Huntington Canyon continues to recover from Seeley Fire

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Nearly one year ago, the Seeley fire broke out causing concern for residents in Carbon and Emery counties. Flames quickly grew after a lightning strike sparked the blaze on June 26, 2012 on Seeley Mountain, located on Manti-La Sal National Forest property.

The fire spread rapidly and smoke could be seen across the state and into neighboring states. According to the Forest Service, 48,050 acres were consumed by the blaze. The fire raged on for over three weeks until it was contained on July 18, 2012.

During this time, public and private lands were consumed by flames and wildlife endangered and even lost. It’s been nearly a year since the smoke cleared but damage from the fire can still be seen throughout the affected areas, including Huntington Canyon.

Barren land caused mudslides throughout the canyon following last year’s fire. Mud, rocks, trees and other debris washed downstream into the creek resulting in a catastrophic loss of fish. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, no fish remain in the creek at this time due to direct results of the Seeley fire.

DWR Outreach Manager Brent Stettler explained that current creek conditions are uninhabitable for any fish species.

“The creek will not be replanted this year,” he explained. “It will not be restocked until conditions improve.”

The Bureau of Land Management is looking to help improve these conditions. According to Price BLM Field Office Manager Patricia Clabaugh, the agency is working on a mitigation project which will provide a structure, similar to a small dam, that will stop debris from working its way downstream. The dam will be built just below Forest Service land and will not only protect fish species but also prevent culinary water from becoming contaminated.

“We already have the permit done for the project,” Clabaugh explained. “We still have some procedures to go through before the project gets underway, but it looks like it will happen within the next few months.”

Flooding and water contamination is also a concern to Huntington City Mayor Hillary Gordon.

“We are hoping to have catch basins in place before the summer floods occur in August and September,” she said. “If we have mudslides like last year, the main culinary water will be impacted. We don’t want to sit around and wait for that to happen.”

Currently, creek beds are lined with fallen timber and black soot; remains from last year’s fire. However, fresh blades of green grass and new vegetation can be seen among these remains, a sign of a new beginning.

Although the fire has had a lasting impact on fish, Stettler explained that the blaze actually worked to benefit most big game species in the Huntington Canyon area.

“The new green up (vegetation) is offering feed to the big game animals in places that there was no feed before,” he said. “The fire cleaned up dead fall and made way for new plant life.”

The Seeley fire also directly impacted recreation. Campgrounds remain closed throughout Huntington Canyon, many of which seemingly washed away with last fall’s mudslides. Mayor Gordon encourages campers to look above the canyon for recreation areas.

“Larger campgrounds above the canyon are open,” she said. “I encourage people to go there where it is safe.”

Construction is taking place at many Huntington Canyon campgrounds. Many areas are being cleared of debris from both the fire and mudslides. No camping, fishing and hiking signs line the canyon for now, but new the construction will eventually make way for a new and improved recreation area.

Just like the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fire which consumed¬†793,880 acres, the land affected by the Seeley fire will return strong and be enjoyed by generations to come. The work of federal, state, county and city government agencies, along with the community, will help make the land destroyed by last year’s blaze better and stronger than before. Although a slow-going process, it is anticipated the land will repair itself and will return greener than ever.

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