OGDEN — After nearly five months in captivity, five beavers injured in a March diesel fuel spill will be returned to the wild on Tuesday.
The Willard Bay beavers have been recovering at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah since the March 18 rupture of a Chevron pipeline at the state park.
The split in the pipeline's seam sent 600 barrels of diesel fuel into the wetlands area in the north section of the park, forcing closure of the campground and marina until July.
Cleanup has since been completed, and the state water quality division recently completed a preliminary assessment of any remaining risks to the public and the park's ecological health.
Testing is ongoing on a periodic basis to determine any residual impacts from the failure of the 8-inch pipeline, which is 760 miles long — stretching from Salt Lake City into Washington state.
State wildlife officials captured the injured beavers, which suffered serious burns and sloughing of skin and hair due to exposure to the fuel.
Since then, they have been recovering and under a veterinarian's care at the all-volunteer wildlife rehabilitation center, which has seen an outpouring of support and donations from residents.
Earlier this month, five of the six beavers were dubbed healthy enough to return to the wild. A sixth beaver with an injured toe will be released in two weeks.
The state Division of Wildlife Resources coordinated the details of the release, starting out first thing Tuesday morning at the Ogden center to a begin the trek to ferry the beavers to freedom.
The beavers are not being released in the Willard Bay area but elsewhere in the state.
Mark Hadley, DWR spokesman, said the location is not being disclosed to the public for fear the animals may be harassed. Hadley added that the beavers are credited with helping to "save the day" at Willard, with their dams preventing the spill from traveling farther than it did.
Later this summer, the state Division of Water Quality is expected to announce the amount of the civil penalties that will be levied against Chevron in connection with the fuel spill.
John Whitehead, assistant division director, said the fine will be based on the circumstances at Willard Bay and may take into consideration the two previous spills by Chevron near Red Butte Garden.
Chevron has since sold the pipeline involved in the Willard Bay spill to Tesoro at a reduced price, but under terms of the transaction will assume any liability arising from the spill for two years.