Need For Project:
We will be installing additional beaver dam analogue structures (See Attached Documents for More Info on BDAs) in the Vernon, Little Valley, and Bennion Creeks to improve the habitat for wildlife. We will continue to build up about 40 existing BDAs that have already filled with sediment and we will build about 30 new BDAs up stream where needed to continue repairing the stream. The sage-grouse population in the Sheeprocks SGMA is struggling to survive and wet meadow habitat is one of the limiting factors in this arid environment. Many of the creek banks have been eroded and historic wet meadow habitat has been lost. This project will repair these eroded banks and raise the stream bank back up. This will increase the vegetation along the creeks banks and increase the wet meadow habitat that is important for brood rearing sage-grouse and other wildlife. This project will also improve the habitat within the stream channel for fish and other aquatic species. By improving the riparian and wet meadow habitat we will also increase the amount of forage available for big game and livestock.
Sage-grouse population numbers have dropped so low that if action is not taken the population could be extirpated. This past year the UDWR translocated more birds to the area to augment the population, but the root causes of the population decline need to be addressed in order to ensure the future of this population. One of the likely causes for their decline is habitat loss and degradation. One of the most important habitat types for sage-grouse is wet meadow habitat (Forbs, Green Grasses, and Wetland Vegetation). This habitat type provides high nutrient vegetation and insects which are crucial, especially for young chick development. Because sage-grouse have high mortality rates and are not long-lived birds, it is important to recruit as many new individuals to the population every year to maintain population numbers.
Vernon Creek, Little Valley Creek, Bennion Creek, and Harker Canyon Creek are located within prime brood-rearing habitat. All of these creeks have been degraded and channelized in spots from human causes, livestock damage, and erosion. This channel incision results in steep and deep banks that are dangerous for livestock and wildlife and make it difficult for animals to drink. It also causes more water to be lost from the system and less vegetation to grow along the banks that could be used by livestock and wildlife. The creeks in this area historically likely had beavers that would dam the stream and slow the water so it would not erode as heavily and cut as deep into the ground. These beaver dams would also create meanders, and flooding the stream banks which would water more plants. This flooding would increase soil moisture across a larger area and produce more wet meadow vegetation along the banks. This natural meanders also helped to reduce channel incision and erosion which results in a loss of habitat. The loss of this habitat has likely attributed to the decline in sage-grouse. Beaver re-introduction in some areas is not always plausible politically or biologically. This area is one such area that may not be a good candidate for re-introduction. Instead we plan to build man made beaver dams called beaver dam analogues or BDAs to replace the lost ecological function that would exist if beavers were in the system and to repair damage that has been caused by other means. This action will greatly enhance the habitat for sage-grouse and many other wildlife species and livestock. BDAs are also beneficial to the local economy and to help preserve the livelihood of ranchers. This is accomplished by catching sediment that will fill up reservoirs and clog pipelines. Also, BDAs may help store water longer in the watershed so that water will not just all come at once in a big flow, but will last longer into the summer in a more steady and consistent flow.
1. Increase the amount and quality of green high protein content vegetation in sage-grouse brood rearing habitat.
2. Restore the vegetation around the creeks to provide greater insect quantities for sage-grouse to consume during critical developmental stages.
3. Improve the riparian and aquatic habitat surrounding spring habitats associated with the riparian corridor
4. Improve the water quantity and quality.
5. Restore the ecosystem surrounding the creek.
6. Create a larger fire break to protect important habitat by increasing the width of the green vegetation around the creek.
7. Reduce invasive weeds from establishing in disturbed areas.
Threats / Risks:
If we do not conduct this project we:
1. Risk of losing the Sheeprocks Sage-grouse population.
2. Will continue to see degradation of creeks and this may increase costs of future restoration.
3. Will continue to see loss of value to aquatic species of the main spring in the corridor
4. Risk reducing water quality and quantity.
5. May see increase fire risk from not increasing the green vegetation along the stream bank as a fire break.
Relation To Management Plan:
Wildlife Action Plan
1. Under the threats, data gaps, and action section of the plan it identifies a list of Essential Conservation Actions. It states the need to restore and improve degraded wildlife habitats. species and others.
2. The habitat type that this project is located in as identified in the WAP is the aquatic scrub/shrub type. We will be improving the habitat in this key habitat and addressing the threats to this habitat type.
3. The plan identifies sediment transport imbalance as a medium threat to this habitat type and this project will help to reduce sediment transport by stabilizing the banks with vegetation and rocks.
4.It identifies channel down-cutting as a high threat and this project will help to remove the channels in the stream and make a more subtle gradient. This project will raise the water levels to restore the floodplain and reduce this channel down-cutting.
5. The plan mentions a management strategy that this project addresses to help improve this habitat type through 1.( restoring more natural water and sediment flow regimes)
Utah State Sage-grouse Management Plan
1. Protect 10,000 acres of the best Sage-Grouse habitat
2. Enhance 25,000 acres of existing Sage-Grouse habitat
3. Increase the total amount of Sage-Grouse habitat by 50,000 acres
Beaver Management Plan
1. Support restoration of beaver and adequate protection where establishing
2. Consider using beaver as a stream restoration tool
3. Beaver are a good tool that could be used to restore degraded riparian
communities that could benefit many other wildlife species
4.Need to consider the site characteristics of the locations where beaver will be
relocated/re-introduced enough vegetation to support a beaver population
5. Potential benefits of aspen/cottonwood restoration in improving beaver habitat
Outreach and Education
Increase awareness of and appreciation for the role of beaver in Utah's ecosystems in
10% of stakeholders (landowners, educators, recreationalists, sportsmen, water rights
holders) by 2020. We will be working with private landowners and citizen scientists to educate them about importance of beavers in ecosystem.
4. Establish at least one showcase beaver management area in each
Improve the understanding of all UDWR and other governmental agency employees
involved in beaver management and assure consistent transmission of information and
application of management actions through 2020.
Work to improve riparian habitats, associated streams and wetlands in a minimum of 10
tributaries through translocating beaver into unoccupied suitable habitat on public and/or
private land by 2020. This project will not be translocating beavers at this time to this area, but through the use of BDAs we will be re-introducing the functionality of beavers in the system. Also we will be improving the habitat and preparing an area so that in the future beavers can be re-introduced.
Statewide Mule Deer Management Plan
Habitat Objective1: Maintain mule deer habitat throughout the state by protecting and
enhancing existing crucial habitats and mitigating for losses due to natural and human impacts
Habitat Objective 2: Improve the quality and quantity of vegetation for mule deer on a
minimum of 500,000 acres of crucial range by 2019.
Statewide Elk Managment Plan
1. Increase forage production by annually treating a minimum of 40,000 acres of elk
2. Maintain sufficient habitat to support elk herds at population objectives
and reduce competition for forage between elk and livestock.
Statewide Turkey Managment Pan
Increase wild turkey habitat, quality and quantity, by 40,000 acres statewide by 2020.
Fire / Fuels:
This project will increase the sinuosity of the stream, raise the water table, slow water movement through the system and reconnect the channel with its historic floodplain. This will increase the amount of riparian vegetation which will create a larger fuel break to stop fires from spreading and destroying more critical wildlife habitat. It will also create a location where firefighters can more easily combat the fire.
Currently in areas where the stream-bank has been stripped of vegetation due to erosion, resulting in more downcutting, this leads to further erosion and diminished water quality. This project will help to raise the water levels and allow for more vegetation to be growing near the water to stabilize the banks. This will help increase the water quality and quantity in the system. This project will also slow the flow of water which will decrease the amount of erosion that will occur in big flood events. Slowing the water will also increase the quantity of water that is able to seep into the soil and benefit the system. This will also hold water longer upstream and increase the length of time that the reservoir downstream can hold water, thus increasing its capacity and water quantity.
NEPA and Stream Alteration permits have already been completed for Vernon, Little Valley, and Bennion Creeks. The UDWR or Forest Service will conduct any necessary archaeological clearances in-house for this project. Any needed water rights will be purchased as well.
We will construct the BDAs with sharpened lodgepole fence posts, approximately 3-4" diameter. They will be driven into the stream bed with a gas post pounder or hydraulic post pounder. The posts will extend about 1 m above the channel bed. The posts will be spaced approximately 0.5 - 0.8 m apart, and driven to a depth of approximately 1 m into the streambed. We will then weave willow branches or other tree branches that are available onsite between the posts to create a structure that will look like a beaver dam. The willows will help to slow the water but will also allow fish to pass through. We will then reinforce the posts with stream bed material at the base of the posts. The idea is that the dams will last until sediment is piled up at the dam and vegetation begins to grow and the stream channel rises and floods. We will place dams about 30 m apart, depending on where they need to go. After a year we will assess the health of the stream again and determine what progress has been made and where future BDAs need to be placed. Once sediment has built up behind the dam we will plant the wetland sod mats to speed up recovery and have the roots hold that built up sediment in place.
We have already conducted a Rapid Stream-Riparian Assessment (RSRA) monitoring methodology (See Attached) on Vernon and Little Valley Creek. We will go back after a few years and do this monitoring again to see how the stream health has changed. We will also and see how this work .
Last year we began monitoring of bats and we are asking for additional funds to continue this monitoring this year to monitor whether BDAs improve the area for bats, including Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifigus), a SCGN in the 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan. We plan to monitor for bats by following the protocol for the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat), which uses stationary acoustic devices, driving surveys, and possibly mist-netting to detect bat activity. We plan to set acoustic monitoring equipment at sites were BDAs were installed in 2017 as well as sites where new BDAs are planned for installation, to try to determine if bat activity differs between sites. Data collected from the grid encompassing the Vernon BDA project area will also be included in the nationwide NABat program.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and private landowners which are the land owners where these BDAs will be placed. We will also work with the NRCS to help partner in that effort. The Wild Utah Project has been a partner in the past to build BDAs and conduct past monitoring.
We will continue to monitor the success of these BDAs in the future and make any repairs or adjustments as needed to ensure their success. We may do future plantings or seeding if necessary as well. The Forest Service will work with the UDWR to continue to build upon these improvements to benefit the habitat in this area. There may be further work to introduce aquatic species. There will also be further translocations of sage-grouse to this area to augment the SheepRock population. The U.S. Forest Service will monitor grazing to see if fencing will need to be built in the future, or whether reductions in livestock grazing will be needed, to ensure the success of the project.
Domestic Livestock Benefit:
Livestock that utilize this area will benefit by having an increase in vegetation around the stream which will increase the amount of available forage. They will also be able to access the water more easily without causing added damage to the stream bank.