximately 500 feet of stream with holes spaced at 3-6 foot centers and three stems per hole along the stream and at approximately 6 feet back from the stream. Sedge sod was collected from the bypass channel outflow and planted along the edge of the entire project area. Sills and contoured banks were reseeded. Photos of completed project components and data from annual use and willow stake success monitoring are available in images and documents. are available in images and documents.
Project Narrative Overall we were able to complete all proposed project components including: aspen regeneration cuts on 59 acres, 8 foot fence around 86 acres of recent aspen coppice cuts, 8 foot fence to protect existing willows and willow plantings around the 36 acre Left Fork Kanab Creek boreal toad exclosure, planting willows on 18 acres in the Left Fork Kanab Creek boreal toad exclosure, the Blubber Creek pond outflow reconstruction, and the Kanab Creek mainstem, constructing three 4-5 acre experimental exclosures to evaluate domestic versus wild ungulate browse levels, construction of 8 BDAs at three different locations and reconstruction of the Blubber Creek outflow to maintain 2 acres of potential boreal toad breeding habitat. The bids for the fencing contract for the 8 foot fence around the Left Fork Kanab Creek and the three experimental fence exclosures came in at nearly double the cost we had estimated. This underscores the importance of good project partner communication and evaluation prior to implementation as we clearly underestimated the cost of the fence. It also underscores the fact that good fence contractors can come at a premium price when they are already busy with other work. Fortunately, the Intermountain Region of the Forest Service and Hogle Zoo recognized the importance of the fencing and chipped in to make the project happen. Preliminary Monitoring results Willows were planted in the spring and early summer of 2017. Visual estimates in autumn 2017 indicated that nearly 90% of the willows had sprouted in the summer of 2017. Stake survival monitoring in 2018 and 2019 saw declines in stake survival. Stake survival was highest for the Blubber Creek willows (2019 - 64% survival). The majority of these willows were planted within 1-2 m of the stream and went directly into the water table. This area is also protected by a livestock exclusion fence. Stake survival was lowest for the mainstem Kanab Creek plantings (2019 - 20% survival). This area has variable water table connectivity and is not fenced to exclude domestic or wild ungulates. Many of these stakes appeared to get heavily browsed and were even trampled out of the ground. Visual observation suggest that stakes that were protected from browsing by steeply incised banks or overhanging vegetation survived the best in this area. Stake survival was intermediate in the Left Fork Kanab Creek boreal toad exclosure (2019 - 36% survival). Many mesic areas were planted in this area as the idea was to inundate the parcel with willow stakes. High runoff in 2017 probably resulted in planting some areas that don't have the water table to support willows. Additionally, high flows hindered planting right along stream margins in some cases so additional plantings may benefit this area. Willow survival will be monitored for a final year in autumn 2020. Annual use monitoring inside each side of the experimental riparian exclosures on the East Fork Sevier River, as well as outside the exclosures has indicated that browse levels attributable to domestic ungulates range between 0 and 21%, while browse levels attributable to wild ungulates range between 32% and 50%. Lessons learned Make sure that the most experienced partner evaluates cost estimates. Have lots of great partners and never underestimate the value of relationships! Since installing the BDAs in 2016 and 2017 we have had to maintain them at a minimum of twice a year in order for them to continue functioning. While the BDAs we constructed on the failing beaver pond in the Left fork Kanab Creek have been successful at maintaining breeding habitat, the BDAs on the mainstem East Fork Sevier River have had somewhat less success at continuously elevated the water table. Even though beaver are present within 0.25 miles of the Seiler BDAs no beaver have colonized the BDAs. Without beaver colonization BDAs show reduced functionality over time and require maintenance multiple times a year to maintain that functionality. Similarly, the high fence around the Left Fork Kanab Creek boreal toad breeding area has required multiple repairs every summer since being constructed in 2017. Fewer repairs have been necessary for the experimental riparian fences. Partners need to be prepared for long-term maintenance of structures. Overall survival of willow stake plantings within the Left Fork Kanab Creek exclosure appears to be average; however, these plantings have, for the most part, not matched the same growth and survival levels as the plantings along Blubber Creek. Sprouting success was initially estimated to be greater than 90% in the exclosure. While overall survival of willow stake plantings in the Left Fork Kanab exclosure appeared to be about average for willow stake plantings by the end of summer 2019, new leader growth was still limited on many plants. We initially estimated that the net mesh fence would be able to be removed in 5-7 years, but the slow growth of planted willows indicates that it may take longer to get them to the point where they can withstand heavy browsing. Conversely, willows already existing in the exclosure have seen extensive new leader growth since being released from browse pressure. Similarly willow in the wildlife exclusion portions of the experimental riparian fences have also shown extensive new leader growth. Visual observations have seen little evidence of new willow recruitment; however, during 2019 monitoring some new seedlings were observed. A long-term evaluation of woody species Age-Class & Height, bank stability, bank cover and greenline to greenline width will be completed in 2022. Not surprisingly the willows planted along Kanab Creek that were not protected from use by any fencing have the lowest survival indicating that fencing is probably necessary to protect future willow plantings until they reach a height and density that is resistant to browsing or until enough woody browse is created to defray browsing pressure. New leader growth and the first two years of browse monitoring results indicate that wild ungulates have a higher level of browse pressure on the Paunsaugunt Plateau than domestic ungulates and the observed extensive new leader growth in the wildlife exclusion areas also provides a testament to that. To date these results suggest that unless wild ungulate exclusion will probably be necessary to facilitate willow growth and recruitment in most areas of the Plateau. Large-scale treatments of woody browse (aspen) may help to defray riparian pressure and allow for willow growth and recruitment in the absence of fencing.
The Paunsaugunt Plateau is still a focus for Forest Management with a special emphasis on fish and wildlife. A Conservation Action Plan for boreal toad on the Paunsaugunt Plateau has been developed and this project, as well as captive breeding efforts have begun to implement that plan. In 2017 and 2018 UDWR and the Forest Service implemented Phase I of a project to restore Bonneville cutthroat trout and Southern leatherside chub into more than 35 miles of stream south of Tropic Reservoir in the East Fork Sevier River and its tributaries. Nonnative trout were removed and Bonneville cutthroat trout from the Deep Creek remnant population were translocated into Upper Kanab and Blubber Creeks. Southern leatherside chub are expected to be put into these streams in 2020. The larger nonnative trout removal and native fish restoration is expected to be completed between 2025 and 2030. Riparian trend data continue to show vegetation meeting Forest Plan objectives and maintaining a stable or upward trend. The Powell Ranger District is in the process of developing a vegetation management plan for the Paunsaugunt Plateau, which will give an interdisciplinary team, including wildlife and fish biologists the opportunity to identify key stands in need of woody browse improvements. This project will involve large-scale aspen regeneration treatments, as well as additional riparian improvements. Willow stake survival and woody browse results form livestock and wildlife exclusion fences constructed in this project will continue to be monitored and the results used to inform future management during implementation of these future vegetation management projects. Fences will continue to be maintained until objectives are reached. The Forest Service, in cooperation with DWR, will certainly be continuing to focus on watershed restoration and the health of aquatic and riparian habitat in these watersheds for decades to come.
Project Summary Report
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