In early February of 2016, Zion National Park Fire Management completed a fuel reduction project in Watchman Campground, near the main park entrance, to reduce the fire hazard and provide increased safety for park visitors, adjacent landowners and park staff. This 15 acre project is one of many planned for Zion in the next few years as part of Fire Management’s overall goal to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations around structures and facilities in the park.
During most of the year, Zion’s Watchman Campground is very busy, with full capacity of its 176 sites reached on most days. Recent years have brought an expansion of highly flammable native brush species (rabbitbrush, saltbush, sage, etc.) and cheatgrass in the campground. Overgrowth is due in part to irrigation ditches that flow through the campground. Once these brush species dry, they are very easily ignited and have led to numerous small wildland fires in the campground.
Campfires are allowed in the campground unless fire danger reaches levels where fire restrictions are enacted. Even with fire restrictions, fires have occurred due to human carelessness. Although past fires have been successfully suppressed, the possibility still exists for a large wildfire. These fires present a real danger to campers due to the amount of hazardous fuels available and the confined nature of the campground.
This fuel reduction project was performed by a contracted America Conservation Experience Youth Crew (ACE Crew) of eight individuals under the direction of the Zion Fire Management Staff. The project took eight days to complete. It consisted of mechanically removing excess vegetation around the campsites (mainly using chainsaws), while leaving enough vegetation to provide screening from other campsites. The removed vegetation was then hauled to a site in the park where it was burned at a later date when weather conditions were favorable. The park’s Resource Management staff will be planting native, fire resistant bunch grasses and deciduous trees to complete the project. The project was accomplished during the winter season when sections of the campground are closed.
This project was completed in part with monies collected through entrance station fees using the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act. User fees generated stay in the park to help conduct projects that benefit the visitors.
The result of fuel reduction in the campground will reduce the risks from wildland fire and provide a greater safety factor for visitors, firefighters and park staff.