Restoration: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announces programs in nine states for reforestation and watershed improvment

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Update: More coverage from The Telluride Watch:

The Uncompahgre Plateau Project will receive $446,000 this year and $9.6 million total over the next 10 years to fund a comprehensive effort to treat 160,000 acres of land at various locations. Projects include prescribed burns, mechanical treatments, timber harvests, invasive species treatments, native plant establishment, trail and road relocations to reduce sediment, riparian restoration, and improvements for Colorado River cutthroat trout. The intent of the project is to enhance the resilience, diversity and productivity of the Uncompahgre Plateau landscape, according to Lee Ann Loupe, communications staff officer for GMUG headquarters in Delta. Multi-party monitoring efforts are proposed for 68,000 acres. Approximately 750 part-time/seasonal jobs are anticipated to be created as a result of project implementation and will hopefully provide local youth with work opportunities, job skill training and educational opportunities.

Here’s the release from the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the selection of Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects in nine states that promote healthier, safer and more productive public lands. The projects include partnership efforts on forest restoration treatments that reduce wildfire risk, enhance fish and wildlife habitats, and maintain and improve water quality.

“Working collaboratively with partners at the state, local and private level is an important part of the all-lands approach to improving the health our nation’s forests,” said Vilsack. “These projects will address forest restoration across landscapes, irrespective of ownership boundaries and helping create not only healthy forests and waterways and create green jobs and economic opportunity in rural communities.”

The projects, funded at $10 million, were selected based on the recommendations of a 15-member Advisory Committee. Advisory committee members were selected based on their technical expertise, the points-of-view represented, which geographic region of the country they represent and diverse backgrounds.

“With the announcement of these selections, this valuable restoration work can begin to promote healthier, resilient, and more productive forested landscapes,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We look forward to working with our community partners to achieve this vitally important work.”

Additional information about the program can be found at:

Project List:

4 Forest Restoration Initiative – $2 million Arizona

This initiative, located on the Apache-Sitgraeves, Kaibab, Coconino and Tonto National forests, focuses on the restoration of the southwestern ponderosa pine ecosystem and will treat up to 50,000 acres per year. The work will include prescribed fire and management of natural fires for restoration objectives. Mechanical thinning will also engage new industry to insure that nearly all of the cost of removal of the thinning byproducts is covered by the value of the products.

Colorado Front Range – $1 million Colorado

The Colorado Front Range Landscape Restoration Initiative, located in the Arapaho, Roosevelt, Pike and San Isabel National forests, seeks to increase resilience and lower wildfire risk in a ponderosa pine forest ecosystem. Prescribed burns will result in lower severity of future wildland fires, increased resistance to insects and disease, reduced threats to communities and watersheds, and improved habitat for fish and wildlife species. These more resilient forests will also have increased capacity to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.

Uncompahgre Plateau – $446,000 Colorado

The Uncompahgre Plateau includes restoration of seven plant types on 160,000 treatment acres and includes key watersheds that feed the Colorado River. Three separate weed management plans use multiple techniques to control the spread of invasive noxious weeds, including chemical and biological control measures critical to restoration and preventive measures to control invasive species.

Selway-Middle Fork Clearwater – $1 million Idaho

The Selway-Middle Fork Clearwater Project is a joint effort between the Clearwater Basin Collaborative and the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests. The restoration project will protect communities from wildfire and restore land and water ecosystems. The basin is renowned for pristine waters, fisheries, big game species and scenic vistas. The project work includes: 2,600 acres of commercial harvest and prescribed burning, application of prescribed fire to approximately 10,000 acres, replacement of a culvert to restore fish passage, and the decommissioning of 75 miles of road.

Accelerating Longleaf Pine Restoration -$1.171 million Florida

This project in Northeast Florida is comprised of 234,995 acres in the Osceola National Forest. The proposal seeks to restore forest ecosystems that have been significantly altered by fire exclusion and hydrologic alteration. The work includes: increasing prescribed fire acreage, reducing hazardous fuel loads while harvesting the woody biomass, thinning small diameter trees, restoring historic groundcover, and decommissioning trails and roads.

Southwestern Crown of the Continent $1.029 million Montana

The Southwestern Crown covers 1,449,670 acres, 70 percent of which is public land. It is one of the most biologically diverse and intact landscapes in the western U.S. It supports 250 bird species, 63 species of mammals, five species of amphibians, and six species of reptile. Restoration will focus on stream and forest habitats using prescribed fire and natural ignitions as tools to restore species composition and structure. Removal of exotic species followed by planting of native species will be used to restore the landscape. Bridge and culvert replacements and upgrades, road restoration and upgrades, removal of fish barriers, and stream channel manipulation are also included.

Southwest Jemez Mountains – $392,000 New Mexico

The Southwest Jemez Mountains area is 210,000 acres, 93 percent of which is divided between the Santa Fe National Forest and the Valles Caldera Trust-Valles National Preserve. The project will improve the resilience of ecosystems to recover from wildfires and other natural disturbance and sustain healthy forests and watersheds. This will be accomplished by thinning and prescribed burning to restore more natural fire regimes. Additional project components include streambank stabilization, invasive plant control, road and trail decommissioning, riparian and wildlife habitat improvement, conservation education, and rehabilitation, closure, and improvement of roads.

Deschutes Skyline – $500,000 Oregon

This project is located on 97,000 acres in the Deschutes National Forest. The majority of the landscape is ponderosa pine and dry mixed conifer forest types. The goal of the project is to restore forest ecosystems to be resilient to natural processes. This will also help to achieve a variety of community goals such as job creation, reduced risk of high-severity fire in Wildland Urban Interface residential areas, protection of drinking water source watersheds, preservation of the scenic and environmental quality of extremely high use recreational areas, and wood fiber for local economic benefit.

The Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project $829,900 California

The Project includes 130,000 acres on the Sierra National Forest and 20,000 acres of private land. Targeted ecosystems include coniferous forest, foothill hardwood and chaparral vegetation, montane meadows and riparian forests. The project aims to create resilient ecosystems and enhance the ability to adapt to wildfire. It will promote fire resilience, public and firefighter safety, key habitat for sensitive species, proper watershed function, healthy ecosystem processes, and landscape diversity.

Tapash – $1.63 million Washington

The Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative aims to enhance the resilience and sustainability of forests by treating 168,617 acres over ten years. This project is a joint effort between the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Yakama nation, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The restoration strategy uses a diverse array of treatment methods including pre-commercial and commercial thinning (including biomass removal), prescribed fire of natural and activity fuels, and trail management activities.

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to State and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Thanks to the Ag Journal for the heads up.

More restoration coverage here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approves conservation easement rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The district has more than 60 conservation easements throughout the Arkansas River basin, and uses them to protect water resources. The state is adopting new policies after abuses of a tax-credit law led to improper valuations on some properties, many in Southeastern Colorado. In one Weld County lawsuit, landowners who claimed $160,000 in tax credits are facing repayment of $250,000, said Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager. The new policies would make sure the easements are valued properly and executed according to standards that align with the new state policies. They also spell out legal actions to deal with violations of easement agreements…

“We’re doing this already, but have not adopted these specific measures,” said attorney Bart Mendenhall. “This gets our policies in line with state policies.”

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

Grand County ponies up $78,000 to pay for 3,000 acre-feet to be released from Granby Reservoir

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

In accordance with federal guidelines, existing flows during these late-season months are maintained at a minimum of 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) in late August, and 20 cfs from early September to mid-October.

With the county’s purchased pumping of free water at times of the year when rivers are most stressed, flows on the Upper Colorado will increase to 65 cfs late August to mid-September, 50 cfs in the second half of September and 35 cfs in early October, aiding downstream users and overall river health.

Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran relayed to county commissioners at a county meeting on Aug. 17 that the surplus water the county pumps in agreement with the Northern Water Conservancy District shows that “Grand County taxpayers are willing to try and help the environment.”

This year’s arrangement will leave a balance of 240 acre-feet of Grand County water that can be carried over for release in 2011.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Saguache County: The EPA and Trout Unlimited reach agreement for cleanup on Kerber Creek

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would cover the group in its efforts to reclaim scattered tailing piles and waste rock on private land in a 17-mile stretch of the creek. The creek and the Bonanza Mining District, which sits at its headwaters, have been the subject of reclamation efforts since 1993 that aim to reduce metals in the creek and restore aquatic life. Water in several stretches of the stream does not meet federal standards for cadmium, silver, lead, copper, zinc and pH.

Since 2008, Trout Unlimited, the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Natural Resource Conservation Service have spent $1.5 million cleaning up the stretch of creek, which includes both public and private lands. Elizabeth Russell, who manages Trout Unlimited’s efforts on Kerber Creek, said the mine tailings the group encountered on private lands were hazardous enough that it wanted protection from liability. That led to a year of negotiations that resulted in the draft, she said. If finalized, the agreement would cover Trout Unlimited’s past actions…

The agreement is designed to address the group’s work on pollutants that are regulated by the EPA under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. It would not cover the cleanup efforts of acid mine drainage that are regulated under the Clean Water Act…

The draft agreement is subject to public comment through Sept. 20. Comments or requests for a copy of the agreement may be sent to William G. Ross, EPA Enforcement Specialist/SEE (8ENF-RC), Technical Enforcement Program, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202-1129, and should reference the Kerber Creek Site AOC in Saguache County, Colo.

More restoration coverage here.

Boulder: Public meeting tomorrow about floodplain rules

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Heath Urie):

Because it’s considered the Front Range city most at-risk from flash floods, Boulder officials are floating a new proposal that would require certain new buildings to be better protected from floods. Utility planners are beginning work on the Critical Facility and Mobile Population Ordinance with a public meeting on Tuesday to solicit input on the proposal, which seeks to keep the city’s most important infrastructure dry during the types of floods that happen about once every 100 or 500 years. “We’ve learned form past flood events that certain facilities … need to remain operational during flooding,” said Christie Coleman, Boulder’s utility project manager. “When we don’t protect critical pieces of our infrastructure, we think it’s going to take the community longer to recover from a flood.”[…]

What: Open-house meeting on proposed Critical Facility and Mobile Population ordinance

When: 4 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Boulder Municipal Services Center, 5050 East Pearl St.

Arkansas Valley ag future

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In the two years he’s been butting heads with the state Division of Water Resources, [Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal] has not been able to reconcile how irrigating with sprinklers could increase water use. There are so many variables — the market price of crops, the type of crop planted, how much water is running down the ditches, whether it just rained, how much water your neighbor is using, whether he’s just cut hay and is bypassing flows, whether it’s raining on the hay just cut, whether a hail storm has wiped out more valuable crops …

“This is not about a bunch of old farmers who want to sell their water and move to an island,” Henrichs said. He ticked off the names of a dozen young farmers who’ve bought farms in the 10 years he’s been superintendent on the High Line.

It’s getting harder to buy land because speculation has driven water prices up. Land under the High Line has sold for as much as $5,700 an acre, more than double what it was a decade ago.
Circumstances vary, but it’s usually farmers “born and bred into the life” who are purchasing the land with the intent to farm far into the future…

The High Line board has given Henrichs unusual latitude as superintendent to travel widely and represent it on water issues. Henrichs is a member of the citizens advisory group for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District and on the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.
He was a forceful presence in the Vision Task Force that led to the Fountain Creek district. He constant registered complaints as part of the task force looking at consumptive use rules.
There’s a reason for all that. “Where are they going to come next?” Henrichs said, reviewing the Pueblo Board of Water Works foray into the Bessemer Ditch, Aurora’s purchases on the Rocky Ford Ditch and water grabs that sucked Crowley County dry. “They’re going to come to the High Line.”[…]

The events since the historic drought of 2002 bear that out. Rather than sell their water rights after the worst rain year in history, the High Line farmers worked out a lease agreement to sell water to Aurora in 2004-05. Colorado Springs joined in the second year of that deal. Most farmers on the High Line will tell you that the Aurora deal was nothing but a blessing. It allowed them to pay off debt or make needed improvements after a farming season that could have bankrupted them. Soon after, High Line and Aurora jointly filed in Division 2 Water Court to make exchange rights permanent so that if the need for another lease deal arose, they could avoid a time-consuming substitute water supply plan. The High Line-Aurora deal set the stage for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, a water lease-fallow land program that includes shareholders from seven ditches, including the High Line. High Line countered with its own leasing program and plans that could include a pipeline to the thirsty cities of the north. This year, a new wrinkle was added when the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District contracted to buy several farms at the end of the High Line Canal. Moving the water would require a change in the ditch company bylaws, so for now the High Line board will not approve the transfer.

Many High Line farmers do not oppose the sale of water rights — they see it as their right as property owners to sell to whomever they want and bristle when outsiders tell them they cannot. Still, they are wary that taking water out of the ditch could reduce the flows that carry water to their own headgates, and will do what it takes to protect the ditch.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

…Vernon John Proctor, is a board member of the High Line Canal and takes a longer view of the problems agriculture has faced. The current recession began in 2008, but farmers hardly noticed, other than when fuel prices increased, Proctor said. “We’ve been in a suppressed economy for years. Everything we buy is at retail, and everything we sell is at wholesale,” he said…

Proctor was among farmers who leased water to Aurora in 2004-05, and was a member of the board that negotiated the details. He said the lease prevented him from having to sell the water rights. “I’m not looking at selling, I plan to pass everything on to my sons if possible,” Proctor said. “When you can’t produce a crop, you need something to fall back on. As long as you can stay above water, it’s a good life. You are your own boss. “But if you get into trouble, the land and the water are your only assets.”

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.