RIM TO RIM'S INVOLVEMENT IN CREEK RESTORATION & FIRE FUELS MITIGATION
Since 2003 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 like tamarisk and Russian olive and establish native plant communities on over 150 acres along Mill and Pack creeks in Moab. As a small non-profit specializing in plant community and stream restoration, Rim to Rim works across administrative boundaries. Since 2000 Rim to Rim has worked with private residents on fire fuels reduction planning and implementation as a part of larger efforts to improve plant communities, stream flow and flood management in the creeks. Since the 2018 Fire Rim to Rim 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.
Dense thickets of mostly Russian olive in the creeks in Moab present an exceptional situation where fire can travel rapidly and explosively, potentially carrying throughout the entire town. Rim to Rim Restoration has actively removed fire fuels in the creeks to restore riparian plant communities with funding through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding starting in 2001, and with support from the Utah Partners in Conservation Development Watershed Restoration Initiative since 2008. Unfortunately, work stalled out in 2013, near the location of the 2018 fire.
The 2018 fire renewed community interest in fire fuels mitigation and riparian restoration in the creeks. Rim to Rim Restoration and MVFD organized a Fire Fuels Open House in October of 2018, and over 50 community members with property along the creeks or nearby participated in the Open House. The community identified a need for: more organization and coordination of resources, better access to sites, more equipment including wood chippers, labor, training and outreach to help community members identify effective ways to remove fire fuels and keep them reduced. A clear community goal is to make the 2018 fire the only creek fire to destroy homes in Moab.
Since the 2018 fire Rim to Rim Restoration has rekindled connections with over 50 landowners, the City of Moab, Grand County, and Forestry Fire and State Lands, and has increased their riparian work, including fire fuels reduction efforts. In 2019 Rim to Rim mapped the vegetation in the creeks, overlaying that information with fire hydrant locations and density of nearby residential areas to identify the first places to cut fire breaks in the creek bottom as work continues in the current operation. The long goal of this work is to have a fire resilient/fire safe creek from the Colorado River to Ken’s Lake by 2028.
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UCC WORKS IN PACK CREEK UPSTREAM FROM THE 2018 FIRE REMOVING LADDER FUELS NEAR COTTONWOODS
RESULTS OF TEAM RUBICON'S EFFORTS IN 2019, A FUELS BREAK NEAR THE LOCATION OF A FIRE IN MAY THAT DIDN'T SPREAD INTO THE CREEK IN PART DUE TO THIS WORK.
Team Rubicon returns to Moab March 2019 for Operation Slickrock, to a community that is organized and committed to reducing fire fuels. Strike teams will clear Russian olive and tamarisk out of the creek bottom at locations from 500 West to Old City Park at six primary locations, and up to six other acreas. Most of this work will occur on private land with landowner agreement to maintain the work in the future; it is much easier to maintain a fire resilient creek than it is to remove old growth Russian olive and tamarisk from the creek bottom. Our fire fuels mitigation goal for Team Rubicon’s Operation Slickrock is to clear an additional 10 acres of fire fuels, creating two new fuel breaks in the upstream part of Pack Creek, and expand fuels breaks in the lower areas of the creeks below Mill Creek Drive.
Rim to Rim will work with the Utah Conservation Corps supported by Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI) and Forestry Fire and State Lands (FFSL) funding, as well as Utah Department of Water Quality Funding this spring and summer to follow up on clearing activities and plant fire-resilient species in old and newly cleared areas. Tamarisk and Russian olive sprouts will be treated as well. Rim to Rim is also available to assist interested landowners throughout the creeks partner on future fire fuels reduction and riparian restoration work.
There are many active local partners in the current fuels mitigation operation including private land owners, Rim to Rim Restoration, MVFD, FFSL WUI program, and the BLM Canyon Country Fire & Fuels Program. Other local supporting organizations include Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Office of Emergency Management, the City of Moab, the Old Spanish Trail Arena and Grand County EMS, among others. Details about local partners participating in the fire fuels activities of Operation Slickrock are outlined below.
FIRE FUELS MITIGATION ACTIVE PARTNER PROFILES
POSTCARD SENT BY GRAND COUNTY TO ALL CREEKSIDE RESIDENTS IN 2018
Moab Valley Fire Protection District (aka Moab Valley Fire Department)
Established in 1958, the Moab Valley Fire Protection District (MVFD) operates in a 29.66 square-mile district that encompasses the entire destination resort city of Moab, Utah. The District also provides fire protection for all of Grand County and into San Juan County including Pack Creek Ranch and south along 191 to Wilson Arch through an interlocal agreement. Through a rich heritage of volunteerism MVFD protects a permanent population of over 9,600 as well as a large population of visitors to our area. Currently 37 olunteer 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. In addition to fire protection services MVFD operates a dive team and a hazmat team, and responds to most vehicle accidents in the region. MVFD is actively involved in the Operation Slickrock through providing classroom space, staff support and pre operation planning as well as post operation follow up.
Utah Forestry Fire and State Lands, WUI coordinated out of Moab
The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands’ (FFSL) Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) program is providing important support and resources to Team Rubicon’s Operation Slick Rock in Moab, UT. The primary goal of Operation Slick Rock is to reduce the risk of wildfire in the town of Moab by removing invasive trees. The fuel-reduction project supports one of the main goals of the WUI program. The FFSL WUI crew will work alongside volunteer saw crews from Team Rubicon, and other volunteer groups. FFSL’s WUI 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 also be providing wildland fire staff to supervise and help during the operation. For more information about FFSL visit https://ffsl.utah.gov/.
Bureau of Land Management, Canyon Country Fire Management Office
The BLM Canyon Country Fire & Fuels Program is looking 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 Bureau 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. In March, BLM Fire and Fuels staff will provide oversight at project sites, landowner liaison activities and assist Team Rubicon with local knowledge of the area during the project through the Community Assistance component of the Fuels Program.
On June 12, 2018 a human-caused fire in Pack Creek near the Cinema Courts apartment complex burned through cheatgrass igniting the Russian olive choked creek bottom, and rapidly spotting into nearby neighborhoods. Nine structures and over four acres of creek bottom burned in the five hours the fire raged. Moab Valley Fire Department was joined by resources from San Juan County and Emery County, as well as local fire fighters from BLM, NPS, USFS and Utah FFSL to help contain the fire. Grand County Sheriff’s Office and Moab Police Department as well as Grand County Emergency Medical Services and Search and Rescue provided incident support, and Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency managed water delivery to maximize water available to Firefighters. While the fire was contained by 10:30 that night, the fire was considered open and active for 7 days after containment.
The community, the City of Moab, Grand County, Moab Valley Fire Department (MVFD) and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office responded quickly to this community disaster. Grand County Sheriff’s Emergency Management staff member, Kris Hurlburt, got in touch with Team Rubicon as a part of the disaster response. Team Rubicon implemented Operation Fiery Furnace in July of 2018 to help clear over 40 large cottonwoods killed in the fire.
After the success of Operation Fiery Furnace, Team Rubicon returned to Moab in March 2019 with 62 volunteers and saw trainees for Operation Portal Vista. This operation successfully removed 144 trees and 23,000 cubic yards of fire fuels from Mill Creek at the Anonymous Park area and across 500 West behind the Williams Way Condominiums. This work reduced fire fuels in 2.5 acres along the creek near over 250 homes in addition to increasing Team Rubicon’s sawyer capacity for disaster deployment.
These efforts have already reduced fire hazards in densely populated areas of Moab. In May 2019 a human-caused fire ignited adjacent to the area cleared in March was quickly extinguished by the Moab Valley Fire Department due in part to the new fire break.