Eyewitness account plus scavenged elk carcass indicates likely presence of multiple wolves in northwest #Colorado — @ColoradoParksWildlife

Grey Wolf. Photo credit: USFWS via CPW

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porras):

Eyewitness account plus scavenged elk carcass indicates likely presence of multiple wolves in northwest Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say an eyewitness report of six large canids traveling together in the far northwest corner of the state last October, in conjunction with last week’s discovery of a thoroughly scavenged elk carcass near Irish Canyon – a few miles from the location of the sighting – strongly suggests a pack of gray wolves may now be residing in Colorado.

According to the eyewitness, he and his hunting party observed the wolves near the Wyoming and Utah borders. One of the party caught two of the six animals on video.

“The sighting marks the first time in recent history CPW has received a report of multiple wolves traveling together,” said CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. “In addition, in the days prior, the eyewitness says he heard distinct howls coming from different animals. In my opinion, this is a very credible report.”

After learning about the scavenged elk carcass, CPW initiated an investigation which is still ongoing. At the site, the officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals surrounding the carcass. According to CPW wildlife managers, the tracks are consistent with those made by wolves. In addition, the condition of the carcass is consistent with known wolf predation. (Photos below)

“The latest sightings add to other credible reports of wolf activity in Colorado over the past several years,” said Romatzke. “In addition to tracks, howls, photos and videos, the presence of one wolf was confirmed by DNA testing a few years ago, and in a recent case, we have photos and continue to track a wolf with a collar from Wyoming’s Snake River pack.

Romatzke says from the evidence, there is only one logical conclusion CPW officials can make.

“It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well-established,” he said. “We have no doubt that they are here, and the most recent sighting of what appears to be wolves traveling together in what can be best described as a pack is further evidence of the presence of wolves in Colorado.”

Romatzke adds CPW will continue to operate under the agency’s current management direction.

“We will not take direct action and we want to remind the public that wolves are federally endangered species and fall under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As wolves move into the state on their own, we will work with our federal partners to manage the species,” he said.

The public is urged to contact CPW immediately if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity. The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.

For more information about wolves, visit the CPW website.

City of Durango plans temporary fix for dangerous rapids at Whitewater Park — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The city of Durango plans to get back into the Animas River this winter to fix human-made rapids at the Whitewater Park that drew criticism for posing too great a risk to boaters during high water last summer.

Tweaks have been made to the Whitewater Park, which flows along Santa Rita Park, as early as the 1980s. But a full-scale $2.6 million project to enhance the park and build a series of rapids began in 2014 and was finished in 2018.

The most recent issue, which requires the city to get back in the river in the coming months, started three years ago and is considered separate from the Whitewater Park, which was led by the Parks and Recreation Department.

In summer 2016, the city’s Utilities Department spent $1 million to build several new features in the river, just above the Whitewater Park, for the sole purpose of diverting more water into the city’s water intake for municipal use on the east side of the river.

Since then, some members of the boating community have said the new features, which span the entire width of the river, function like low-head dams, one of the most dangerous hazards on a river because of the strong, recirculating water that can flip and trap boats, as well as people.

And if people fall out at the new drops, they have a long, cold swim through the actual Whitewater Park, which includes several major rapids and water temperatures in the low- to mid-40s…

This past summer, [Shane] Sigle said the only way to permanently fix the rapids would be to use grout to cement boulders in the river to ensure a safely designed flow. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which issues permits for work in any waterways) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, however, oppose using grout on river bottoms because it can adversely affect aquatic life.

City officials have said it’s unrealistic, and costly, to get back into the river every year to move boulders and rocks. But without being able to use grout, options are limited.

As a result, while long-term solutions are sought, it appears smaller maintenance projects are the city’s only way to make the river safer.

Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director, said the plan is to get in the Animas River as early as February to start the project, which could cost around $140,000 to $160,000.

Without grouting, though, the river will eventually move the boulders and nullify the improvements the city plans to make this year.

Durango whitewater park plans

Beckoning the Beavers — Wild Earth Guardians

From Wild Earth Guardians (John Horning):

I love beavers. Ever since I was a kid and watched them slap their tails defiantly, and loudly, to warn their clan of the threatening presence of large animals, I’ve thought beavers were worthy of my admiration. Then I realized they build dams too! As an aspiring dam builder myself, I figured beavers had more than a few things to teach me.

In fact, when the question of what is my favorite spirit animal arises, my response is almost always: beavers. They bring joy and gusto to their daily work and are quite content in mud and water. What’s not to admire?

So, when the opportunity came up in late September to be a beaver for a day with WildEarth Guardians’ restoration crew, I jumped at it—especially since I could bring along my energetic, six-year-old twin boys.

But what it exactly means to be a beaver for a day I did not know. I could only imagine that flowing water, willows, and mud had to be essential ingredients.

What I did know was that we were supposed to convene on the banks of San Antonio Creek—a meandering stream that sits at the bottom of a cleft in the volcanic uplift that is the Jemez Mountains. So, it was there that Wiley, Finn, and I found ourselves on a recent Saturday morning with another thirty souls who, I sensed, were likewise wondering whether they, too, could be adequate beavers for a day.

There, WildEarth Guardians’ restoration director, Reid Whittlesey, laid out our task. Standing next to a large pile of willows and rocks, he explained that our goal was to weave willow, and place rocks and mud. If we did it well, as our dam rose so, too, would the water.

The job of building these beaver dam analogues, or BDAs as they are known, was made easier by the placement of two dozen wooden posts that had been driven into the ground in a cross-crossed pattern across the stream. These posts, placed days earlier by Reid and his crew, provided the necessary foundation for each dam to rise.

And so a beaver clan, a crew of five or six people, was deployed to each of the six dam sites. For my boys—as it seemed for everyone—the excitement of the reality of dam-building overrode the hesitation that often comes with trying something new. In partnership with the other adults, the boys wove the willow back and forth between the poles and watched as others did the same.

Without it really being emphasized we had already embodied one of the critical qualities of beavers: collaboration amongst a family unit to accomplish a grand task.

And steadily each of the dams rose. Not on the scale of a New York City skyscraper, but rather like a humble, sod hut that once housed pioneers on the Great Plains. First one foot, then two feet and, in some cases, three or even four feet of willow, mud, sedge, and stone. Each dam was a unique creation and an imperfectly perfect monument—not to our ability to mimic the wisdom of beavers, but rather to our deep human yearning to heal damaged lands.

Of course, every story of healing and restoring the land and its grace, its beauty, and its dignity is also a story of trauma. For healing would not be necessary if there were no trauma. And this piece of the Santa Fe National Forest, this creek, has been deeply and repeatedly traumatized. Not by some massive and obvious threat, but rather by the insidious and ubiquitous presence of cattle grazing in otherwise arid landscapes.

Absent cows, there would be willows along the stream. And almost everywhere there are willows, beavers thrive. And where beavers thrive there is ecological dynamism, and the land sings, with the literal songs of flycatchers and frogs and with the slithering of snakes and the pattering of shrews and mice. And in the stream itself, native trout grow fatter and more abundant in the cooler, deeper waters that beaver dams create.

Here in New Mexico, there is a long list of endangered species that have been imperiled in the absence of beavers and that would benefit from their return. The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the Southwest willow flycatcher are just a few.

Sadly, the need for BDAs and the return of beavers is not limited to San Antonio Creek. In 2016 ecologists found that beaver occupied fewer than 1% of potential stream habitats in New Mexico. They found the problem even worse on national forests in northern New Mexico, concluding “beaver dams were exceptionally rare on public lands managed for cattle grazing.” (Small et. al 2016, Livestock grazing limits beaver restoration in northern New Mexico, Restoration Ecology.)

But this story of the beaver apocalypse is not unique to New Mexico, nor even to the American West. Beavers have been extirpated from literally tens of thousands of miles of streams and small rivers—the victims of both trapping and habitat degradation. Those ecosystems suffer greatly in their absence.

Our hope, of course, is that beavers will return to San Antonio Creek and make these dams their own. But when and if they do there is yet another challenge they will face: the harsh, deadly reality of a body-crushing trap. On nearly all of New Mexico public lands, trapping is allowed. So as soon as beavers return to the San Antonio Creek, a weekend trapper could eliminate every last one in the entire watershed.

All of these unfortunate realities for beavers reflect antiquated policy dictated by outdated beliefs—that beavers are pests and nuisance animals that should be eliminated any time someone complains. Incredibly, the last time the state of New Mexico wildlife agency did a beaver inventory was in 1956, the year before the television show “Leave it to Beaver” debuted.

Sadly, we can’t just leave it to beavers anymore. And the work of building beaver dam analogues reflects that reality. If we are to heal our streams and make our water supplies more resilient in the face of an ever-warming planet, we need to get busy. We must create and pass new state and federal policies and practices that restore beavers and beaver habitat to every single mile of streams and rivers on national forests, national parks, and all our public lands.

All the beaver clichés aside, we are losing time, losing species, and losing our precious water supplies every day of our collective inaction. I feel urgency not only for the creatures, large and small, whose intrinsic right to exist is being trampled on, but also for my boys and their deep yearnings to see frogs, snakes, and jumping mice animate the wild places they grow up in.

Toward the end of our time as beavers, my boys and I retreated to our nearby campsite where we shared stories of our days’ feats around the fire. That night, we drifted off to sleep to the hooting calls of a pair of Mexican spotted owls nested in the remnant ancient fir and pine forest that cover the valley walls.

The next morning after packing up, we were about to get in the car when my boys proclaimed that we could not leave without one more inspection of “our” beaver dam. Much to their satisfaction, not only was the dam still intact, but the water level had risen noticeably since the previous afternoon. As their energy lingered, the boys hummed, gently sang, and chattered to themselves and to each other in contemplative satisfaction with their work. One walked back and forth across the dam while the other waded in and out of the now waist-deep water. Without further words, we headed back up stream and up the hill to our car. But before moving on, one of my boys said, “Dad, we need to come back and build more beaver dams!”

“Yes, we do,” I said. “Yes, we do.”

For additional photos from Guardians’ Restoration Director, Reid Whittlesey, click here and scroll down.

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

Lake Nighthorse changing the game for annual bird count — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

…volunteers with the National Audubon Society’s annual bird count, which has been ongoing since 1949, say they are starting to see the impact the new body of water is having on different species of birds around Durango in winter months.

“Lake Nighthorse has created a different habitat,” said John Bregar, a member of the Durango Bird Club. “It’s attracting water fowl and fish-eating birds we didn’t use to get so much of before. It’s pretty cool to be monitoring that.”

[…]

A group of about nine eared grebe, a water bird, which is a rare sight on the Christmas count, were spotted on Lake Nighthorse last year. Double-crested cormorant, a seabird, used to leave Southwest Colorado for warmer pastures but have taken up at the reservoir during the winter.

And two horned grebes, another water bird, which Bregar said were never recorded on a Christmas count and are not common in Southwest Colorado in general, are now wintering on Lake Nighthorse…

Bregar said aside from the rare finds, all kinds of birds take advantage of the waters and fish of Lake Nighthorse, such as bald eagles, loons and mergansers.

“It’s a deep body of water with a lot of fish,” he said, “so fish-eating birds are quite prevalent.”

In all, 31 volunteers counted 6,279 individual birds and 82 different species Dec. 15.

For reference, 2017 was seen as a good year for the bird count, with volunteers finding 85 species and 7,452 individual birds.

And in 2018, the count, which was conducted Dec. 16, found a strong number of diverse species – 82 – but the number of individual birds was down to 6,732…

Some interesting observations from the count include:

  • Bird counters noted a near record high number of northern harriers, a raptor, at 19. In a previous year, 20 were spotted
  • The bird count broke the record for white-winged doves. Only twice before has the count recorded that species, and each time, it was just one dove. “This year we recorded six white-winged doves, five near the upper Animas River and one along Florida Road,” Bregar said. “Durango has had a small population of white-winged doves hanging out in the northern portions of our city for years, but they seldom stray far enough south to get counted in our Christmas bird count.”
  • A flock of 21 snow geese was spotted flying above the skies in Durango. The birds usually are not seen in Southwest Colorado.
  • The most abundant bird spotted was the Canada goose at almost 1,200. Second place goes to juncos, a medium-sized sparrow, at around 1,000.
  • Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    @CWCB_DNR: Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Extended 13 Years

    Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    A victory for wildlife and Colorado water, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Colorado Governor Jared Polis, and the Governors of Nebraska and Wyoming signed a Cooperative Agreement to extend the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) with $156 million.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has played a major role in this Program’s creation and ongoing efforts, including policy and financial support.

    “This collaborative program supports the recovery of four threatened and endangered species by improving and maintaining habitat in the Platte River in Nebraska while allowing for continued water use in Colorado,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell. “We look forward to continuing our role in the upcoming years of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.”

    “The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment,” said Governor Polis.

    The Program was set to expire at the end of 2019. However, with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Department of Natural Resources; and other state, federal, and non-governmental partners; a bill supported by the entire Congressional delegation from Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming was passed and signed by the President before the New Year.

    Together with its water users, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is celebrating the Program’s more than a decade record of success. As the Program enters into its next 13 years, it has momentum to continue to recover threatened and endangered species, which provides assurance for future water use in Colorado.

    Sandhill crane migration, Platte River via the Colorado Water Conservation Board.