The Cold Spring prescribed burn on the Tavaputs Plateau last week was only the most visible of the habitat improvements under way or planned for the county's Wildlife Management Areas. Other projects to enable wildlife to flourish - and enhance the outdoor experience for hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers in general - may not be as dramatic, but they will make a difference in years to come.
The state Division of Wildlife Resources, which acquired and oversees some 500,000 acres of WMAs across the state, has been working on management plans for two areas in Carbon County - Cold Spring in the east and Lower Fish Creek on the west. According to DWR Eastern Region Habitat Manager Chris Wood, the plans are still in draft form and not approved by the division's top levels, but they do provide an an overview of the objectives and resources at the two sites.
Lower Fish Creek WMA, a narrow tract of 1,360 acres following the stream down from Scofield Lake, is already classified as a Blue Ribbon Fishery. That means the fishing good and the three-mile stretch is spectacular to walk. Each year, the division stocks it with some 25,000 brown trout.
Ducks, beaver, muskrat, deer, cougar and bear also like the surroundings. Greater sage grouse have found a crucial nesting and brood-rearing habitat there, too.
What could be done - remember this is still a draft and not approved yet - is to correct some problems or change some operations to make the area even better. For example, conifers have been invading and choking out stands of aspen, reducing the diversity of plants that support a diversity of animals.
A prescribed burn may not be possible because the area is bounded by other land users, including a railroad at the top of the ridge. Logging might be a solution.
The stream could support a permanent population of brown trout, but there is not enough water released from the reservoir during the cold months for spawning. River otters might migrate into the area with a bit more flow. But Scofield water is money in the bank for water users in most of Carbon County.
More feasible in the near future are improvements in fencing to restrict livestock grazing, and weed control.
Also feasible is a restroom.
At Cold Spring, nature is expected to take its course as aspen retake the burned out areas from the conifers. Chris Wood said that some sagebrush may be cleared away and replanted with forbs, which are hardy, flowering plants that are good for grouse habitat and wildlife grazing.
Road restrictions in the area were at first protested by some people a few years ago, but most have come to accept that the benefit to wildlife would outweigh and use of off-road vehicles across the habitat, the draft plan says. Travel and parking will be restricted to the 50-foot right of way on the county road.