Celebrating our wetlands — @AudubonRockies via The Pagosa Springs Sun

Pagosa Springs River Walk Wetlands. Photo credit: Pagosa
Wetland Partners

Here’s a From The Pagosa Daily Post (Keith Bruno):

Swamps, wet meadows, floodplains, bottomlands, bogs, freshwater and saltwater marshes, places where the water stands still and the soil becomes inundated to the point of saturation — these are wetlands.

Tuesday, Feb. 2, marked the annual celebration of World Wetlands Day (check out http://worldwetlandsday.org). Though this day will have passed once this edition of The SUN makes it to print, it’s important to note that this often-neglected habitat type is a true reflection of life and biodiversity, so let’s celebrate it.

After all, wetlands are the great defenders. They control flooding events by slowing down and spreading out pulse runoff flows, they absorb and purify water by trapping excess sediment, they sequester many impurities by trapping and storing them in their anaerobic soils, thereby protecting the adjacent and often more vulnerable aquatic life in riparian zones. Along coastlines, wetlands act as bulwarks, taking the brunt of tidal shifts and defending inland waterways from erosion.

Why, then, must we continue to undermine and take for granted this portent of necessity and life? In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s National Wetlands Inventory determined that between the 1780s and 1980s in what we now call the lower 48 of the United States, we had somewhere close to a net loss of 53 percent of its total wetlands. A startling figure, it’s been estimated that during this 200-year period, 60 acres of wetland were lost every hour to development and associated means. A more recent (2019-2020) toll included the devastating and uncensored groundwater pumping from the iconic 2,400- acre San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona for border wall construction. This wetland complex houses a wide array of diverse life, including two species of native and endangered fish found nowhere else. The bottom line is: We have a long-standing debt to pay back on our wetland take.

Now for the good news. Among other top-line priorities, the current administration plans to restore protections ensured within the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), two measures that offer wetlands hope and security. If you have access to water rights and have an interest in re-establishing defunct wetlands, consider contacting the Colorado Division of Water Resources to learn more about what you can do to provide valuable habitat. Additionally, development projects can visit Colorado’s Wetland Information Center to learn more about the difference between Compensatory Mitigation vs. Voluntary Restoration.

Ask yourself, how familiar are you with your local wetlands? Consider a visit to a local wetland and ask some questions. If you have children, here are a few activities to try out:

(1) How many different types of plants can you find in and around the wetland? Notice that some of the plants are either partially or fully submerged in the water. These are hydrophytes. What adaptations may these plants have adopted to live in a wetland?

(2) What kind of wildlife can you detect? Though it’s still winter time, pay a visit to our warm-water wetlands downtown and with a few minutes of observation, one may note a surprising amount of life. There are roughly 180 species of birds that visit this area yearly. How many can you spot? Once the red-winged blackbirds arrive, watch for their unique breeding and nesting activities.

(3) As we advance toward spring, keep an eye out for increased activity and noises. One spring tradition I have with my daughter is to crawl commando-style on our bellies as close to our neighborhood wetland as possible to see if we can spot the Houdini-act of the boreal chorus frogs as they emanate piercing mating songs. Give it a shot.

(4) For more age-appropriate challenges, visit http://plt.org/stem-strategies/ watch-on-wetlands/ where Project Learning Tree offers STEM-based activities ranging from mapping activities to quantifying ecosystem goods and services gained from preserving wetlands.

For more regional-appropriate resources, visit http://rockies.audubon.org and enter “wetlands” into our search bar. Additionally, learn of upcoming plant and bird walks along the downtown San Juan Riverwalk by following Weminuche Audubon Society events at http://weminucheaudubon.org and by following Pagosa Wetland Partners, an associated group, on Facebook.

Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

The February 1, 2021 #Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report is hot off the presses from the NRCS #snowpack #runoff

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

January Brings Another Month of Below Average Precipitation to #Colorado — NRCS #snowpack

Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Brian Domonkos):

While Colorado did receive some mid-month precipitation accumulation, January received below average accumulation to the snowpack. This has been an unfortunate trend throughout the water year after a dry summer. Recent snow accumulations brought statewide snowpack back up to 77 percent of median and water year to date precipitation to 69 percent of average, as of February 1st. NRCS Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer remarks “While it has been a dry water year so far, there are still two months left in the normal snow accumulation season which leaves time for this pattern to potentially change”. Several years in the recent past have observed substantial late spring and summer precipitation. While this isn’t anything to count on it can be a possibility for the snowpack to still recover to more normal levels.

Reservoir storage varies widely in the state from a low of 60 percent of average in the combined San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan river basin to a high of 106 percent in the combined Yampa-White river basin. Statewide reservoir storage is currently 82 percent of average. While reservoir storage is currently lowest in southern Colorado, it is encouraging that these basins did receive notable snow accumulation during recent storms.

In addition to the current snowpack and fall precipitation, one major consideration this year is that winter started with notable drought conditions across the state. The summer and fall of 2020 were abnormally hot and dry leaving soils in both the mountains and valleys of Colorado very dry. Wetlaufer continued to note that “With extremely dry soils existing under the snowpack, it is anticipated that soil moisture deficits will have to be satisfied by snowmelt, leaving less water available to make it to rivers and streams. This will lead to lower total streamflow amounts than would be commonly seen with a similar snowpack, regardless of what that ends up being”.

The average streamflow forecasts in different river basins range from 55 percent of average in the combined Yampa-White river basin to a high of 80 percent in the Upper Rio Grande river basin. Given the statewide drought conditions across Colorado going into winter, it will be a challenging year to determine exactly how to forecast the relationship between snowpack and streamflow. These relationships can also remain dynamic throughout the snowmelt season and on into the summer depending on future weather. Going forward, it will be important to keep an eye on changing conditions over the coming months.

Western Rivers Conservancy: Join us for Great Rivers of the West, live!

From email from the Western Rivers Conservancy:

We have exciting news! Western Rivers Conservancy is launching a live online series called Great Rivers of the West, and we hope you can join us.

This highly informative, fast-paced, eight-part series begins on March 3, when author and photographer Tim Palmer will take you on a state-by-state virtual journey down the West’s greatest rivers. Each weekly episode will feature a travel- and conservation-inspired slideshow from Tim, a lifelong conservationist and paddler who has made the study of rivers his passion and career for over four decades.

Every episode will begin with an introduction from the founder and CEO of Fishpond, Johnny Le Coq; and WRC’s co-founder and President, Sue Doroff. Tim will follow with an enriching presentation that covers dozens of keystone rivers. He’ll tell you why they matter for fish and wildlife, why they’re worth exploring and ways to see them on your own.

After each episode, Tim and Sue will be on hand to answer questions from the audience.

BONUS! Each episode will end with a drawing for high-end gear from two of our sponsors, Fishpond and Sawyer Paddles & Oars. Just by registering for free you’ll be entered to win in all eight drawings.

The Great Rivers of the West series will air Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, starting March 3.

For more information, and to register for the free series, visit us online.

We hope to see you there!