In the early 1990s, the Chalk Creek Watershed was considered one of Utah’s most degraded watersheds. The creek suffered through years of erosion-induced silt from hundreds of miles of backcountry mining and oil exploration roads. When the area experienced rain and record floods in 1983, the creek was in ruins. To slow channelization, some residents in the area simply began rolling old car bodies into the creek.
If Chalk Creek could tell its story, Jerrold Richins would be credited as a critical player in its restoration. A sheep rancher for most of his life, Jerrold spent considerable time and effort early on trying to keep erosion from the creek’s high flow in check. After realizing his efforts were not producing the results he wanted, he decided to make some changes.
Jerrold was the first landowner to begin working with organizations to install erosion control structures along sections of the creek on his land, as well as fencing off his livestock. At the time, nearly every landowner in the area rejected the idea of trying such measures to save the creek, but Jerrold’s participation catalyzed many other landowners who began to follow suit after they saw the benefits on Jerrold’s land.
The stream conservation efforts directly contributed to restoring the natural bend and habitat suitability of the stream. Chalk Creek is home to one of the few remaining, intact pure-strain Bonneville Cutthroat Trout populations, and the improvements Jerrold championed over the years has had lasting effects on the success of this critical population.
Beyond his work on the creek, Jerrold implemented an efficient, automated pivot irrigation system, eliminating the need for expensive fuel. The system applies water where and when the crop needs it, and does not wash away fertilizers and nutrients deposited by the grazing livestock. It also allowed him to reduce water use and improve habitat for sensitive, migratory fish species.
Jerrold’s ranch has become a living laboratory open to those who want to learn more about how the banks of Chalk Creek are healing. Neighbors, government agency representatives, tour groups and the media are frequent guests on the ranch to learn about Jerrold’s management practices. His willingness to reach out to other watershed groups has aided the development of many other successful watershed partnerships.
“Jerrold’s land is a showcase of excellent resource management,” said Shane Green, NRCS State Rangeland Management Specialist. “It is the embodiment of a productive working landscape in harmony with a high quality environment. The demonstration of successes in water quality improvements coming from another fellow ranch is a powerful influence.”