San Juan National Forest Announces Release of the Final Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

The San Juan National Forest has released the Final Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan. This is the “go-to” document for how the Hermosa Special Management Area and Wilderness will be managed. This document is different from the Environmental Analysis because it combines the proposed action with recently-signed decisions. It does not contain alternatives that were not chosen or much background information or rationale, which can be found in the EA.

Two travel-themed maps are posted showing new rules for motorized and mechanized (bicycle) uses in the Hermosa Creek watershed. The maps and Final Plan are available in the “Post-Decision” tab on the webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=43010

For additional information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970-884-2512.

CPW: Native cutthroat trout reintroduction program continues in Southwest Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffers prepare native Colorado River cutthroat trout for stocking north of Durango on July 27, 2017.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Restoration of native trout reached another milestone on July 27 when 3,000 Colorado River cutthroat trout were stocked in streams about 30 miles north of Durango by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The restoration project is being done in the Hermosa Creek drainage and is a joint project of CPW and the San Juan National Forest, with assistance from Trout Unlimited. So far, restoration work has been completed on three phases of the project which includes sections of the main stem of Hermosa Creek and East Hermosa Creek. One more phase remains that will take two more years to complete.

Last week about 50 volunteers helped to distribute the five-inch fish in about three miles of water in East Hermosa Creek, Relay Creek and Sig Creek.

“Restoring native species is a high priority for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Hermosa Creek drainage is an ideal location for pure Colorado River cutthroat trout,” said Jim White, CPW aquatic biologist in Durango who has coordinated the projects. “There are numerous tributaries streams that provide a variety of habitats and safe havens for populations in case of catastrophic events, such as fire, drought or disease.”

To restore native fish, the U.S. Forest Service has built two barriers on the creeks which block the passage of non-native rainbow and brook trout. Native cutthroats cannot compete with those fish in a stream. Following construction of the barriers, CPW treated the water to kill all fish in the stream. Generally, it takes two years for biologists to confirm that all fish have been eliminated. After that, native fish can be restocked.

Besides building the barriers, the Forest Service has also made improvements along the streams to improve fish habitat.

Fish are doing well on the section completed five years ago on Hermosa Creek, White said. A recent survey showed that more than 400 fish per mile now inhabit the creek.

“We know the fish are reproducing in that section and we are very pleased with what we’re seeing,” White said.

The last phase of the project will connect East Hermosa Creek with the main stem. The Forest Service is currently building another barrier just below the confluence of the two streams; treating the water to eliminate all fish will be done in 2018 and 2019. By 2020, if all goes as planned, nearly 25 miles of stream in the Hermosa Creek drainage will be home to the native trout.

Hermosa Creek is an excellent spot for anglers to get off the beaten path for catch-and-release-fishing. Anglers are reminded that fishing in this area is by fly and lure only, and that all cutthroat trout caught in the area must be returned to the water immediately.

To learn more about CPW’s work to restore native trout throughout the state, go to: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchCutthroatTrout.aspx.

Hermosa Creek cutthroat trout restoration update

Hermosa Park

Update: Here’s a photo gallery from The Durango Herald.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The effort to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout in Hermosa Creek dates back to the early 1990s when wildlife managers used a natural waterfall on the creek’s east fork as a protective barrier.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife cleared out non-native species of trout – specifically brook, brown and rainbows – using a short-lived, organic poison known as rotenone. And in their place, it released Colorado River cutthroat trout, giving the waterway to the native fish for the first time in probably 100 years.

The magnitude of the cutthroat’s loss has never been truly quantified, but its range – which once spanned Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – was dramatically reduced, mostly because of habitat loss, overharvesting and competition with non-native species.

Clay Kampf, a fisheries biologist for the San Juan National Forest, said the best estimates show the Colorado River cutthroat trout is now found in about 14 percent of its historic natural habitat.

Facing the possibility of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listing the Colorado River cutthroat trout as “endangered,” which would bring a host of restrictive protections, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming entered a three-state agreement to lead an aggressive reintroduction program.

“It works well for both parties,” said Jim White, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “This way, the states and local groups have more say in where and how to manage these fish. And it benefits the (Fish & Wildlife Service) because their resources are stretched pretty thin.”

[…]

In the last decade, the state of Wyoming has restored more than 60 miles of Colorado River cutthroat habitat, with most of that occurring in the upper Green River drainage by the town of Big Piney.

There, Mark Smith of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said the population has been struggling since reintroduction. The fish haven’t spawned early enough, he said, which means they don’t grow big enough to survive winter.

“The turnaround hasn’t been as quick as we would have hoped, but we’re getting there,” Smith said. “We’re certainly making gains and going in the right direction.”

In Utah, the program has been wildly successful, with hundreds of miles of streams restored with their native species of trout, said Randy Oplinger of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Oplinger said Utah has been the most ambitious of the three states, likely because of the fact many projects are located on federal lands managed by agencies open to large-scale restoration efforts.

This year alone, the department plans to restore 75 miles of cutthroat habitat within the Colorado River basin. And Oplinger said trout populations tend to fair well throughout the river system…

Hermosa project close to completion
Once a final barrier is constructed this summer on Hermosa Creek, just below its confluence with the east fork, an effort to dedicate more than 23 miles solely to the cutthroat trout will almost be complete.

Two decades ago, Hermosa Creek was recognized as an ideal place for a restoration project because of the creek’s outstanding water quality and because of its easy accessibility through Forest Service Road 578, which runs behind Purgatory Resort.

After the waterfall near Sig Creek Campground was used as a natural blockade from non-native intrusion in the early 1990s, two more human-made barriers were built in 2007 and 2013.

This summer, the U.S. Forest Service will begin construction on the final barrier at the Hermosa-east fork confluence to safeguard the waters above the blockade for the Colorado River cutthroat.

CPW’s White said that in the segments of the creek that have already been repopulated with cutthroat, population trends are encouraging. He said a recent sweep a few years ago found about 400 to 600 fish per mile.

“Populations above 400 fish per mile are usually ranked in the good to excellent category,” White said. “We’ve seen natural reproduction … very shortly after that project on the main stem (of Hermosa) was completed.”

Protecting the cutthroat
With a successful stretch of river returned to its native species, wildlife managers are expecting Hermosa Creek to get a lot of use from excited anglers.

As a result, a strict catch-and-release policy is on that section of river, White said, and there are other measures, such as habitat improvement and limiting bank erosion, that the agencies can take to protect the fish…

The quest to set right altered habitats continues to have strong cultural and ecological justifications, said Noah Greenwald of the Centers for Biological Diversity.

“We’re taking away what makes places like Colorado unique and special,” he said. “And we’re likely impacting other species when we replace a native with a non-native. It’s part of this larger extinction crisis.”

The Hermosa Creek restoration project is a coordinated effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as well as Trout Unlimited, which in total have spent more than a $1 million, Kampf said.

It will take a few more years for the waters upstream of the forthcoming barrier to carry only cutthroats, as non-natives still need to be removed, but Kampf said it will be worth the wait.

From The Durango Herald editorial board:

As local anglers, conservationists and wildlife managers get ready to celebrate another milestone in the restoration of Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek, it is easy to forget that the effort, which dates back to the early 1990s, has its detractors.

Some local residents, and many long-time summer visitors to the popular area tucked behind Purgatory, think all the fuss over the fish – one of three native Colorado subspecies of trout named for the distinctive crimson slashes found on each side of the lower jaw – has ruined a fine local fishing hole.

From a short-term point of view, they have a point. The periodic poisoning of the creek to remove non-native trout, the building of barriers to keep non-natives downstream, the stocking of cutthroats and the rules against taking them for the frying pan have sent those seeking a stringer of fish further downstream, or elsewhere.

In 1992, the Colorado Division of Wildlife applied rotenone above the waterfall on the East Fork; not long after, Colorado River cutthroat were planted in the stream and the fish, estimated to occupy less than 15 percent of its original range on the tributaries of the Green and Colorado rivers, had a toehold in Hermosa headwaters once again.

It was an important step in the effort to keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the fish as an endangered species, and mirrored similar restoration efforts on the fish’s native range in Utah and Wyoming.

Since then, barriers have been built and the process repeated on the main stem upstream of Hotel Draw. With the pending completion this summer of a barrier at the confluence of the East Fork and the main stem, the native-cutthroat-only stretch will soon comprise the largest continuous stretch of Colorado River cutthroat habitat in the state.

It has been an impressive effort, and like its supporters, we are confident of its future success. Those who remain unimpressed may benefit from a history lesson:

The same mining and population boom that decimated the cutthroat nearly extirpated Colorado’s elk. In 1912, elk from Wyoming were reintroduced to the state in the same Hermosa Creek drainage. The area remains, as the Denver Post noted in an article three years ago, “a hunter’s paradise, where trophy elk still die of old age.”

That story, and the Hermosa area’s more recent protected status, bode well for another rebounding native.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Hermosa Trail to be Impacted by Construction of Fish Barrier

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

Construction activities will begin in the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area on Monday, July 10, 2017 to erect a fish-migration barrier on Hermosa Creek as part of the ongoing Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project. Trail users and visitors to the area should expect to encounter delays and closures until October 1, 2017. The barrier is being installed on the main stem of Hermosa Creek downstream of its confluence with the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. About one-half mile of the Hermosa Creek Trail from its northern trailhead must be widened to allow heavy equipment to access the construction site. The trail widening is temporary and will be rehabilitated to the extent possible. Tree removal is expected to be minimal.

Throughout the construction project, trail users traveling in both directions may encounter temporary delays of up to one hour. Short-term closures lasting up to a full day are also possible, especially when heavy equipment is being moved in and out of the area. No more than four days of closures are expected during the three-month project, but construction schedules are subject to changing conditions. Public notices will be posted when trail closures are expected. The project is not expected to affect fishing, because flows will be bypassed above the construction site; however, some sedimentation is expected downstream. The barrier represents the final and most important phase of the Hermosa Creek Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project, which began almost 30 years ago. The goal is to protect native cutthroat trout above the barrier from non-native fish located downstream.

For more information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970 884-2512 or Clay Kampf at 970-884-1403.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Hermosa Creek: Improved cutthroat trout habitat

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From The Durango Herald (Pam Bond):

The San Juan National Forest hired Durango contractors G2 and AJ Construction to complete 500 feet of streambank stabilization in preparation for reintroduction of native Colorado River cutthroat on a stretch of the creek where non-native fish have been removed.

“It’s important to conduct these operations at times when we have low flows and no fish,” said Clay Kampf, fisheries biologist for the San Juan National Forest Columbine District. “We started at the headwaters of each tributary and worked our way downstream to make sure there were always other fishing opportunities.”

Under the direction of Kampf, Grady James, equipment operator with AJ Construction, spent September maneuvering rocks and logs into place to reinforce streambanks and create small waterfalls and deep pools. The goals were clean water and a diversity of habitat for all seasons.

“When the creek takes a corner, and an unstable bank erodes, sediment washes into the water and impacts the ability of fish to survive in many ways,” Kampf said. “Corners are high-stress points so we place large rocks there to protect the banks during higher flows.”

This fall’s water level was only about three to five cubic feet per second, which offered an opportune time to conduct improvements, but the project was designed for a wide diversity of flows. While spring flows of up to 40 to 50 cfs in the East Fork of Hermosa Creek threaten habitat by eroding the banks, very low flows in winter also endanger the fish.

“Keeping water moving in winter keeps it from freezing, which has been the biggest limiting factor for long-term cutthroat survival,” Kampf said. “Constricting the channel and creating small pour-overs increase the winter flow levels.”

Buried logs are effective for stabilizing banks where the stream splits and creates shallow stretches that offer spawning habitat in the spring. But where the creek had divided into multiple channels, rocks were used to divert water back into the main channel to keep flows steady.

Encouraging vegetation is also important for stream stabilization. When the heavy equipment scooped up grass and forbs to make way for placement of rocks and logs, its giant claw replanted the native vegetation with the skill of a seasoned gardener.

“We retain any disturbed vegetation and replant it nearby,” Kampf said. “We avoid disturbing any established willows, which in this stretch are about five to 10 years old.”

North American beaver (Castor canadensis)
North American beaver (Castor canadensis)

Kampf also hopes nature’s furry engineers will return to the area and help with recovery.

“There were beavers, but they moved upstream and downstream during disturbance from the project,” Kampf said. “If the beavers return and flood the area, they will create additional overwintering and larger pools for the cutthroat.”

The Forest Service will closely monitor the project area for three years, keeping an eye out for noxious weeds. Volunteers with the Durango Chapter of Trout Unlimited will help the agency later this fall to plant additional native grass and forb seeds and alder/willow cuttings along the banks to further revegetate the area.

“Our goals are to improve water quality and mimic natural features that will aid in the conservation of the Colorado River cutthroat, which will, in turn, improve recreational fishing,” Kampf said.

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald
Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

CPW: Hermosa Creek native cutthroat restoration project moving along nicely

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The multi-year project to restore native Colorado River cutthroat trout to more than 20 miles of the Hermosa Creek watershed is continuing this summer. The project is a cooperative effort of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the largest native trout restoration project ever done in the state. The work is critical for bringing this species back to western Colorado.

Located about 30 miles north of Durango, wildlife biologists identified the Hermosa Creek area as a prime spot for restoration more than 20 years ago. The first project was completed on the upper East Fork of Hermosa Creek in 1992. Cutthroat trout now thrive in that section. A second part of the project was completed in 2013 on the main stem of Hermosa Creek above Hotel Draw; and the native trout are thriving in that section of water.

All the projects include construction of rock barriers that prevent non-native trout from migrating into the restored sections of stream. Agency officials hope that the entire project will be completed by 2018.

On Aug. 4-5, crews will apply an organic piscicide to a 2-mile long section of East Hermosa Creek below Sig Creek Falls to just above the confluence with the main stem of Hermosa Creek. The piscicide, Rotenone, will eliminate non-native fish species—primarily brook trout. Rotenone has been used for years throughout the world for aquatic management projects because it breaks down quickly in the environment and poses no threat to terrestrial wildlife or humans. CPW biologists also use a neutralizing agent just below the treatment area to prevent any fish kills downstream.

Short sections of Relay Creek and Sig Creek above will also be treated.

The work area will be closed to the public during the operation. An administrative campsite will be reserved for use by CPW and USFS employees during the treatment work. Signs are posted in the closed areas and the public is asked to observe the closure.

Visitors below the treatment area might see rust-colored water–-that is the color of the neutralizing agent. Anglers will still have full access to Hermosa Creek and the upper section of East Hermosa Creek. Any cutthroat trout caught must be returned to the water.

Because of the complexity of the habitat along the East Fork, the section will most likely be treated again next summer to assure elimination of non-native fish. If all goes as planned, native cutthroats will be stocked into the stream late next summer.

While the project is scheduled for the first week of August, project managers will be keeping an eye on the weather as recent rains have swelled the creeks in the area. If the water is running too high, the project could be delayed until next summer.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the most important native cutthroat trout restoration endeavors in Colorado. After completion of the lower East Fork section, more work will be done in the coming years on the main branch of Hermosa Creek. The end-point of the effort will be just below the confluence of the East Fork and Hermosa Creek.

“This project is especially important because it connects several streams in a large, complex watershed,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in the Four Corners area. “The connectivity provides what biologists call ‘resiliency’ to the system. There are more stream miles available to the fish which allows for more genetic exchange. It also makes the fish less susceptible to disease and to large sedimentation events such as fires, mudslides or avalanches.”

Every year Colorado Parks and Wildlife deploys significant resources for native trout restoration efforts. Colorado’s native trout include: the Colorado River cutthroat trout; the Rio Grande cutthroat trout; and the Greenback cutthroat trout.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Hermosa Creek in southwest Colorado gains protection — The Denver Post


From The Denver Post (Mark Matthews):

In a win for both conservationists and snowmobile riders, more than 100,000 acres of wilderness in southwest Colorado soon will gain an extra layer of protection under legislation that passed the U.S. Senate on Friday.

The safeguards for the Hermosa Creek area, near Durango, were included as part of a broad defense bill that sailed through the Senate by an 89-11 vote. The measure now heads to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.

“The cooperation, compromise and hard work put into this bill over a number of years by a diverse group of Coloradans should serve as a model for Washington,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement.

Its passage caps the end of a legislative journey begun years ago when community leaders near Durango began debating how best to protect the Hermosa Creek area while allowing its use by backpackers, anglers and snowmobile riders.

That debate led to a compromise land-use proposal that became the basis of federal legislation introduced last year by Bennet and fellow lawmakers U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Its prospects of becoming law looked good until September, when Tipton sought to amend the legislation as it moved through the House. Broadly, the changes he supported would have “locked in” snowmobile trails in the Molas Pass area of Hermosa Creek while raising the possibility of widespread mining throughout the region.

Tipton said he backed the revisions to help local business. But the eleventh-hour changes threatened to sink the legislation, as they came only a few weeks before lawmakers were to conclude their business for the 113th session of Congress.

The move triggered another round of negotiation between Bennet and Tipton, who ultimately agreed to new language that restricted mining in nearly all of the new preserve while providing a small amount of flexibility in the routing of snowmobile trails.

“The people of southwest Colorado who have dedicated so much time and effort as a community to help craft and support this legislation that will protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed and the multiple uses of that land have reason to celebrate today,” Tipton said in a statement.

An aide to Bennet said the legislation would take effect as soon as Obama signs the bill.

As written, it sets aside about 38,000 acres in the Hermosa Creek watershed as wilderness — a designation that prohibits roads, mining and mechanized vehicles — and transforms another 70,650 acres into a “special management area” that would support activities from ATV riding to “selective timber harvesting,” according to a synopsis of the bill.

Mining would be allowed on roughly 2,400 acres of the new preserve.

Here’s the release from Conservation Colorado:

Conservation Colorado Wilderness Advocate, Scott Braden, released the following statement on Congress passing the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, which now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law:

“Today is an historic and celebratory day for Colorado. Thanks to the diligent work of U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, and local stakeholders in southwest Colorado, we are poised to add 108,000 acres of protected lands, including 37,236 acres of new wilderness, to the Hermosa Creek Watershed near Durango. This stunning area will now be protected to continue providing vital wildlife habitat, unparalleled recreation opportunities, and clean water for the region for generations to come.

Conservation Colorado has partnered with a wide array of diverse stakeholders in southwestern Colorado to promote protections for Hermosa Creek, and today those efforts, and the efforts of so many of our partners and friends, have paid off. It is refreshing to see Congress acting in bipartisan fashion to protect public lands that are crucial to our local economy, environment, and our quality of life. While not every public lands portion of the National Defense Authorization Act is a win for the environment, designating 250,000 acres of new wilderness across the country breaks a long drought in Congressional land protection. We sincerely thank Rep. Tipton and Sen. Bennet, for honoring the community consensus spirit of the Hermosa Creek effort and protecting an important part of Southwest Colorado for current and future generations to enjoy.”

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.

Defense act includes Hermosa bill: Proponents see this as good — The Durango Herald


From The Durango Herald (John Peel):

The Hermosa Creek wilderness bill has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act, again raising hopes among supporters that Congress will pass the bill before the session ends.

The defense act is one of the few remaining bills Congress is expected to debate this year.

“We are one step closer to a big victory for folks in Southwest Colorado who have worked together to get this done,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a news release Wednesday. “The Hermosa Creek watershed is one of our state’s treasures and deserves protection.”

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act would grant protective status to more than 100,000 acres north-northwest of Durango.

Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator with Trout Unlimited and a key proponent of the plan, said Wednesday afternoon that “it’s a great sign.”

He said, however, “Until the votes are cast we can’t count on anything.”

The Associated Press reported that quick passage of the defense bill hit a snag Wednesday over public lands, dividing Senate Republicans.

The $585 billion measure authorizing funds for the military includes several bills to expand wilderness areas in the West and expand the program streamlining natural-gas and oil permits.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, objected to their inclusion and promised to block any attempt to quickly finish the bill next week in the final days of the lame-duck session, the AP reported.

“A bill that defines the needs of our nation’s defense is hardly the proper place to trample on private property rights,” Coburn wrote in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. “Nor is it the place to restrict access to hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities on massive swaths of taxpayer-supported lands.”

More Hermosa Creek coverage here.

“In what may become a Christmas miracle, Congress is poised to actually pass a land protection measure” — Bob Berwyn

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

In what may become a Christmas miracle, Congress is poised to actually pass a land protection measure before the end of the session. Lawmakers this week said they reached a compromise on a bill to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed near Durango.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado elected officials are hoping that in an era of gridlock in Washington, a lame-duck Congress can actually get some legislation passed — and even rarer yet, a bill designating new wilderness.

A bill to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support Thursday after an agreement on new language was brokered between southwest Colorado communities, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, D-Colo.

The measure would designate 70,650 acres as the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area and about 38,000 acres of the watershed as wilderness. It also takes action to preserve historic snowmobiling use in the Molas Pass area.

While it has yet to clear the full House or Senate, its backers are hopeful.

“We’re pushing to try to get it through this year,” said Tipton spokesman Josh Green. “We are optimistic because this bill does reflect pretty diverse local interests.”

Tipton and Bennet have been carrying companion House and Senate bills. Udall, who is about to leave the Senate after losing to U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in this month’s election, is a bill cosponsor and a member of the committee that acted Thursday, and he spoke on behalf of it before voting for it.

Tipton said in a news release, “As we worked through the legislative process some of the language in the initial draft of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act needed to be clarified to ensure that the community’s goals would be carried out, without the risk of misinterpretation by federal agencies once the bill became law. We are now able to move forward a version of the bill that has the best chance of advancing through both the House and Senate thanks to the hard work and willingness of local stakeholders to come together and compromise.”

The measure would divide a wilderness study area at Molas Pass roughly in half, creating a recreation area that continues to allow the snowmobiling that has long occurred there, while keeping the rest as a wilderness study area. Green said one of the revisions to the legislation clarifies that snowmobiling access will continue in the newly created recreation area and not be subject to the future whims of management agencies.

Bennet spokesman Philip Clelland said the measure may be included in a package of bills for Congress to act on before the year’s end.

Few wilderness measures have passed in recent years, but Clelland said Bennet thinks the measure has a good chance.

“The updated bill and (Thursday’s) vote are solid bipartisan breakthroughs that give the bill momentum. Sometimes, the biggest action on lands bills can happen during lame-duck sessions,” Clelland said.

More Hermosa Creek coverage and here.

Panel passes Hermosa Creek bill — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Iulia Gheorghiu):

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act with language that more faithfully follows the original language in the bill developed by community stakeholders.

The Senate amendment clarified language in the House version that Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, reintroduced in late September. The measure will grant a special protective status for more than 100,000 acres.

The bill passed without opposition in the committee, along with 11 other bills, and now goes to the full Senate.

According to Sen. Mark Udall, changes included in the amendment represent the work and support of Southwest Colorado, including environmental groups, local leaders and motorized recreational sports interest groups.

“This is a truly homegrown Colorado bill,” Udall said during the hearing, “It enjoys wide and bipartisan support, and I look forward to it becoming law.”

Sens. Michael Bennet and Udall co-sponsored the bill and made it a priority this term.

“All of the key community stakeholders were involved in the bill that passed today, including local governments, snowmobilers, wilderness enthusiasts, and property owners,” Bennet’s depute press secretary, Philip Clelland, wrote in an email.

The House version included amended language that supported snowmobilers and the use of motorized vehicles. Those changes alarmed environmental groups.

Before the hearing, the Senate’s bill was made available to community stakeholders. Local sponsors recognized efforts Tipton made to redress their complaints by working with Bennet…

The Senate version more closely aligns with language created by the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, a group of community stakeholders who worked to forge a bill diverse users could support.

Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator at with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, is optimistic the bill can pass quickly.

“There were numerous land bills passed forward today,” Buickerood said. “We’re just trusting that there’s enough support to move it forward in this session.”

From the San Juan Citizens Alliance (Jimbo Buickerood):

A long step was made today down the trail towards enhanced protections for the Hermosa Creek watershed with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously voting to move forward the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. The La Plata and San Juan county community members who created and supported the legislation deserve hearty congratulations for their tireless and ongoing commitment to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed and should celebrate today’s positive action.

During the hearing, Senator Mark Udall spoke eloquently of both the community consensus that generated the momentum to protect the area as well as the inherent beauty and wildness of the Hermosa Creek watershed. Senator Udall was a co-sponsor of the Act that Senator Bennet introduced in the Senate and Representative Tipton sponsored in the House. Hopefully the full Congress will approve the Act in the next few weeks and move it to the President’s desk, however, we know that those couple next steps can only be enjoyed when they are completed.

While the Hermosa legislation was dealt of a disfiguring blow from the House Natural Resources Committee in September, the legislation passed today in the Senate closely resembles the bill that was originally introduced by Senator Bennet. The recent outpouring of public sentiment to “bring back the community consensus” that was crafted over several years was heeded by our Congressional delegation and through hard work and a lot of give-and-take the Hermosa Creek Workgroup’s intentions were resuscitated.

Perhaps the only element of the ‘Hermosa story’ that surpasses the diversity and wonder of the Hermosa Creek watershed is the reality that the legislation has only moved forward this far due to a diverse and somewhat uncommon set of neighbors and allies that banding together in allegiance to protect a watershed honored by all. Certainly the significant size of the Hermosa gives space for a diversity of wild inhabitants and human users, however, it still holds true that a mutual respect for all points-of-view caught the eye of our Congressional delegation that in turn carried forward the effort.

In a time when discourse is rampant and the inability to look ahead towards protecting the ecological health of our planet seems to be waning, the Hermosa legislation strides forward as an example of community collaboration. And we’re guessing that the elk, lynx, bears, cutthroats and other species of the Hermosa are pleased to know that good things can happen when Homo sapiens work together.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.

Tweaked Hermosa Creek Bill Raises Conservationists’ Ire — the Watch


From the Watch (Samantha Wright):

For over a year, the proposed Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has been celebrated as a beacon of bipartisanship, collaboration and consensus in an otherwise bleak landscape of mired Wilderness legislation.

The bill, HR 1839, has enjoyed strong bipartisan and bicameral support from its Colorado sponsors, Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Michael Bennet and their colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

But the version approved by the House Natural Resource Committee late last week contained amendments inserted by Tipton at the eleventh hour that weaken some of the bill’s environmental protections, several stakeholders have alleged.

These stakeholders, who played a key role in developing the original grassroots legislation, complained they had less than two days to respond to the amendments before the bill went into markup last Thursday.

The original bill “was the product of years of hard work and consensus—and it had broad, bipartisan support among local stakeholders, from sportsmen’s and conservation groups to local businesses and county officials,” said Ty Churchwell, Hermosa coordinator for Trout Unlimited, in a release last week. “The amended bill raised a number of questions about whether the original consensus was still being honored.”

One of the main points of contention, Churchwell said, is the 108,000-acre Watershed Protection Area, concerned with protecting the health of the Hermosa Creek watershed and safeguarding the purity of its water, native trout fishery and recreational values.

Trout Unlimited argued that the language pertaining to this provision had been fuzzied in the amended version of the bill, and called for clarity “before the bill progresses further in Congress.”

Trout Unlimited also asserted that the new version of the bill has inserted a “broader management approach” for a Special Management Area designated within the bill, which could weaken environmental protections while allowing expanded logging and mining.

Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith released a more strongly worded statement, asserting that the “deeply flawed” substitute amendment introduced by Congressman Tipton “threatens the future of this legislation and the future of Hermosa Creek.”

“The 11th hour language introduced in the substitute amendment fundamentally rewrites the legislation to suit narrow ideological tastes and undermines years of negotiations between diverse stakeholders in southwest Colorado and jeopardizes the future of the bill,” he stated. “We call on Congress to set aside DC politics and instead advance common sense protections for this stunning area, as agreed upon by diverse local stakeholders.”

Officials from both San Juan and La Plata Counties also objected to the changes Tipton proposed in his amendments.

San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier told the Durango Herald last week that text was added to allow future “roads and transmission lines going across wilderness areas,” which goes against what the local stakeholders had agreed upon.

Tipton’s office put a different spin on the bill, stressing that it “seeks to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed as well as protect multiple use of the land.”

One major impetus behind the amendments, his office explained, was to protect the rights of snowmobilers to recreate on a small but popular portion of the Molas Lake trail system groomed by the Silverton Snowmobile Club that passes through the West Needles Contiguous Wilderness Study Area.

A few years ago, the Bureau of Land Management inherited management of the area from the U.S. Forest Service, and determined that it should be closed to motorized travel.

When local officials started making noise about the negative impact the closure could have on Silverton’s wintertime economy, Colorado lawmakers joined forces in 2013 to tack a provision onto the pending Hermosa Creek bill, which would preserve full, historic snowmobile access in the Molas Lake area.

Tipton’s amendment achieves this by designating a part of the adjacent wilderness area as a motorized area, thus thwarting the BLM’s efforts to restrict snowmobile access in the winter.

The Colorado Snowmobile Association praised the amended bill and pledged its full support of Tipton’s efforts.

Tipton also asserted that his amendments did not erode the bill’s conservation priorities. “All of the major wilderness and conservation provisions remain intact – in fact, the acreage of protected areas actually increased by 499,” he said, mainly by tacking on extra acreage in the Molas Pass area.

Altogether, the amended bill designates 37,735 acres of wilderness (an increase of 499 acres from the original version), and 68,289 acres under special management protections.

Last week’s committee markup in the House was only one step on the bill’s long passage that may or may not end in eventual enactment, with much depending on how companion legislation in the Senate may fare. Bennet’s version of the bill (which he first introduced in 2011) still awaits a committee hearing.

Here’s a release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Ty Churchwell/Keith Curley):

Trout Unlimited and other local stakeholders today expressed concern with a substitute amendment released on Tuesday, Sept. 16, that alters key provisions of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2014.

The bill is slated for markup in the House Natural Resources Committee today, Sept. 18. The original bill, H.R. 1839, introduced in May 2013, was the product of years of collaboration and consensus among numerous stakeholder groups in Colorado—and the bill enjoyed strong bipartisan support from its Colorado sponsors, Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Michael Bennet. The bill was widely seen as noncontroversial, and a model of collaboration.

Then, two days before this week’s markup—without input from stakeholders—the bill was amended to alter key habitat protections.

“The version of the bill that went into committee was the product of years of hard work and consensus—and it had broad, bipartisan support among local stakeholders, from sportsmen’s and conservation groups to local businesses and county officials,” said Ty Churchwell, Hermosa coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The amended bill raised a number of questions about whether the original consensus was still being honored.”

One of those questions concerns the 108,000-acre Watershed Protection Area to maintain the health of the Hermosa Creek watershed, safeguarding the purity of its water, its native trout fishery, and its recreational values (§4 of H.R. 1839). That provision was altered by committee to say the land “may be called” the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. “In the last 48 hours I have heard varying interpretations of the Watershed Protection Area language,” said Churchwell. “I hope there will be an opportunity to get clarity before the bill progresses further in Congress.”

The original bill also established a Special Management Area to be managed for conservation, protection and enhancement of watershed, cultural, recreational, and other values, and for the protection of the Colorado River cutthroat trout fishery. The new version of the bill released Tuesday removes that language and replaces it with a broader management approach.

“It takes hard work to reach consensus on a bill like this,” said Tim Brass, Southern Rockies coordinator of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “Congress should make sure that the goal of the original bill is honored as it moves toward becoming law.”

“The Hermosa Creek proposal is the product of Westerners rolling up their sleeves and finding common ground,” said Joel Webster, director of western public lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen ask that the House Natural Resources Committee advance legislation that honors the intent of the original stakeholder proposal.”

Trout Unlimited and other stakeholders called on Congress to ensure that the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is true to the proposal put together over three years by a broad stakeholder process that was open, inclusive and transparent.

“Rep. Tipton has been a strong leader on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act since he introduced the bill early last year,” said Churchwell. “We are talking with his office and gaining a better understanding of the changes, but we have remaining concerns with the language in Tuesday’s amendment. We look forward to working with Rep. Tipton and others in our congressional delegation as the bill moves through the legislative process to ensure that it fully reflects the stakeholder agreements.”

From The Durango Herald (Iulia Gheorghiu):

The original bill had the support of La Plata and San Juan counties, and had been carefully crafted by people who live there.

“People are very disturbed that this process, which was designed locally and has very strong local consensus with support from Congressman Tipton, has become a very different piece of legislation,” said Jimbo Buickerood, the public-lands coordinator at San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmental protection group based in Durango.

Buickerood joined the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, an initiative of the River Protection Workgroup, that discussed protection of this area. He said the intention of the plan for the area had been to “keep it just as it is.”

But Josh Green, Tipton’s press secretary, said the bill is inherently the same.

“The amendment will in no way change the outcome of the legislation’s goals agreed upon by the stakeholders,” Green wrote in an email.

In changing the language, Buickerood said the will of the community has been ignored.

The amendment has removed a small paragraph on “Use of Conveyed Land.” Currently, certain areas are open to hard-rock mining and logging. The five-line paragraph that was removed acted as a safeguard against future exploitation of the land.

“There’s nothing in here that says they couldn’t turn it over to a developer of oil or a developer of gas,” senior director of the Wilderness Society Jeremy Garncarz said of the effect of dropping the paragraph.

Green said the omission does not deviate from the stakeholders’ aims for that section…

The bill had been a collaboration involving two counties, multiple conservation groups and outdoor recreational groups, and more than 200 local businesses in La Plata and San Juan counties.

“The amendment guts it,” Garncarz said. “It throws all of that work out the window.”

The Senate bill remains unchanged from the version created by the drafting committee in conjunction with Sen. Michael Bennet’s office. Support for the Senate bill continues to be bipartisan.

Here’s an opinion piece written by Alicia Caldwell that’s running in The Denver Post:

For six years, those who appreciate the treasure that is Hermosa Creek worked to devise a meticulously tailored plan to protect it.

If you think about how mountain bikers, miners, hikers and anglers might look at “protection” differently, you realize it was no easy task.

But they did it. And the legislation they crafted was nearing an important milestone last week when a congressional committee upended that effort with a surprise amendment that some say eviscerates the protections.

Locals are concerned and ready to mobilize. It has been called a dirty trick.

And some are pointing the finger of blame squarely at Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who had originally introduced the legislation last year and proposed the amendment.

What was praised by some — including Tipton — as a model for how federal protections should be crafted was changed to allow roads and power transmission lines, which hadn’t been previously contemplated, to go to a potential reservoir.

But even worse, it would significantly alter the language explaining the vision for protection of a significant piece of the area, said Scott Miller, southwest regional director for The Wilderness Society.

And Miller believes it would muffle local voices in shaping a management plan for the area, just outside Durango.

“It’s real bad policy they just shoved in there,” Miller said.

In an effort to head off the changes, 21 area businesses and organizations, including the Durango Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to Tipton last week saying any changes would undermine the “community decision-making process and are therefore unacceptable.”

It was to no avail.

The GOP-run House Committee on Natural Resources last week approved the amended version of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, which covers 108,000 acres.

The amendments are an affront to the diverse coalition of environmentalists, business owners, conservationists and recreational users who put their hearts and souls into the process.

I tried to talk to Tipton to ask him about the rationale for the changes, but got an e-mail from his spokesman Monday saying the congressman had “back-to-back meetings all day.”

The spokesman directed me to a piece Tipton wrote for The Durango Herald that tied the legislative amendments to federal management changes on another piece of land — Molas Pass — that pertained to the use of snowmobiles.

Tipton wrote that the Hermosa bill revisions “in no way changed the outcome of the legislation’s goals agreed upon by all of those who have been engaged throughout the entire process.”

I have a lot of questions about that statement and so do many of those who worked on or closely followed the plan.

The Herald’s editorial board last week called the changes — at that time just a proposal — a “last-minute dirty trick.”

Keith Curley, director of government affairs for Trout Unlimited, which had strongly supported the original bill, said his organization is still assessing the impact of the changes, particularly those relating to the goals in managing the area.

But more broadly, the legislation poses questions about how and whether Congress can agree on federal land preservation and what that looks like.

“Where it all lands is going to be closely watched by a lot of people,” Curley said.

The Hermosa Creek protections could hardly be any more consensus-oriented and locally driven than they were.

Whether the measure survives in a form true to its roots will speak volumes about whether Congress, particularly its GOP members, are truly serious about respecting local control.

Hermosa Creek watershed bill changes rankle locals that crafted the original bill

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald
Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the San Juan Citizens Alliance:

The House Committee on Natural Resources failed today to honor the community consensus on the protection of the Hermosa Creek watershed that was fashioned by diverse stakeholders over many years.

The Committee voted 22 to 18 to approve an amended version of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (HR 1839), stripping many of the watershed protections and transferring management decisions from localized decision-making to Congressional dictates.

Unfortunately, Rep. Scott Tipton failed to support the community’s consensus, which included very specific protective measures, by voting with the majority to severely alter the locally crafted legislation despite his previous indications that he would honor the legislation as he introduced it to Congress.

Numerous stakeholders involved in the Hermosa Workgroup process that spawned the legislation were incredulous that a “perfectly delivered” legislative process, created locally with near-unanimous support, could be bungled so badly as it moved forward in the House of Representatives. Mark Franklin, a La Plata County business owner, noted, “How possibly could a bipartisan supported piece of legislation to protect a locale so loved by locals be twisted into an effort to promote partisan public lands-related grudges? We were so confident that Rep. Tipton would say, ‘My constituents fashioned this bill in harmony, I stand behind it, please pass it as I introduced it – no modifications are needed’, but he did not.”

The possibilities of resurrecting the legislation to reflect the community consensus are uncertain at this point. Jimbo Buickerood, San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Public Lands Coordinator, stated “In the weeks ahead I’m sure Rep. Tipton will hear from his constituency “loud and clear” that the Hermosa Creek watershed is dear to us and we want it protected as we clearly indicated in the legislation we created. Hopefully from there the Congressman will lead the charge to make the necessary changes on the House floor or in conference to bring home a locally-fashioned prize, rather than a Washington DC designed edict.”

Here’s a response from The Durango Herald editorial board:

In a last-minute dirty trick that could wipe away six years of local consensus-building to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed, the House Committee on Natural Resources circulated a new version of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act – this one drafted in secret without local input – two days before the committee was to take up the matter. The new language undermines key provisions that enjoyed near-universal local support, replacing them with edicts that run counter to the original measure’s intent, and could set a dangerous precedent for wilderness management nationwide. It is an unacceptable move that U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, the bill’s House sponsor, should push his colleagues to rectify.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has a rare and elusive pedigree. The measure that would protect 108,000 acres of beloved forest terrain north of Durango is the progeny of a wide-ranging group of local stakeholders from even farther-flung ideology and interests that convened to discuss how to preserve the pristine Hermosa Creek area and all its varied resources. This lengthy, thorough and painstaking process bore a consensus among wilderness advocates, water and mining interests, snowmobilers, business owners, mountain bikers, backcountry hunters, anglers and horsemen, county commissioners, city councilors and many others who worked over several years to craft recommendations for legislation.

The ensuing measure has won the hearts – and political capital – of U.S. senators and representatives from both parties and over several sessions of Congress. It has moved painstakingly slowly, but with steady, consistent, widespread support locally, regionally and federally. As close as lands protection legislation can be – or any legislation at all, these days – the Hermosa Creek bill was a slam dunk. In fact, it is just the sort of thing House Republicans claim they prefer: a locally crafted plan that represents the interests and values of bipartisan stakeholders. Despite this, the measure has moved slowly through a gridlocked Congress, and there has been little news of its progress since a subcommittee hearing in May – other than reiterations from the bill’s numbered and varied supporters that they hoped for action soon.

On Tuesday, though, everything changed when the committee announced a markup scheduled for today and distributed an updated version that would redefine the special management area so as to significantly diminish the local role in crafting a management plan for the newly protected area, ceding that power to Congress instead. Further, the new bill would allow for dam construction within the protection area, should the need someday arise – something the original measure allowed as well – but it goes on to suggest that any associated roads and transmission lines could bisect the measure’s wilderness areas. That has dramatic implications for wilderness management nationwide.

These changes are drastic. They are so profoundly at odds with the locally crafted recommendations that informed the original Hermosa Creek bill as to be antithetical. Unlike the process that yielded the original measure, the committee action took place in secret, without local buy-in and delivers a top-down edict that deeply undermines many years of hard work. Tipton must defend that local consensus and amend the bill to set right what was so inappropriately and surprisingly altered.

Still no action on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act

Hermosa Park
Hermosa Park

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Coloradans, perhaps better than anyone, understand and appreciate just how special the wilderness can be. And as connoisseurs of the outdoors, they recognize there are not only wild places, but there are best wild places.

These are the places that inspire — some acknowledged and held sacred, others that have managed to remain under the radar. Others still find themselves perched in a sort of purgatory somewhere in between.

Hermosa Creek, in the San Juan National forest just north of Durango, might qualify among those in-betweeners. To Durango locals, the drainage that translates to “beautiful” creek epitomizes the Colorado outdoor experience, and they’d like to see it remain that way. But those who don’t frequent the Four Corners region may not be aware of all that this hidden gem has to offer.

Count the majority of U.S. Congress among that latter group. For more than a year now, a bipartisan bill known as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has languished in the legislative branch of our federal government as a consensus of local stakeholders await acknowledgment of efforts to preserve the attributes that make the place so special.

“The primary thing the bill does is it takes the basin and protects it exactly as it is today,” said Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “This bill is completely supported by consensus from all stakeholders — everyone from county commissioners and town boards to sportsmen, miners, mountain bikers and motorized users. There’s nothing for them to do in D.C. but vote it forward.”

Beyond its lush landscape and idyllic scenery, the beauty of Hermosa lies in its everyman outdoors appeal. The upper creek is a focal point of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado River cutthroat reintroduction program, and the state’s largest unprotected roadless area remains a hunter’s paradise where trophy elk still die of old age. The 20-mile main trail along the creek corridor is a mountain biker’s mecca. The same trail is shared by a reasonable number of motorized users. Backpackers and horseback riders might cross the creek and make their way into a proposed 38,000-acre wilderness area a quarter mile away.

Overall, the bill would protect 108,000 acres through a series of special management areas, allowing for a variety of historic uses. It’s a one-of-a-kind proposal aimed at protecting an entire watershed as an intact, whole unit, rather than parts and pieces of it.

“When we started talking about protecting Hermosa as a river, the work group decided to look at this river basin as a whole ecological unit instead of just a river corridor,” Churchwell said. “That means that the boundaries for this protection are the ridge lines. Everything that flows out of this basin is included in the protection — the whole watershed. It’s the first time that we are aware of that there has ever been a protection bill that encompasses an entire watershed.”

As a result, a coalition of sportsmen’s conservation groups, guides and outfitters, fly shops and retailers, have united with local government entities in support of protecting this public land deemed vital to America’s hunting and fishing traditions and values.

“Hermosa Creek and the backcountry lands that flank its banks are among the special places that hunters and anglers in Colorado and across the region see as crucial to protect for the good of sportsmen, the environment and the sustainability of area businesses,” said John Gale, the Colorado-based manager of the National Wildlife Federation’s sportsmen’s outreach.

Should a portion of the drainage receive federal Wilderness designation this year, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 as only the second wilderness area recognized by Congress since 2009.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Volunteers needed for Hermosa Creek cutthroat restoration effort Saturday

From The Durango Herald:

The Five Rivers chapter of Trout Unlimited is soliciting volunteers to help with a cutthroat trout restoration project Saturday on Hermosa Creek behind Purgatory.

The work involves restoring disturbed areas around the fish barrier built last fall on the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. Volunteers also will breach beaver dams and perhaps install “beaver deceiver” devices to stabilize flows.

While cutthroat thrive on the upper end of the East Fork, non-native species have taken hold in the lower end and in other Hermosa Creek tributaries.

Beaver dams harbor refuges for non-native species.

Volunteers should meet at 9 a.m. at the bottom of Forest Service Road 578, which leads into the Hermosa Valley behind Purgatory.

Information is available from Buck Skillen at 382-8248 or Glenn May at 570-9088.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Hermosa bill up in the air — The Durango Herald

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald
Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s an in-depth look at the resource and proposed legislation for Hermosa Creek and it’s environs from John Peel writing for The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet are among those with the final say, and the good news is they’re pulling hard for it. Both have introduced the act into their respective chambers of Congress.

But here’s the frustration: Even they haven’t been able to push through a bill that nobody on record has yet opposed…

In 2008 a steering committee formed, and in the next 22 months, it painstakingly, delicately, hammered out a balanced plan. Fishermen, hunters, mountain bikers, equestrians, motorcyclists, wilderness lovers, ranchers and water districts, to name a few, kept at it.

“Everyone was reasonable,” Churchwell says. But then he qualifies that, “Not in the beginning.

“Every one of us gave up something to get something. … It was an incredible experience. It really was.”

In all, it took nearly four years to craft legislation, says Widen, who is the Wilderness Society’s senior public lands representative.

“It was a long and tedious process, but that’s really what brought everyone together,” Widen says. “I think the way the Hermosa Creek group worked is just a stellar example of how it should work.”

Bennet and Tipton took the efforts of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup and created bills. The Senate took the first step last year by holding a subcommittee hearing, and the House did the same this year.

Next is for the bill to go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Natural Resources Committee for “mark-up” – a process where committee members can make changes. If those committees pass the bill, it goes to the full chambers for votes.

“We are very hopeful it will get out of committee in the next 30 days and possibly a floor vote before August recess,” says Darlene Marcus, Tipton’s Durango-based representative. “It is a priority of the congressman and his staff.”

The House’s Natural Resources chairman is Doc Hastings, R-Wash.; Widen said Natural Resources member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has indicated he wants to move the bill. In the Senate, it’s unclear how soon new Energy and Natural Resources chair, Mary Landrieu, D-La., will bring it up. It may help that Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is a senior member of that committee and a bill co-sponsor.

Bennet, through his Denver office, said Sunday that the bill “recognizes the diverse set of people who use the space, ranging from ATVers to fisherman to hikers.” He called Hermosa Creek “one of Colorado’s crown jewels.”

“This is one of our most pressing priorities, and we’re hopeful that we can successfully move it through Congress by the end of this session,” Bennet said.

So what does the act do? For starters, it protects wildlife, much of the current trail use and water quality.

Zink, a Durango native, says he actually got involved stemming from his role as secretary of the Animas Consolidated Ditch Co. The hunter, cyclist and horseman dons so many hats “it wears my hair out.”

He likes the plan because it basically keeps land use the way it is now – and that’s what the community’s been asking for during the last half-century of studies and forest plans.

From the air, the 107,886-acre area, which comprises nearly the entire Hermosa watershed, is an uneven green carpet of trees, with a few brown streaks of forest roads north of the East Fork and the snow-capped peaks of Hermosa and Grayrock on the northern border.

The bill would create 37,236 acres of wilderness in the western portion. There would be a 68,289-acre “special management area,” with the northern chunk to be left as is, dirt roads and all. The eastern part (43,000 acres) would be protected as a roadless area but still allow mountain bikes and motorcycles.

Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is still alive and kicking — John Peel

Hermosa Park
Hermosa Park

From The Durango Herald (John Peel):

It’s not exactly screaming through Congress, but the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is still alive and kicking, backers and aides to two key congressional leaders say.

“It’s moving at a snail’s pace, but it is moving,” says Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited and one of the movers and shakers of the plan.

The problem is congressional gridlock, some would say dysfunction. Senators and congressmen just aren’t in the mood to do anything that might help the opposing party, particularly with mid-term elections looming.

“If Hermosa doesn’t pass, it won’t be because of substance,” says Jeff Widen of the Wilderness Society. “It’ll be because of politics.”

An aide to Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said this week that Tipton hopes to get the bill to a floor vote by August recess.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Hermosa Creek: Durango Mountain Resort is lawyering up to fight the USFS

Hermosa Park
Hermosa Park

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Durango Mountain Resort is getting ready to sue the U.S. Forest Service over access to its water rights – rights it needs for future development on the mountain.

The dispute comes at the same time the Forest Service is under fire nationally for its attempts to force ski resorts to turn over their water rights as a condition for getting their permits renewed.

Meanwhile at the state Legislature, a bill by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, to curb the Forest Service’s water-rights policy appears to be dead as Democratic leaders defer to the federal agency for the second consecutive year.

Roberts’ bill would not help Durango Mountain Resort, which has a slightly different dispute with the Forest Service. But the resort’s CEO, Gary Derck, sees a pattern of the Forest Service trying to get control of ski resorts’ water rights…

The ski resort owns conditional water rights to six wells on the back side of the mountain, on land its previous owners traded to the Forest Service in the 1990s. The trade did not include water rights, but the agency now says it will not allow Durango Mountain Resort to access the wells.

Lawyers for the Forest Service have asked a local water judge to deny Durango Mountain Resort’s rights to the wells. The resort’s rights are conditional, and it needs to prove to a water judge every six years that it is working toward making the rights absolute and putting the water to use.

But starting in 2010, the Forest Service began opposing the ski area in water court.

“Any additional proposals to divert and convey water from the upper East Hermosa Creek will not be accepted by the San Juan National Forest and authorization will not be granted,” former Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles wrote in a June 2012 legal filing.

The ski area’s owners say they have legal rights to access their water rights, and after several years of wrangling with the Forest Service, they are getting ready to sue.

“We’re trying to find a way not to go to court because it would be expensive, and we’re just a little old ski area down here in Southwest Colorado,” Derck said.

H.R. 1839: Tipton’s Hermosa Creek Legislation Moves Forward in House

Here’s the release from U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Congressman Scott Tipton’s (R-CO) Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 1839) received a legislative hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. The community-driven legislation would protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed—a 108,000 acre area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango—as well as protect multiple use of the land.

“When it comes to land use designations, I support a balanced approach that includes respecting the environment that we all deeply value, while making the best use of our natural resources. Recreation, preservation, access and job creation are all important aspects of the multiple use management for which these lands are truly intended,” Tipton said. “I’m a firm believer that land use designations should be driven with a balance of local initiative and consideration that public lands belong to all Americans. Such is the case with Hermosa Creek Watershed, where I have worked with local citizens and groups and Senator Michael Bennet to put forward a plan to permanently protect the area while maintaining access and multiple use of the land. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has truly been a locally-driven effort and has broad community support.”

Read Tipton’s opening statement here.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has been endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others. Tipton submitted their letters of support to the record.

During the hearing, Scott Jones, a representative from the Colorado Snowmobile Association and other Colorado-based off road groups, testified in support of the legislation.

“The motorized community supports this legislation, as we believe the legislation represents a significant step towards protecting multiple use recreation and highly valued natural resources in the proposal areas,” said Jones. “For the motorized community there are two major components of the legislation we support, which are the release of the Wilderness Study area and designation of the special management area for the protection of motorized recreation. The motorized community does agree that the area to be designated Wilderness has generally not seen a high level of motorized recreation and the area is suitable for designation.”

Read Scott Jones’s testimony here.

Under H.R. 1839, much of the land will remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, hunting, fishing and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will be permitted in the entire watershed. This legislation ensures that areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for future use. This will benefit outdoor recreation enthusiasts and continue to provide an important source of economic activity for the area. If this bill is not passed, then snowmobiling will cease in this region following the 2013/2014 winter season. This legislation also contains important provisions that allow for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

H.R. 1839 will now need to receive a markup in the full House Natural Resources Committee. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) is carrying companion legislation in the Senate (S.841).

Learn more about the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act here.

From The Durango Herald (Katie Fiegenbaum):

The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (HR 1839) on Thursday. Here’s what you should know about the act and the hearing…

Within three years of the bill’s passage, a management plan would have to be developed for the area, based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, a diverse group of constituents.

About 37,000 acres of this area, on the west side of Hermosa Creek, would be designated as federal wilderness. No road, mineral or other development would be allowed inside this area.

About 68,000 acres, mostly on the east side of the creek, would be designated as the “Hermosa Creek Special Management Area.” It would remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, hunting, fishing, motorized recreation and selective timber harvesting.

Grazing would be allowed throughout the protection area.

Why is it important?

The area in the bill has long been recommended for a wilderness designation and is some of the most pristine in Southwest Colorado. The land surrounds Hermosa Creek, which flows into the Animas River and is an important water source for Durango and surrounding areas.

“Water is the most important thing we get from this area,” said Ed Zink, a Durango rancher and small-business owner, who attended the hearing. “And to protect the water, we have to protect the land.”

He says the water in Hermosa Creek is much better quality than in the Animas and provides dilution and better overall water quality.

“It’s easier to protect the Hermosa than to fix the Animas,” Zink said…

Many studies since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964 have recommended a federal wilderness designation for this land, but it has never materialized. For the last six years or so, people in the area have worked on the bill to preserve the historic use of the land and give it a wilderness designation.

“A lot of various groups worked very hard to bring this together,” Tipton said in a phone interview after the hearing. “We’ve got something that is very appealing at the local level, and it should serve as a model for writing future legislation.”[…]

The area to be designated as federal wilderness hasn’t seen a high level of motorized recreation and is suitable for that designation, Jones said…

The House version of the bill will be scheduled for markup by the full committee and voted on.

“I am confident that there will be no pushback on the bill from the committee,” Tipton said.

He thinks the bill will move forward quickly and said he would work to expedite the process.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the bill in the Senate in April 2013. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

It received a committee hearing in the Senate in November, but has yet to be voted on in committee. According to Philip Clelland, Bennet’s deputy press secretary, his office is working with the committee and is hopeful that a vote will be scheduled soon.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.

US Representative Scott Tipton Testifies on Hermosa Creek Legislation in Senate

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Hermosa Park

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), today, testified in support of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion bills in the House (H.R. 1839) and Senate (S.841) to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed–an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango–as well as protect multiple use of the land.

In his testimony, Tipton spoke on the community effort behind the legislation that is endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobilers Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Bennet, Tipton Reintroduce Companion Bills to Preserve Hermosa Creek Watershed

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Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Scott Tipton are introducing a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish management for the Hermosa Creek Watershed based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which included local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens. Bennet’s bill was introduced today, while Tipton will introduce his bill in the House as early as tomorrow.

“We are lucky in Colorado to be able to enjoy many of the country’s most beautiful landscapes in our backyards. The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer,” Bennet said. “This bill will protect this land for our outdoor recreation economy and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy. It is the result of a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community, and that cooperation helped us put together a strong bill with the community’s input.”

“As one of Colorado’s most scenic areas, Hermosa Creek has long been treasured by the local community and by countless visitors who have explored all that the region has to offer,” Tipton said. “Local stakeholders including snowmobilers, anglers, hunters, other outdoor enthusiasts, elected officials, miners and Southwest Colorado residents have voiced their support to preserve the Hermosa Creek watershed and the multiple use recreation opportunities it provides. In response to this locally driven effort, Senator Bennet and I have joined together to put forward legislation to, without any additional cost to taxpayers, protect and preserve this special place, and ensure that Coloradans as well as visitors to our great state have the opportunity to experience Hermosa Creek’s abundant natural beauty for generations to come.”

“On behalf of the La Plata County Commissioners, I thank Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton for their great work for the interests of La Plata County citizens,” said Julie Westendorff, La Plata County Commissioner. “This bill protects the clean waters of our Hermosa Creek and promotes the responsible use of federal lands for the recreation that supports our economy and sustains our quality of life.”

“We are very excited about this bill. We are hopeful that all the hard work and cooperative partnership that went into the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act will lead to the swift passage of this bill for the benefit of Southwest Colorado and all the visitors to our area.” said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner.

“The Hermosa Creek Wilderness bill rests on a foundation of broadly-based stakeholder input,” said Dick White, mayor of Durango. “It will protect the watershed while preserving historical and recreational values. In addition, it provides protection for iconic scenic and recreational areas near the City of Durango. The bill will contribute both to the natural amenities that attract residents and tourists to Southwest Colorado and to the economic benefits that they bring.”

“It was my privilege to represent the interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and San Juan County, Colorado during this process. Interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District included protecting existing water rights and uses; and, the potential for future water development. The interests of San Juan County included protecting existing water quality, county road access, mineral development potential, forest product harvesting, and recreational uses,” wrote Stephen Fearn, President, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc. “Both the District and San Juan County have voted to support the proposed legislation.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will continue to be allowed in the entire watershed.

In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed.

Per the community recommendations the following trails all remain open to mountain biking: Hermosa Creek, Dutch Creek, Elbert Creek, Corral Draw, the Colorado Trail, Little Elk Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton-Flagstaff and Goulding Creek. Also, in keeping with the community recommendations, the following trails will remain open to motorized use: Hermosa Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton Flagstaff, Dutch Creek and Corral Draw. In addition the bill will allow areas in the Hermosa Creek watershed currently used by snowmobiling to remain open to that use. Also, at the request of Silverton and San Juan County, the bill ensures areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for that use.

The bill contains several provisions to provide for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Finally, per the request of the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission, the bill would prohibit future federal mineral leasing on Animas Mountain, Perins Peak, Ridges Basin and Horse Gulch.

Supporters of the bill include the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the Wilderness Society, Trails 2000, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

More Hermosa Creek Watershed coverage here and here.

Restoration: Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocks Hermosa Creek with Colorado River cutthroat #coriver

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Here’s a look at restoration efforts on Hermosa Creek, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. Click through for the Herald video taken on Wednesday at the headwaters. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists and volunteers, including Trout Unlimited, planted 11,000 fingerlings about 3 inches long and 200 10-inchers in the main stem of Hermosa Creek upstream from Hotel Draw. Fish were carried in bags from trucks and emptied into Hermosa Creek at various points. If the fish had to be carried any distance, they were transported in super-oxygenated water to ensure they arrived in good condition.

Michael Martinez, a fish culturist at the Parks and Wildlife hatchery in Durango, brought the fingerlings Tuesday from the Rifle Falls hatchery in Garfield County…

Native cutthroat trout don’t compete well with other species, so efforts to increase their population – they occupy only 14 percent of their historic habitat – focus on giving them exclusive use of certain waters…

In pre-Columbian times, the Colorado River variety was found in all cool-water habitat above present-day Glen Canyon…

More restoration coverage here and here.

The second phase of the Hermosa Creek restoration project is underway — Brookies are in their gun sights

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

Rotenone, derived from the root of a tropical plant, is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide. It degrades quickly, leaves no residue and is no threat to humans or other wildlife.

“We did the first treatment last summer,” Joe Lewandowski, a parks and wildlife spokesman, said Thursday. “Then in June they went back to electroshock, which found fish that can live in little water.”

The Rotenone applied this week will catch all survivors, Lewandowski said.

In late summer or in the fall, native Colorado River cutthroat will be stocked in that section of the stream, Lewandowski said.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.

Senator Bennet sponsors bill that would set up protection for the Hermosa Creek watershed

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Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today introduced a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish a long-term management plan for the land based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which includes local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens.

“The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer. It deserves to be protected for our outdoor recreation economy, and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy,” Bennet said. “This bill originated from a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community. Their collaborative approach set the tone early for a public process that led to a strong bill.”

The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, selective timber harvesting and grazing.

In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed. The Wilderness Act also contains several provisions to provide for active land management in wilderness areas as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

Finally, per request of the Durango City Council, the bill would protect Animas Mountain and Perins Peak near Durango from future federal mineral leasing.

Supporters of the bill include the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the International Mountain Biking Association, and the Durango Herald editorial board among others.

“We commend you for respecting the hard work of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup. We support the legislation, and stand ready to help in whatever way to see it enacted into law,” said the La Plata County Commissioners.

“The residents of Durango support Senator Bennet’s legislation to protect Hermosa Creek in a way that respects the variety of interests in our community. We especially appreciate the inclusion in this bill of a provision the City of Durango formally requested to put our cherished local icons Animas Mountain and Perins Peak off limits to oil and gas development,” said Durango City Council Member Christina Rinderle.

Last year, Bennet wrote an op-ed in the Durango Herald, outlining his plans to seek feedback from interested Coloradans to build on the framework the workgroup set for the bill.

Thanks to those rabble-rousers at the Colorado Environmental Coalition (@CoEnviroCo) for the heads up.

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.

Native trout restoration project on Hermosa Creek

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

A major initiative by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to restore the native Colorado River cutthroat trout to the San Juan mountains will begin this summer in the upper Hermosa Creek drainage about 35 miles north of Durango.

The three-year project is a cooperative effort of the Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, and part of a larger multi-state and agency effort to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout to more of its historic range.

Colorado River cutthroat are native to the Colorado River Basin.

The project will be explained to the public at an open house from 4-8 p.m., July 13, at the Durango Recreation Center’s Windom Room.

“Upper Hermosa Creek offers an excellent location for a native trout recovery project,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for the Division in Durango. “The area is a big, complex network of tributaries and a main stem river with excellent water quality and trout habitat. The limestone geology is favorable for trout and the area is easily accessible to field crews and anglers.”

Wildlife biologists identified the Hermosa Creek area as a prime spot for restoration about 20 years ago. In 1992, a similar project restored native cutthroats on four miles of the creek’s upper East Fork.

This summer’s project will begin the process to reclaim about nine miles of Hermosa Creek at its headwaters. This phase is expected to take two years to complete, White said. The next phase will connect the main stem of Upper Hermosa Creek to the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. All in all, the full project is expected to last three to five years. When completed, Colorado River cutthroat trout will inhabit more than 20 miles of the Hermosa Creek drainage

Colorado River cutthroat trout currently occupy only a small portion of their historic range. Over-harvest, decline in water quality and the introduction of non-native trout starting in the 1850s nearly wiped out the native fish. Fortunately, Division biologists found remnant populations in Colorado, established brood stocks, and the species is now sustained through habitat protection, hatcheries, and stocking. The goal of the Division’s native trout program is to create sustainable wild populations of cutthroat trout to provide for the long-term survival of the species.

The Colorado River cutthroat trout is listed as a state species of concern; environmental groups have petitioned for it to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Division hopes that successful restoration programs will eliminate any need to consider listing the fish.

Eliminating non-native fish from Upper Hermosa Creek is the first step of the process. The Forest Service constructed a waterfall barrier on the creek near Hotel Draw last summer that will prevent non-native fish from swimming upstream into the newly reclaimed habitat. In early August, water above the barrier will be treated with Rotenone, a chemical derived from a tropical plant root which is also commonly used as an organic insecticide for roses. Rotenone, an EPA-registered pesticide, will kill the existing fish, mostly brook trout. The chemical is fast-acting, only affects aquatic species, leaves no residue and degrades quickly. Rotenone has been used for decades in fisheries management throughout North America and poses no threat to human health.

Before the treatment, the Division of Wildlife will capture some of the fish in the creek and move them to spots below the treatment area.

Because upper Hermosa Creek comprises a complex system, the water will be treated again in the summer of 2012 to assure that non-native fish are no longer present. This section of the creek will be restocked with native cutthroats in late summer 2012.

The project will result in a temporary loss of fishing opportunity. Plenty of places to fish, however, are available below the barrier and in other nearby waters.

In the third year of the project, another barrier will be built at the confluence of Hermosa Creek and East Hermosa Creek to allow for chemical treatment on the final section. Two years of treatment also will be required for this reach. Restocking with native trout is expected to occur there in late summer of 2014.

Another restoration project is planned for the Woods Lake area in San Miguel County on the north slope of the San Juan mountains this summer

Both areas will accommodate large numbers of fish. These “metapopulations” provide defense against disease outbreaks and other threats, such as wild fires, that can quickly wipe out small populations.

“While we truly regret the inconvenience to anglers, we want to remind folks that these measures are necessary to maintain Colorado’s native trout,” White said. “There are many miles of streams in this area to fish including the East Fork of Hermosa Creek and below Hotel Draw. And in a couple of years, people will be able to fish for native cutthroats in all these creeks.”

For more information, contact White at j.white@state.co.us, or (970)375-6712.

To learn more about fisheries management in Colorado, see: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Fishing.

What: Open house to explain Colorado River cutthroat trout restoration on Hermosa Creek
When: 4-8 p.m., July 13
Where: Durango Recreation Center, Windom Room
Information: Jim White, (970)375-6712; j.white@state.co.us

More Hermosa Creek coverage here.

Hermosa Creek: Management plan shows the value of consensus building

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From The Durango Herald (Megan Graham):

This latter approach was the one employed in the Hermosa Creek Workgroup process that, after 22 months of debate, discussion, compromise, blood, sweat and tears, produced a set of recommendations that everyone involved supports. This was no small feat, given the range – and diversity – of interests who engaged in the process, and the fact that everyone involved had to give up something important to them and yet still can stand behind the outcome makes it impressive indeed.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.

Hermosa Creek watershed working group recommends protection for all 155,000 acres in the watershed

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The workgroup steering committee formed in 2007 to involve anyone interested in protecting natural resources while allowing water-consuming development to continue. The committee membership includes water-use planners, environmentalists and government and tribal representatives. Hermosa Creek is the first of five similar studies to be conducted with the same goal in mind. “Participants decided that the Hermosa Creek watershed is a special pla ce and said they want to work together to protect outstanding water quality,” Marsha Porter-Norton, who coordinated 21 months of workgroup meetings, said Wednesday. “They rallied around a common goal to find solutions to satisfy as many interests as possible.”

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Hermosa Creek: Prime cutthroat habitat

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From The Durango Herald (Paul Shepard):

The Hermosa Creek basin has two outstandingly remarkable values: recreation, and fish and wildlife. Virtually all outdoor recreation activities are allowed including mountain biking, hunting, fishing, camping, off-roading, horses, hiking, climbing, kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing and recreational vehicles. The basin also supports local agriculture with grazing allotments. To build on the outstandingly remarkable value of fish and wildlife, the Colorado River cutthroat trout reintroduction program is under way, with the Division of Wildlife working with the Forest Service…

Hermosa Creek is considered to be the top location in Colorado because it meets the criteria needed for success, including a waterfall on the East Fork to act as a barrier. If a waterfall is not available, a man-made one must be built. The barriers are needed to keep invasive trout from moving upstream and compromising the native-only populations. Barriers cannot be built just anywhere. Available geologic features must include sufficient gradient and a pinch-point. Additionally, a road must be near for equipment and stocking trucks. Such a road exists in Hermosa Park…

Nearly two decades ago, the Forest Service began this process by acquiring Purgatory Flats on the East Fork of Hermosa via a land swap. In 1991, the Division of Wildlife turned this reach into a cutthroat-only fishery above Sig Creek falls. Two years ago, a man-made barrier was built on the main stem at Hotel Draw, and the reintroduction is ongoing. Once the main stem is completed, this will create two separate populations. Thus far, the cutthroat reintroduction program is considered to be a success. However, the ultimate goal is to connect these two populations, allowing for movement between drainages and promoting population diversity. The Hermosa Park private parcel is the limiting factor to complete success. This is because the confluence of these two sections resides on this private property and is out of the jurisdiction of the Forest Service…

Two years ago, Hermosa Creek received the designation of “Outstanding Waters” by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The creek has such high water quality that, by law, it can’t be compromised. Hermosa Creek is the only stream in Colorado with this designation outside of a national park or wilderness area. Also, the Hermosa Creek watershed is Colorado’s largest unprotected roadless area. Literally tens of thousands of acres are so pristine, they are eligible for wilderness designation. And all this is little more than a half hour’s drive from Durango. However, the Hermosa Park private parcel sits right in the middle of this amazing open space. In an open and public workgroup formed in 2008, unrelated to the land swap issues, a consensus values statement for the Hermosa basin was articulated as: The Hermosa Creek area is exceptional because it is a large, intact (unfragmented) natural watershed containing diverse ecosystems, including fish, plants and wildlife over a broad elevation range, and supports a variety of uses, including recreation and grazing, in the vicinity of a large town.

This diverse working group – ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/Hermosa – sees the value of an intact watershed and recognizes the special and unique characteristics of the Hermosa Creek area.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here.