Volunteers planted about a thousand trees in the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve on Saturday. The Nature Conservancy and Division of Wildlife Resources, which manage the 894-acre wetlands together, are planting trees and grasses as part of a multi-year restoration project.
Non-native trees such as tamarisk and Russian olive have been removed over the last few years. Twenty five volunteers from Price, Montezuma Creek, Cortez, Colo., вЂњand a few faithful preserve loversвЂќ from Moab spent the day Saturday planting black willow, coyote willow, cottonwoods, salt brush, Indian rice grass in their place.
вЂњWe are working toward a balance of more natives than non-natives for improving wildlife habitat,вЂќ said Linda Whitham from The Nature Conservancy. вЂњWe want to provide the best quality wildlife habitat.вЂќ
The Nature Conservancy and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources purchased the wetlands starting in 1990, with the agreement that The Nature Conservancy would manage the preserve.
More than 200 species of birds live in or visit the preserve on their migratory flights. It is also home to beaver, muskrat, mule deer, raccoon and other wildlife. Some wildlife will travel from the La Sal Mountains through the Mill and Pack creeks corridor to the preserve.
вЂњBears even come up and down the corridor,вЂќ Whitham said.
Firefighters completed a 200-acre prescribed burn in October to control bulrush, said Chris Wood of the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Bulrushes are native to the area, but when overgrown, limit open water space that is crucial for waterfowl and other wildlife.
вЂњWeвЂ™re trying to bring more water back into the preserve to restore wetland habitat and improve the quality of wetland habitat,вЂќ Whitham said.
Bringing more water into the wetlands has increased the number of birds that live and visit within preserve, as well as amphibians.
вЂњThe most exciting thing for me is the return of the northern leopard frog,вЂќ Whitham said. вЂњIt was gone for years and years. It came back last year for the first year. There were thousands of them.вЂќ
The controlled burn last month was also part of a comprehensive plan to prevent uncontrolled fires.
вЂњWeвЂ™re trying to reduce the fuel loads so we donвЂ™t have the catastrophic fires,вЂќ Whitham said. вЂњWeвЂ™re trying to create firebreaks that would protect the Moab community.вЂќ
The preserve is adjacent to several neighborhoods on the north and west side of Moab.
The new plants are also part of an effort to recover from a wildfire that burned 65 acres within the preserve on June 6 and 7, 2011.
вЂњSome teenagers up the creek were playing with fireworks,вЂќ Whitham said. вЂњIt was dry and windy. The fire came down the creek.вЂќ
A portion of the preserveвЂ™s trail system, bridge and interpretive exhibits were damaged.
It also burned the cottonwoods. The preserve was closed to the public for nearly four months after the 2011 fire.
Whitham said that crews are still removing the dead trees from the fire, many of which have become a safety problem on the trail system.
вЂњWe will have a ton of firewood that will be brought to the parking lot for the public to use,вЂќ she said.