Paper: Smokey the Beaver: beaver-dammed riparian corridors stay green during wildfire throughout the western United States — Ecological Society of America

Conceptual model of vegetation response to normal, drought, and fire with and without beaver. Credit: ESA

Click the link to read the paper from the Ecological Society of America (Emily Fairfax, Andrew Whittle). Here’s the abstract:

Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low-tech, low-cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale. They slow and store water that can be accessed by riparian vegetation during dry periods, effectively protecting riparian ecosystems from droughts. Whether or not this protection extends to wildfire has been discussed anecdotally but has not been examined in a scientific context. We used remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to compare riparian vegetation greenness in areas with and without beaver damming during wildfire. We include data from five large wildfires of varying burn severity and dominant landcover settings in the western United States in our analysis. We found that beaver-dammed riparian corridors are relatively unaffected by wildfire when compared to similar riparian corridors without beaver damming. On average, the decrease in NDVI during fire in areas without beaver is 3.05 times as large as it is in areas with beaver. However, plant greenness rebounded in the year after wildfire regardless of beaver activity. Thus, we conclude that, while beaver activity does not necessarily play a role in riparian vegetation post-fire resilience, it does play a significant role in riparian vegetation fire resistance and refugia creation.

Photo credit: Wisconsin Wildlife Services

#Colorado releases California Gulch settlement funds — The #Leadville Herald-Democrat #ArkansasRiver

View of the Yak Tunnel and Mine Complex in California Gulch near Leadville, Colorado; shows mill buildings and ore car tracks. Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, and the Sawatch Range are in the background. Denver Public Library Special Collections
Beam, George L. (George Lytle), 1868-1935. Date: 1908

Click the link to read an article from The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Patrick Bilow):

The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative (ARWC), which also includes groups like Trout Unlimited, submitted an initial application last fall under the project title “Upper Arkansas Comprehensive Watershed Restoration Project.” The application requested $5 million from damages associated with the California Gulch Superfund Site for various initiatives, including culvert replacement and fuels mitigation…

Commissioner Sarah Mudge, who helped submit the application in December, said the group will submit a new request in February for consideration under a new round of funding. Mudge said ARWC has altered the scope of work slightly for the new application, but that culvert work and fuels mitigation will remain a priority.

Last September, the trustees, including Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, visited Lake County for a landmark tour of California Gulch, a Superfund site that was heavily impacted by mining operations. After the tour, the trustees heard proposals from groups like ARWC, which presented the “Upper Arkansas Comprehensive Watershed Restoration Project.”


Fuels mitigation will entail thinning efforts and the implementation of a county-wide slash management program. Mine impact mitigation refers to ongoing efforts to prevent soil and water pollution from old mine operations. And river restoration will include post-wildfire flood defense along waterways and culvert repair in four or five areas throughout Lake County.

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

2022 #COleg: #Wildfire related bills this session

Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

Click the link to read an article from The Denver Post (Nick Coltrain). Here’s an excerpt:

[HB22-1111 Insurance Coverage For Loss Declared Fire Disaster: Concerning insurance coverage for insured losses incurred as a result of a declared fire disaster] aims to make it easier to file and receive initial claims for lost property, ease the inventory process and extend housing reimbursement, among other things, when a loss is declared as part of a declared fire disaster. It passed its first committee Thursday night on a bipartisan 10-2 vote.

“(Mass property loss in a fire disaster) makes it much harder to recover,” Amabile said before the hearing. “It’s harder to find a place to rent, it’s harder to get your building permits approved, it’s harder to find a builder and an architect, and it’s also harder to get your claim through the insurance company because they’re also overwhelmed with claims.”

The Marshall fire underscores the need for this type of legislation, she said. Homes lost to fire disasters still account for a small percentage of total insurance claims, including things like hail, but the mass trauma they inflict is dramatic, she said…

Slopes above Cheesman Reservoir after the Hayman fire photo credit Denver Water.

In [HB22-1011 Wildfire Mitigation Incentives For Local Governments: Concerning the establishment of a state grant program that provides funding to local governments that dedicate resources for wildfire mitigation purposes], which Snyder introduced with Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, he hopes to encourage local governments to bolster their efforts at fighting wildfire with a state matching grant.

Broadly speaking, a local government would need to have a dedicated funding source for fire mitigation to qualify for a matching slice of money from the state forest service. A fiscal analysis predicts it would cost about $20 million in its first full year, beginning July 1, 2023.

What qualifies as mitigation would be broadly defined and left to the local government, Snyder said. The state’s ecosystem is too diverse to prescribe solutions. The bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet, the first step to possible passage into law…

Agile equipment gathers processed logs in the forest and takes them to the road and stacks them. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

Land management, including proper timber harvest and grazing, needs to coexist with a focus on preservation, he said. Will noted a colleague, Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, is running [HB22-1166 Incentives Promote Colorado Timber Industry: Concerning the adoption of incentives to promote the timber industry in Colorado, and, in connection therewith, creating an internship program in the Colorado state forest service, extending an existing sales and use tax exemption to cover the sales, storage, and use of wood harvested in Colorado, and creating a state income tax credit for the purchase of qualifying items used in timber production] to promote the timber industry, which Will said could help with forest and fuel management.

Fire management will need education, awareness, planning, mitigation and preparation, Will said. And while he encouraged those efforts, it’s Mother Nature’s cooperation, for better of ill, that will define wildfires in Colorado.

Click the link to view a list of bills for wildfire.

Snow #drought current conditions and impacts in the west: The faucet has been shut off across much of the West after a promising wet and snowy start to the season. — NIDIS #snowpack

Key Points

  • Well above-normal snow water equivalent (SWE) at the start of 2022 provided a buffer to mitigate the extreme dry spell over the past month—caused by a persistent ridge of high pressure off the West Coast—and avoid a rapid plunge into a snow drought across most of the region.
  • The West as a whole is trending towards snow drought conditions with below-normal SWE at 62% of the SNOTEL sites on February 8 compared to 21% on January 10.
  • The forecast includes a continued dry spell and above-normal temperatures. Along with increasing late winter sun angles, these conditions will work against snowpack accumulation.
  • Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) snow water equivalent (SWE) values for watersheds in the western U.S. as a percent of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) 1991–2020 median. Only stations with at least 20 years of data are included in the station averages.
    The SWE percent of normal represents the current SWE at selected SNOTEL stations in or near the basin compared to the average value for those stations on this day. This map is valid as of February 8, 2022.
    For an interactive version of this map, please visit NRCS.

    Snow Drought Update for February 10, 2022

    The faucet has been shut off across much of the West over the past month after a promising wet and snowy start to the season. Well above-normal snow water equivalent (SWE) at the start of 2022 provided the buffer needed to mitigate the extreme dry spell over the past month and avoid a rapid plunge into a snow drought across most of the region. A persistent ridge of high pressure has been parked off the West Coast since early January, leading to record-low precipitation totals at SNOTEL sites over the past 30 days in every western state except for New Mexico. Zero precipitation was observed over the past 30 days at many SNOTEL sites in northwest California, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Basin. Remarkably, some of the sites at which zero snow fell in the past month still have slightly above-normal SWE thanks to major storms during the last two weeks of December and beginning of January. Still, the West as a whole is trending toward snow drought conditions, with below-normal SWE at 62% of the SNOTEL sites on February 8 compared to 21% on January 10

    As we progress through the snow season, attention turns to spring runoff and summer water supply. Peak SWE is one of the metrics used to assess potential water supply outcomes. The timing of median peak SWE varies across the West, but generally occurs from late March through early April, with higher-elevation sites in the Rockies peaking the latest. With over a month left in the heart of the snow season, many areas have already exceeded 70% of median peak SWE thanks to the wet period in early winter. In the Cascade Range of northern Oregon, several SNOTEL sites, mostly at lower elevations, have already exceeded the median peak SWE, which is encouraging. Areas in which values of less than 50% of median peak SWE are widespread include northwest California, northeast Nevada, Utah, northwest Wyoming, and southwest Montana. Forecasts indicate that below-normal precipitation and snowfall is likely to continue during the next 1–2 weeks over most of the West. The continued dry spell, above-normal temperatures, and increasing late winter sun angles all will be working against snowpack accumulation, and the spatial extent of snow drought is likely to continue to increase.

    Snowpack across most of Alaska (where there are observations) continues to be above normal, with a few exceptions. A cluster of four SNOTEL stations in the Kenai Mountains north of Seward have slightly below normal SWE (82%–96% of normal). SWE is also below normal in the Chugach Mountains near Thompson Pass as indicated by the Upper Tsaina River SNOTEL and several early February snow course readings in the area. Record high (40–60 year period of record in some cases) early February SWE was measured throughout the Central Interior and in the upper Susitna Basin near Lake Louise.

    Stations with SWE Below the 30th Percentile

    Snow water equivalent (SWE) percentiles for locations in the western U.S. at or below the 30th percentile as of February 6, 2022. Stations above the 30th percentile* are shown with a black “x”. Only SNOTEL and other Cooperative Snow Sensor stations with at least 20 years of data were used. Data Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    30-Day Precipitation Records: January 9–February 7

    30-Day Precipitation Records: January 9–February 7

    Percent of Median Water Year Peak Snow Water Equivalent

    Percentage of median water year peak snow water equivalent (SWE) observed at SNOTEL and Cooperative Snow Sensors as of February 7, 2022. SWE values at many locations are below 50% of the median peak SWE (shown in red). A few locations in the Pacific Northwest already have SWE values that exceed the median peak SWE (shown in cyan and blue). Data Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    #Colorado Open Lands and Southern Plains Land Trust: Fresh Tracks Preserve – permanently protected!

    Fresh Tracks prairie landscape in southeast Colorado. Photo credit: Colorado Open Lands

    From email from Colorado Open Lands:

    Colorado Open Lands is excited to once again partner with the Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT) to add additional protections on the shortgrass prairie of southeast Colorado! SPLT’s mission is to preserve these lands for the native species – both plant and animal – that thrive on them. The Fresh Tracks easement combines several parcels owned by SPLT into one 2,559-acre addition to their wildlife preserve holdings. It also represents COL’s first easement in Baca County, bringing our total counties served to 50 out of 64!

    Fresh Tracks is home to species great and small, including mountain lion, mule deer, pronghorn, Colorado Species of Special Concern ferruginous hawk and swift fox, and Colorado Threatened Species burrowing owl, as well as the rare Colorado green gentian plant.

    2022 #COleg: HB22-1151 Turf Replacement Program

    Click here to read the bill.

    Click the link to read an article from KRDO (Spencer Soicher):

    House Bill 22-1151 is described as a way to “incentivize water-wise landscapes” by “creating a state program to finance the voluntary replacement of irrigated turf.

    The bill also said it would reduce the sale of agricultural water rights in response to increased demand for municipal water use.

    If passed, people across the state would receive a dollar for every square foot of non-natives grass they get rid of.

    #Nevada, #Utah set to battle over the West’s most precious resource — The Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Cedar City historic main street. CC BY-SA 3.0.

    Click the link to read the article at the Las Vegas Review Journal (Blake Apgar). Here’s an excerpt:

    But the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District, which serves Cedar City and the surrounding area, said the project is important to not just fuel growth in the city of about 35,000 people. It will ensure water can be delivered to people who already live there.

    Cedar City, about 170 miles northeast of Las Vegas, gets its water from an aquifer in Cedar Valley. The city and its surrounding area uses about 28,000 acre-feet per year from an underground system that is only capable of producing about 21,000 acre-feet.

    Last year, Utah adopted a groundwater management plan last year that will roll back water rights and reduce the amount of water that can be pumped out of Cedar Valley.

    Because of this, municipalities in the area stand to lose about 75 percent of their water rights, Central Iron County Water Conservancy District General Manager Paul Monroe said…

    Pine Valley Mountains with St. George, Utah in the foreground. By Óðinn – Own work  This image was created with Hugin., CC BY-SA 2.5 ca

    To preserve water rights in Cedar City and pave the way for more growth, the water district wants to pump about 15,000 acre-feet of water it has rights to from nearby Pine Valley, a proposal that is under federal review.

    2022 #COleg: SB22-028 #Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund #RioGrande

    Third hay cutting 2021 in Subdistrict 1 area of San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Chris Lopez

    Click the link to read the bill on the Colorado Legislature website.

    Click the link to read an article on The Alamosa News (Priscilla Waggoner). Here’s an excerpt:

    Senator Cleave Simpson’s bill “Groundwater Compliance Compact Fund” passed the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee by unanimous vote on [January 25, 2022].

    If the bi-partisan, bi-cameral bill ultimately passes both the Senate and the House, SB22-028 will create a groundwater compliance and sustainability fund eligible to receive allocated funding to help both the San Luis Valley and the Republican River Basin in crucial efforts to achieve sustainability in valley aquifers and compact compliance, respectively…

    Long before any other basins were addressing sustainability in managing groundwater, growers in the San Luis Valley were looking ahead and taking steps to reduce groundwater usage. In Subdistrict No. 1 alone, more than $70 million has been collected from growers and redistributed to growers in a myriad of ways including, but not limited to, the purchase of water rights and well permits. But the challenge remains.

    The language in Simpson’s bill describes the current situation best. “Despite the conservation districts’ and the state’s diligent efforts to implement strategies to reduce groundwater use, including the creation of six groundwater management subdistricts in the Rio Grande River Basin and the use of various federal, state and local funding sources to incentivize the purchase and retirement of irrigated acreage, extensive groundwater use in the Rio Grande and Republican River Basins continues to threaten aquifer sustainability, senior water rights and compact compliance.”


    The Treasury Department has ruled that projects related to water conservation qualify for expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. In collaboration with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the State Engineer, Senator Simpson developed a plan that would request allocation of $50 to $80 million for the purpose of supporting both the Republican River Basin and the Rio Grande River Basin in purchasing acreage to put out of production – all toward the end of reducing groundwater usage through, among other things, retiring irrigation wells and irrigated aces and ultimate compliance of requirements established either through compacts or state statutes that carry heavy consequences should groundwater usage not be reduced.

    However, SB-028 is just the first step in this process. In order for $80 million to be allocated to the Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund, the fund itself must first be created by the legislature. And that is what Senator Simpson’s bill would accomplish.

    Assuming SB22-038 passes and the fund is created, the next step will be to write the bill requesting the $80 million dollar allocation to the fund.

    Walking a Tightrope: #ColoradoSprings meets #stormwater requirements, but it remains under the watchful eye of federal and state regulators and #Pueblo County — The Colorado Springs Independent

    Fountain Creek Highway 47 Bank Restoration Project before project. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
    Flood Control And Greenway District

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck). Here’s an excerpt:

    The city plans to spend upward of $500 million over 20 years to put the brakes on the volume of water pouring into Fountain Creek and points south from storm drainage…

    But while the city currently complies with the federal consent decree imposed in 2020 and the 2016 agreement with Pueblo County, city officials are walking a tightrope to avoid stiff penalties and more onerous oversight.

    Rich Mulledy, as head of the city’s water resources engineering division, manages that tightrope walk, which is reshaping existing drainage systems. That’s no easy trick, considering some waterways have carved 40-foot-tall cliffs along creek beds, and others sped storm runoff into tributaries via concrete channels adding to the consequent flooding downstream.

    Come April, the city will mark six years under the $460 million, 20-year intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Pueblo County to fix the city’s drainage problems. The IGA emerged as a condition of Pueblo County’s approval of activation of Colorado Springs Utilities’ $825 million Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.

    Last fall, the city passed the one-year mark in the $95 million settlement of the lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators alleging Clean Water Act violations stemming from its neglected stormwater system.

    Mulledy and a regiment of inspectors and planners are working under those two edicts, engineered by Mayor John Suthers, who inherited the problem when elected in 2015. Besides negotiating the two agreements, Suthers persuaded voters to pony up millions of dollars to fund the city’s catch-up game.

    So far, so good, according to Suthers.

    Aspinall Unit forecast for operations (February 11, 2022) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Aspinall Unit
    Click to enlarge

    Assessing the U.S. #Climate in January 2021: Top-10 warmest January for contiguous U.S., Great Lakes ice cover well-below average — NOAA

    Courtesy of

    Click the link to access the report from NOAA:

    During January, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 34.6°F, 4.5°F above the 20th-century average, tying for ninth-warmest January in the 127-year record. This was the 10th consecutive January with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th-century average for the month.

    The January precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.01 inches, 0.30 inch below average, and ranked in the driest third of the 127-year period of record. Despite the dry conditions, an atmospheric river brought large amounts of rain and snow to portions of the West Coast January 27-29, which helped to alleviate some of the ongoing drought conditions in the region.

    Please Note: Material provided in this map was compiled from NOAA’s State of the Climate Reports. For more information please visit: http:/

    This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    January Temperature

    • Above-average temperatures were observed across much of the West, northern and central Plains, Great Lakes and Northeast. North Dakota and South Dakota ranked third and fifth warmest on record, respectively. No state across the Lower 48 ranked below average for the month.
      • Above-average temperatures across the Great Lakes during the first two months of winter helped prevent ice from forming on the lakes. On January 24, only 2.4 percent of the entire lake surface was covered by ice. This is the lowest amount of ice coverage for this date in the last 48 years. Peak ice coverage is expected to span only 30 percent of the lake surface sometime from mid-February to early March. Average peak ice coverage is around 53 percent.
    • The Alaska average January temperature was 11.0°F, 8.8°F above the long-term mean ranking 13th warmest in the 97-year record and was the warmest January since 2016. Temperatures across the state were consistently warmer than average with widespread areas in the interior regions 5°F to 10°F above average.
      • Warm January temperatures contributed to the ninth-lowest Bering Sea ice extent in the last 43 years. This was lower than the last two years, but greater than the extent seen in 2017 and 2018.

    January Precipitation

    • During January, above-average wetness was observed across portions of the West Coast, central and southern Plains and parts of the Southeast.
      • An atmospheric river, or a plume of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere, impacted the West Coast from January 27-29. More than 7 inches of precipitation fell from parts of southern California to the central California coast. The Sierra Nevada range received several feet of snow, closing down major highways. In addition to significant rain and snow, winds up to 125 miles per hour were reported near Lake Tahoe, California, as well as extensive power outages and mudslides across parts of the region. This event helped reduce some of the drought that has impacted coastal regions of the West Coast for many months.
    • Below-average precipitation occurred across much of the Rockies, Northern Tier, Great Lakes, parts of the South and the Northeast.
      Alaska ranked in the wettest third of the historical record for January. The interior regions were drier than average while the West Coast, Aleutians, Bristol Bay, the Northwest Gulf and the Panhandle had above-average precipitation.

      • Fairbanks reported 0.5 inch of snow in January. This is the lowest January snowfall total on record for Fairbanks (since 1915).
      • In the Panhandle, Ketchikan accumulated 77.64 inches of precipitation over the November to January period, which is 168 percent of average and the fourth-highest total on record for this three-month period.
    • According to the February 2 U.S. Drought Monitor report, approximately 45.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, which is approximately 3 percent less than at the end of December. Drought conditions expanded across portions of the northern Rockies and northern Plains and developed in parts of the lower Mississippi Valley. Improvements occurred across portions of the central Plains, Deep South, Southwest, and parts of the West Coast. Hawaii saw a 7 percent reduction in drought coverage, while Puerto Rico experienced some drought expansion during January.