Entities work to clear local waterways
Local Forestry Fire and State Lands Wildland Urban Interface seasonal employees, Utah Conservation Corps crews and Bureau of Land Management wildland firefighters worked to reduce fuel hazards along Pack Creek and Mill Creek this past week.
“We are in the beginning of fire season for the area and we are continuing our work to reduce fire hazards along our creeks,” said Kara Dohrenwend of Rim to Rim Restoration. “This is despite reduction in capacity due to Covid-19 travel restrictions preventing other nonprofit partners from participating.
Additional information about the larger fire fuels mitigation project postponed from March 21-29 to November 2020 can be found at www.revegetation.org/pack-creek-fire-response.
A large group of volunteers from Team Rubicon, Church of Scientology, and Southern Baptist chainsaw trainees canceled their planned operation in Moab originally scheduled for March 21-29. The purpose of the project was to come to Moab for chainsaw classes and to clear Russian olive ladder fuels at five locations along Mill and Pack creeks to clear an anticipated 10 more acres of fire fuel breaks in high-density residential areas with limited fire hydrant access. Rim to Rim Restoration had organized for assistance from FFSL seasonals, BLM wildland firefighters and UCC crews to assist with site operations.
As these resources were already committed, five BLM crew members, 10 locally deployed UCC corps members, two FFSL seasonals and two Rim to Rim Restoration staff members worked at two locations along Pack and Mill creeks from March 23-29 clearing nearly three acres at a high-priority site along Pack Creek upstream of Mill Creek Drive, and at other sites along Mill Creek near 500 West and in the wetlands.
Crews were segregated by agency affiliation, and workplace protocols were followed to ensure social distance between individuals and work teams in light of Covid-19 concerns. Chippers were available at each site courtesy of the FFSL, the UCC and the Grand Conservation District/Moab Valley Fire District to ensure tools were not shared between work teams.
Work could continue throughout the next month by UCC crews confined to Grand County to ideally meet the goal of clearing 10 additional acres of fire fuel breaks before the 2020 fire season.
As of now, the Team Rubicon Operation has been postponed to November 2020. If the high-priority areas identified for work this spring are cleared before Team Rubicon returns, additional sites have already been identified for clearing work based on hydrant location, residential density and creek vegetation density. BLM and FFSL are still interested in participating in the event should it occur in fall 2020, officials say.
Rim to Rim Restoration will assist landowners with plans for re-vegetation that will be fire resilient, and will monitor sites for follow up treatments needed to keep the Russian olive ladder fuels reduced.
Since 1999, Rim to Rim Restoration has worked with over 50 landowners, as well as Moab City, the school district and Grand County to remove ladder fuels, such as tamarisk and Russian olive along Mill and Pack creeks in Moab. As a small non-profit specializing in plant community restoration, Rim to Rim works across administrative boundaries, according to a press release from the organization.
Since the 2018 Cinema Court Fire, Rim to Rim has assisted Moab Valley Fire Department, the city, county and private residents with fire fuels reduction planning and implementation. For this operation Rim to Rim has worked with FFSL and MVFD to map vegetation densities along the creeks and overlay that information with fire hydrant location and residential neighborhood densities to identify critical locations for fire breaks. These locations are where Team Rubicon would have trained this past week while performing fire fuels reduction work in March.
The Moab Valley Fire Department was established in 1958. The Moab Valley Fire Protection District operates in a 29.66 square-mile district that encompasses all of Moab, Grand County and southern San Juan County, including Pack Creek Ranch and south along Highway 191 to Wilson Arch.
The department and its volunteers protect a permanent population of over 9,600, as well as a large population of visitors, according to the press release. The 37 volunteer firefighters protect the community based in two fire stations with a fleet of 17 vehicles (including a ladder truck and several engines) coordinated by four full-time firefighters and an administrative assistant.
The department also operates dive and hazmat teams and responds to most vehicle accidents in the region. MVFD is actively involved in Operation Slickrock through providing classroom space, staff support and pre-operation planning and post-operation follow up.
The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands’ Wildland Urban Interface program is providing important support and resources to Team Rubicon’s Operation Slick Rock in Moab, the press release stated. “The primary goal of Operation Slick Rock is to reduce the risk of wildfire by removing invasive trees. The fuel-reduction project supports one of the main goals of the WUI program. The crews crew work alongside volunteer saw crews from Team Rubicon and other volunteer groups. The program will provide supervision to saw crews on the ground, as well as fund cleanup crews to continue important wildfire mitigation work after the operation. FFSL’s southeast area office will provide wildland fire staff to supervise and help during the operation,” officials said in the press release.
The BLM Canyon Country Fire & Fuels Program looks forward to partnering with Team Rubicon for the largest civic-driven collaborative effort to reduce fire fuels in Moab and Grand County. The Fuels Management Program is part of the Bureau of Land Management Wildland Fire Program and one of several BLM programs that manages vegetation to meet specific resource and fire management objectives.
The BLM Fuels Management Program includes fuels treatment planning and implementation and community assistance to promote public understanding and facilitate citizen-driven efforts to reduce the threat and impact of wildfire through community planning education, prevention and fuels management. As is consistent with local, state, and federal guidance for public and employee health and safety, BLM Fire and Fuels staff will provide oversight at project sites, landowner liaison activities and assist Team Rubicon with local knowledge of the area.