Moab fire forces portion of wetlands preserve to close

Published: Wednesday, June 15 2011 12:12 p.m. MDT

MOAB — A fire believed to have been sparked by fireworks has forced the closure of a portion of the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve.

The south portion of the preserve has been shut off due to public safety concerns, according to The Nature Conservancy and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

A trio of people camping in an area on the west side of town are believed to be responsible for the June 6-7 blaze, which burned an estimated 65 acres of vegetation at the preserve. The Nature Conservancy said a portion of the preserve's trail system, bridge and interpretative exhibits were damaged.

"We don't have an estimate yet," said Linda Whitham, the preserve's manager.

Late last week, the Colorado River jumped its bank and flooded up to 70 percent of the preserve, according to Whitham, preventing access to survey fire damage.

"All of the trails are covered in water," she said. "The flooding is actually a really good thing, though. It brings up all these wonderful alluvial soils and native seeds and helps with the establishment of Cottonwood trees."

The inundation of water also helps flush the soils of salinity, she said.

Whitham said she is hopeful that if there is a criminal conviction in the case, some type of community service will be ordered to help the preserve or adjacent private property owners.

She said The Nature Conservancy is also looking into getting grant money from the state Division of Forestry, Fire and Sovereign Lands to replace native vegetation lost in the blaze.

The Matheson preserve is 894 acres jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy and the state DWR to protect wildlife habitat. The preserve is open year round and is along the banks of the Colorado River.

— Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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