American Fork Canyon hosts a rugged, beautiful, and diverse natural environment. Its special natural features include Timpanogos Cave, and the Mount Timpanogos and Lone Peak Wilderness Areas. In addition to these special features, the Canyon’s natural environment boasts complex and beautiful landscapes and ecosystems. AFC is one of the most geologically diverse canyons in Utah, resulting in tremendous soil and terrain diversity as well. This natural landscape provides and sustains important vegetation, wildlife, and water resources, and offers large and beautiful open views.
- Vegetation – As you enter AFC and move through its lower stretches, the prominence of the Canyon’s bare rock features is striking. While viewing Mount Timpanogos, the Canyon’s dominant visual feature, the bands of bare rock rise high above the canyon floor. Many are surprised to learn that only 6% of the Canyon is “bare rock”, and 94% of the Canyon is covered in vegetation. The dominant vegetation types are spruce and fir (29%); aspen (26%); and oakbrush (24%). This densely vegetated canyon provides quality habitat for many wildlife species. USFS sensitive plant species currently include Wheelers Angelica, Dainty Moonwort, Slender Moonwort, Wasatch Fitweed, Wasatch Draba, Rockcress Draba, Santaquin Draba, Garrets fleabane, Utah ivesia, Wasatch Jamesia, Wasatch pepperwort, Garrett’s bladderpod, and Barneby Woody Aster. There is potential habitat for most of these sensitive species in the AFC area and several of these species have actually been discovered growing in the area. One vegetation challenge being experienced in AFC is noxious and invasive weeds, which now include scattered infestations of musk thistle, Canada thistle, Dalmation toadflax, spotted knapweed, dyer’s woad, and leafy spurge. Just one single noxious knapweed plant can produce over 4.7 billion plants and over 5.1 trillion seeds in 10 years, which could cover 36,513 acres if left unchecked, choking out thousands of native plants.
- Wildlife – The Canyon is home to a variety of wildlife species including mountain goats, mule deer, and elk. Threatened, endangered, and sensitive species include bald eagles, western yellow-billed cuckoos, Townsend’s big-eared bat, northern goshawk, flammulated owl, peregrine falcon, three-toed woodpecker, greater sage grouse, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Native fish species in the area include the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, mottled sculpin and mountain sucker. Also found in the project area are brown trout and rainbow trout, as well as many other aquatic and terrestrial species.
- Water – AFC provides municipal water to American Fork City, Pleasant Grove, Lehi, Alpine, Highland, Cedar Hills, the Bureau of Reclamation, and “other smaller entities.” Its water is also used for irrigation, well water, stock water, and power and storage. Approximately 83,500 acre-feet of water comes from the Canyon’s 200 miles of perennial and intermittent streams, which include the American Fork and the South Fork American Fork River, Silver Creek, Deer Creek, Grove Creek, Battle Creek, and Dry Creek. Water bodies include Tibble Fork Reservoir, Pittsburg Lake, Silver Lake, and Silver Lake Reservoir. The Canyon’s many mining sites have adversely impacted water quality. In 2000, an excess of lead, zinc, and arsenic were found in Canyon waters at levels exceeding Utah clean water standards. The American Fork Canyon Home Rivers Project, a collaborative project led by Trout Unlimited and completed in 2006, worked to reclaim mines on private lands in an effort to improve surface waters for a population of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout. This effort removed mine wastes from the abandoned Pacific Mine, Blue Rock Mine, Scotchman No. 2 mine, and the Pacific Mill (#2). Over time, the USFS Plan’s desired future condition is to ensure that all stretches of the American Fork River are removed from the State’s list of impaired waters.
The Vision would like to develop new ideas and address several specific questions for the Natural Environment. Are the current land designations adequate, or should they be changed? How should the Forest Service’s recommended wilderness areas be addressed? Would an overall federal designation for the Canyon (e.g., National Recreation Area or National Monument) better protect the environment? How important is it to carry out the Forest Plan’s desire to acquire private lands in the project area? Are there areas where we should plan environmental restoration, protection, or improvement projects?