From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
The mine spill temporarily closed down recreation in the river and forced farmers to shut off irrigation to their crops. But life in the river? It didn’t change much. The bugs and fish survived and showed no signs of short-term harm. The fish had been living with heavy mineralization of the water for decades.
Crisis averted — until this year…
The Animas began the summer with record low water because of drought and a warm winter. That primed the nearby mountains for a big wildfire. The 416 Fire ended up burning about 55,000 acres around the drainage basin for Hermosa Creek, a tributary of the Animas. Now when it rains over the burn area, a thick sludge washes into the river.
Horn says official surveys haven’t been conducted, but it’s likely the first few ash-laden runoff events killed 100 percent of the fish in a 30 mile stretch of the river.
“You could literally see the fish coming to the banks gasping for air. It physically smothered their gills and their ability to breathe,” Horn says. “So there it was, it didn’t look as bad. It came from a, you could argue, natural source and did way more damage.”
Many western rivers are stressed. They’re pressured by drought, pollution, overuse by cities and farmers and runoff from wildfires. The Animas acts as the perfect poster child.
“It certainly is unlucky,” says Scott Roberts, a researcher with the Mountain Studies Institute, a non profit research group based in nearby Silverton. “It’s unlucky now. And it’s been unlucky for throughout time really.”
The river’s facing problems that show themselves, Roberts says, like a vibrant orange smear or a chocolate brown sludge. Or like earlier this summer when the river’s water all but disappeared within Durango’s city limits, recording its record lowest flow in 107 years of data.
But there are many others that don’t draw intense public attention. Before the Gold King Mine spill, and even now, the river receives acidic water laden with heavy metals from the region’s numerous abandoned mines. Adding insult to injury, in July 2018 a truck carrying waste material from the mine site crashed into Cement Creek, another Animas tributary.
“It’s being stressed by drought, being stressed by warmer temperatures. It’s being stressed by runoff from wildfires, being stressed by elevated metal concentrations, being stressed by bacteria, by nutrients,” he says.
Roberts points to studies that showed samples of the river’s water with high levels of bacteria commonly found in humans, likely leached from underground septic tanks.
“I don’t think that the problems that are plaguing the Animas today are unique to the Animas,” says Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell, based in Durango…
In fact, Churchwell says, all these issues are increasingly common throughout the West. Drought, ash-laden runoff and mine pollution are often the norm in western watersheds. The Animas has just experienced the extremes of all three in a short period of time…
But it could be another five to ten years before the Animas is back to its former self, according to water quality specialist Barb Horn.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski);
Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists have discovered a unique genetic lineage of the Colorado River cutthroat trout in southwest Colorado that was thought to be extinct. The agency will continue to evaluate the findings and collaborate with agency partners to protect and manage populations of this native trout.
The discovery was officially recognized earlier this year thanks to advanced genetic testing techniques that can look into the basic components of an organism’s DNA, the building blocks of life. This exciting find demonstrates the value of applying state-of-the-art genetic science to decades of native cutthroat conservation management and understanding.
“Anyone who just looked at these fish would have a difficult time telling them apart from any other cutthroat; but this is a significant find,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in Durango. “Now we will work to determine if we can propagate these fish in our hatcheries and reintroduce them into the wild in their historic habitat. It’s a great conservation effort and a great conservation story.”
Eight small populations of these trout have been found in streams of the San Juan River Basin within the San Juan National Forest and on private property. The populations are in isolated habitats and sustained through natural reproduction. U.S. Forest Service staff and landowners have been cooperative in CPW’s efforts; they will also be instrumental in further cutthroat conservation efforts.
In August, north of Durango, crews from CPW and the U.S. Forest Service hiked into two small, remote creeks affected by the 416 Fire and removed 58 fish. Ash flows from the fire could have severely impacted these small populations.
Cutthroat trout originated in the Pacific Ocean and are one of the most diverse fish species in North America with 14 different subspecies. Three related subspecies are found in Colorado: Colorado River cutthroat trout found west of the Continental Divide; Greenback cutthroat trout in the South Platte River Basin; and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the San Luis Valley. A fourth, the yellowfin cutthroat trout native to the Arkansas River Basin, went extinct in the early 1900s. Cutthroats from each of these areas have specific and distinctive genetic markers. CPW propagates the three remaining subspecies, and actively manages their conservation and recovery throughout the state.
White and other biologists ‒ including Kevin Rogers, a CPW cutthroat researcher based in Steamboat Springs, and Mike Japhet, a retired Durango CPW aquatic biologist ‒ have been surveying remote creeks in southwest Colorado for more than 30 years looking for isolated populations of cutthroat trout. They found some populations in remote locations long before advanced genetic testing was available. The biologists understood that isolated populations might carry unique genetic traits and adaptations, so they made sure to preserve collected samples for genetic testing later. Significant advances in genetic testing technology over the last 10 years were instrumental in finding the distinct genetic markers that identify the San Juan lineage trout as being unique.
In 1874, naturalist Charles E. Aiken collected and preserved samples of fish found in the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs. Two trout were deposited in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. These samples were forgotten until 2012 when a team of researchers from the University of Colorado was hired by the Greenback Trout Recovery Team to study old trout specimens housed in the nation’s oldest museums. When the researchers tested tissue from those two specimens they found genetic markers unique to the San Juan River Basin. Armed with the knowledge of these genetic “fingerprints”, CPW researchers and biologists set out to test all the cutthroat trout populations they could find in the basin in search of any relic populations.
“We always ask ourselves, ‘What if we could go back to the days before pioneer settlement and wide-spread non-native fish stocking to see what we had here?’” White said. “Careful work over the years by biologists, finding those old specimens in the museum and the genetic testing gave us the chance, essentially, to go back in time. Now we have the opportunity to conserve this native trout in southwest Colorado.”
Developing a brood stock of these trout so that they can be reintroduced into San Juan River headwaters streams will be a key conservation strategy for increasing their distribution into suitable habitat and help their long-term stability. Protecting the fish from disease, other non-native fish, habitat loss and over-harvest are important factors that will be considered in a conservation plan that will be developed over the next few years. While that might seem like a long time, the discovery of this fish goes back more than 100 years.
Over the decades, CPW has worked with many partners throughout the state to find and conserve distinct cutthroat populations. Many of these efforts were conducted with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service, conservation groups and private property owners. CPW also works on projects with both the Colorado River Cutthroat Trout and Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout conservation teams.
All native cutthroats have been adversely affected by a variety of issues, including reduced stream flows, competition with other trout species, changes in water quality and other riparian-habitat alterations. Consequently, the various types of native cutthroats are only found in isolated headwaters streams. To ensure continued conservation of Colorado’s cutthroats, CPW stocks only the native species in high lakes and headwater streams. That stocking practice started in the mid-1990s.
CPW has also conserved cutthroats in headwaters streams by working with the U.S. Forest Service to build barriers to prevent upstream migration of non-native trout, removing non-native trout and subsequently stocking them with native trout. The conservation group, Trout Unlimited, has provided valuable assistance with many of these projects.
John Alves, Durango-based senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southwest Region, said the discovery shows the dedication of CPW aquatic biologists.
“These fish were discovered because of our curiosity and our concern for native species,” Alves said. “We’re driven by scientific inquiry that’s based on hard work and diligence. This is a major discovery for Colorado and it shows the critical importance of continuing our research and conservation work.”
Here’s the release from Governor Mead’s office:
Governor Matt Mead has appointed Lynne Boomgaarden to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Boomgaarden replaces Justice William U. Hill, who has been on the Supreme Court since 1998 – over 19 years. Justice Hill will retire on February 17, 2018.
Boomgaarden is currently a partner with Crowley Fleck and has been with the firm for the past four years. She has been in private practice in Cheyenne since 2010. She has extensive legal experience gained over a long, distinguished career, which includes service as career clerk for 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Wade Brorby, as Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Wyoming College of Law, and as Director of the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments from 2003-2010. She was editor-in-chief of the Law Review, admitted to the Order of the Coif, and ranked at the top of her UW law school class.
“The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice has a lasting impact on Wyoming. It is a big decision – one that I take most seriously and one that is very hard to make. I had three exceptional candidates to choose from, and I thank the Judicial Nominating Commission for that,” Governor Mead said. “Lynne Boomgaarden has worked with the best, including Judge Brorby and Governor Freudenthal. She has extensive experience chairing the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission and in natural resource law, in private practice and state administration, and with legal writing and teaching – all impressive. She will serve Wyoming and its citizens well on the Supreme Court.”
In reacting to her appointment, Boomgaarden stated: “I appreciate the importance of Governor Mead’s decision and am honored to accept his appointment as the next Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court. I will work extremely hard in service to the Court and Wyoming citizens.”
From The Mountain Mail (Merle Baranczyk):
If voters approve the proposed 0.25 percent countywide sales tax at the November general election, a portion of funds would be used to treat forest lands.
The U.S. Forest Service currently treats about 1,200 acres per year. With additional funding, that number would grow to 4,000 acres annually, nearly triple the number of acres that could see mitigation.
The sales tax would generate about $1 million per year and would be used to:
• Strengthen forest health;
• Conserve and support working ranches, farms and rural landscapes; and
• Manage impacts of growth in outdoor recreation.
Cindy Williams, co-lead with County Commissioner Greg Felt of Envision Chaffee County, the entity that is the impetus behind the proposal, said the goal would be to treat 2 percent of forested public lands, about 4,000 acres, in the county each year.
Responsibility for maintaining public lands in the county rests with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Managment and state of Colorado. But, Felt said, the agencies do not have the budget or the staff to properly maintain lands under their jurisdiction.
An example of how funding would be used is the current project on Monarch Pass. In concert with the U.S. Forest Service, a number of entities have joined forces in an effort to remove beetle-killed dead standing trees to improve forest health, reduce the danger of wildfires and protect water supplies.
Williams said various entities, including the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, Monarch Mountain, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Pueblo and Colorado Springs water utilities, are supporting the project.
Monarch Pass is the headwaters of the South Arkansas River, which is a source of water for the city of Salida and dozens of irrigators.
Mitigation work, she said, would protect towns, water supplies, water infrastructure, the recreation economy, wildlife and wildlife habitat.
Felt said Chaffee County has contributed $48,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund to the program.
The idea behind this element of the sales tax, he said, “is to leverage interests of other water-related organizations” who have an interest in water quality and the resource.
If the county puts $500,000 from the proposed conservation tax toward forest mitigation work, Felt said the goal would be to generate an additional $5 million from other sources.
“The goal,” Felt said, “is not to spend a million dollars a year on conservation, but to leverage that into $5 million” to benefit the county.
He said if there is local interest, the county will be able to do more by drawing money from other organizations and agencies…
Williams said the net result of the tax would be to bring additional dollars through grants and participating partners into the county to be used to benefit county resources.
Williams said representatives of agencies and foundations she has talked to about the county conservation project have said they typically do not see communities coming together like this, including governments, businesses and citizens.
The Gates Family Foundation, she said, is monitoring the county as a possible development model with new tools for other Western states.
Felt said Envision has “blown out of the water” representatives of foundations and government agencies who have become aware of the project and now want to play a part in the program as it evolves.</blockquote.