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.