Utah's Forests Launch Million Acre Challenge

Contact(s): Rosann Fillmore (435) 650-4149

The five Utah National Forests stand united with State, Federal and non-profit partners in support of projects, initiatives and efforts to improve Utah watersheds under the Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI). The WRI is sponsored by the Utah Partners for Conservation and Development, which jointly funds priority watershed restoration projects throughout the state.

Support from the five Utah Forest Supervisors for watershed restoration is stronger now than ever with the launch of their Million Acre Challenge. The Forest Supervisors challenged their employees to improve 1 million acres of National Forest System lands in Utah over the next five years using WRI funding. Officially launched in October 2017, the Utah Forests will initially treat approximately 170,000 acres in its first year.

The second year of the Challenge has already seen a total of 64 project proposals from the Utah Forests being submitted to WRI, totaling $11 million in combined funding requests. The proposals compete for funding, and are ranked regionally. 

Watershed restoration on National Forest System lands is critical to clean water, enhanced rangeland and wildlife habitat, healthy riparian ecosystems and management of vegetation to reduce fire risk.

David Whittekiend, Forest Supervisor on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, initially posed the Challenge to his four peers. He explains, “The Million Acre Challenge is not only about improving 1 million acres, but also setting forth the challenge to think bigger and broader in terms of the landscapes we treat and our ability to effectively and efficiently complete our Environmental Analysis and Decision Making,”

The Million Acre Challenge has already led National Forests in Utah to think bigger. In 2017, the Fishlake National completed a forest wide analysis to treat Phase 1 Juniper on approximately 75,000 acres. Currently, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache has launched a similar environmental analysis that will cover just under 72,000 acres and be completed in the next 60 days. These efforts are all part of National Initiatives put in place by the Agency’s new Chief, Tony Tooke, that includes better and more timely NEPA decisions, increasing the pace and scale of restoration of the nation’s watersheds, and keeping the agency’s commitments to its long standing partners, such as the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation. The Forest Service has partnered with these organizations for at least 30 years under formal Memorandums of Understanding, and these relationships continue to this day with the shared participation in Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative.