Pinto Watershed and Defensible Fire Space Restoration Project Phase 1 underway

Dixie National Forest's Pine Valley Ranger District is currently partnering with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI), the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the Utah Division of Wildlife, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands, private landowners and livestock permittees to implement Phase I of the Pinto Watershed and Defensible Fire Space Improvement Project.

This cooperative project was designed to assist with reducing total phosphorus loading and low dissolved oxygen issues in Newcastle Reservoir, prevent the loss of private agricultural land, reduce wildfire risk to infrastructure and the communities of Pinto and Irontown, and improve both wildlife habitat and watershed function.  Phase I is well underway.

The Forest Service first initiated the project to address fire risk at the Wildlife Urban Interface (WUI) around the communities of Pinto and Irontown, as well as along the ingress and egress routes to these communities.

Public and outside agency involvement led the project to grow to address issues with declining rangeland health, water quality in Newcastle Reservoir, and a failing grade control structure on Pinto Creek that threatened private lands. 

Phase 1 involves mastication (mulching) and hand thinning of pinyon pine and juniper trees that are elevating fire risk at the WUI and causing issues with erosion and loss of wildlife and livestock forage in sagebrush and mountain shrub habitats.  Vegetation treatments will occur on over 3,200 acres, which have been seeded to improve forage production and reduce the potential for noxious weeds.

In combination with the vegetation treatments two new pasture fences will be built along Little Pinto Creek to help in grazing management by creating a four-pasture rotation for one of the District livestock allotments.

Additionally, a grade control structure on private land had been damaged during flooding over the past two years.  If the grade control had failed the upstream private lands would have been at risk of incising, which would cause pasture lands to lose their connectivity to the water table.

As part of Phase I of the project, partners used heavy equipment to build a series of 19 smaller grade control structures to step the stream up from a bedrock control on Forest Service lands to the old grade control on private property.

Pine Valley District Ranger Nick Glidden said “Phase One of the Pinto Watershed and Defensible Space project is a great example of the Utah Share Stewardship Agreement in action.”  Adding that the project partners including multiple state and federal agencies worked together with livestock permittees and private landowners to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and reduce the amount of erosion contributing to poor water quality issues in Newcastle Reservoir. “At the same time, we’re able to help a private landowner maintain the productivity of their property and increase the health and productivity of our rangelands for both wildlife and livestock.”

Future Phases of the project could treat vegetation on nearly 8,000 additional acres. Planning is currently underway for more stream, wildlife habitat, and livestock allotment improvements adjacent to the project area.