@COParksWildlife personnel and volunteers work in Bear Creek watershed to catch and spawn Greenback cutthroat

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From KRDO (Stephanie Sierra):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists set up a creekside laboratory along Bear Creek Tuesday to catch and spawn an endangered trout species…

Each spring since the trout was located, CPW biologists have waded into Bear Creek to catch the greenbacks, spawn them, and send the fertilized eggs to the National Fish Hatchery in Leadville.

A dry #RioGrande in springtime isn’t normal. But it will be — New Mexico Political Report #ActOnClimate

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

In early April, when the Middle Rio Grande should have been rushing with snowmelt, New Mexico’s largest river dried. It started through Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, spreading to more than 20 miles by now. The Albuquerque stretch may dry come June or July, which would mean some 120 miles dry altogether this summer.

Already, if you live in Albuquerque, you may have peered over the bridges and seen sandbars and slow water this spring. Even in places like Velarde or Española, historically low flows are trickling through your town, the result of not enough snow in the mountains this winter.

To see this happening in spring is shocking. But we shouldn’t be surprised. We knew this could happen. Just like we knew the climate was changing.

We know, for example, that warming makes an arid climate even drier.

On average, our snowpack is decreasing, moving north and melting earlier. That leads to less water in the rivers when we need it—spring and early summer before monsoons arrive.

And even when there is snow, warmer temperatures transform more of it to water vapor before it can liquefy its way into the watershed. Warming dries out soils and sends more dust into the air. That’s bad news, both for breathing creatures and snowpack, as topsoil-coated snowpack melts faster.

Warming means less water in rivers and reservoirs, and also less water underground.

Groundwater isn’t being recharged through snowmelt and streamflows, and we’re pumping more to compensate for the lack of surface water. New Mexicans survived the drought of the 1950s by pumping groundwater when the rivers slowed and the rains failed to fall. Since then, we’ve kept pumping, depleting aquifers and groundwater supplies.

Warmer, drier conditions also mean bigger, hotter wildfires and a longer wildfire season.

And after the fires, some of our forests can’t regenerate. Where they once thrived, ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests can’t survive because it’s too warm—not to mention dry. In some places, even hardy junipers are drying out and dying off.

Before the Dome Fire and then Las Conchas, which burned here in the Jemez Mountains seven years ago, this was a dense conifer forest. Today, the climate is too warm for those trees to return.

In some places across this 30,000-acre burn scar, aspens and locust trees are sprouting where firs used to grow. In other places, the ground remains bare. When rains fall here, floods drive torrents of mud, ash and debris downstream.

Climate change means our forests change; our rivers and our grasslands change. It means our cities and small towns, farms and orchards change.

And we’ve known this for a long time.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s science advisers told him humans were “unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment” by burning within a few generations fossil fuels that had accumulated over hundreds of millions of years. The carbon dioxide humans were injecting into the atmosphere would cause changes, they wrote, that would harm human beings.

In 1988, the New York Times reported on its front page that the Earth was warming. NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress, urging action to cut carbon emissions.

We knew what was happening.

In 2005, New Mexico released a report on the potential effects of climate change on the state. The 51-page summary report laid out a range of problems and potential solutions, related to everything from water and infrastructure to public health, wildfire and environmental justice.

New Mexicans then elected a governor who ended all state programs under her authority related to climate change.

Ten years later, scientists, economists and hydrologists worked together to understand New Mexico’s drought vulnerabilities. They handed off a report to the legislature that revealed problems with groundwater supplies in the Lower Rio Grande.

Our state Legislature didn’t renew their funding.

For decades, there have been scientific papers, government reports, planning documents, economic studies and international agreements.

We knew what was going to happen.

And yet, here we are.

No matter what you might hear from certain voices, this drying in the Middle Rio Grande is not normal for springtime.

That’s not to say that the river here has never dried in the spring, since records have been kept or before.

But just because something has happened before doesn’t mean it’s normal.

As it continues happening—as a river that supports millions of people in three states and two countries continues to dry—we all need to pay attention.

We also need to understand what biological, chemical and hydrological impacts are occurring, says Clifford Dahm, professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Biology and an expert on intermittent and ephemeral rivers.

“The aquatic creatures that live in the river, as it’s drying and staying dry longer, are going to change,” he said. “There will be a shift towards completely different communities of fish, algae, invertebrates and trees.”

Right now, we don’t know how quickly those shifts will occur, which species will survive, die or recover. But when the water table drops to more than ten feet below the surface, we do know cottonwood trees struggle and then die, Dahm said.

Right now, we know that in the Rio Grande Basin, warming will lead to a four to fourteen percent reduction in flow by the 2030s and an eight to 29 percent reduction by the 2080s.

On the Colorado River—which New Mexico also relies upon—scientists have predicted a 20 to 30 percent decrease in flows by 2050. And a 35 to 55 percent decrease by the end of the century.

Even on the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico, warming will decrease flows by about 5 to ten percent due to decreasing snowmelt runoff.

CDPHE revokes Piñon Ridge uranium mill license

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The decision to pull the license came after a five-year legal challenge from environmental groups including the Sheep Mountain Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and Center for Biologic Diversity. The groups have long opposed a plan hatched in 2009 by Energy Fuels Inc., of Toronto, Canada, to build a uranium mill on 880 acres in Paradox Valley, west of Nucla in Montrose County.

They filed a legal challenge against a key radioactive materials license granted for the project in 2013 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Energy Fuels has since sold the assets of the mill project, including the radioactive license, a company spokesman said Friday. Documents show the license was being held by Piñon Ridge Resources Corp.

On April 17, District Court Judge Richard W. Dana recommended the proposed mill’s radioactive license be revoked after concluding that Energy Fuels failed to demonstrate adequate environmental protections, including prevention of wind-dispersed radioactive materials, contamination of groundwater and protection of plants and wildlife. The ruling also questioned whether there was adequate water to operate the mill and tailings ponds.

Two days later, in an April 26 letter, the Colorado Department of Health informed Piñon Ridge Corp. CEO George Glasier that its radioactive materials license has been revoked.

“Although the Department believes the original decision on the license application was appropriate, the department has elected not to challenge Judge Dana’s decision. As such, this decision provides the Department with the rationale to revoke the license,” wrote Jennifer Opila, Radiation Program Manager for the health department’s hazardous materials division.

Environmental groups applauded the decision.

“We were extremely concerned with the impacts that a new uranium mill would have on the delicate sagebrush ecosystem of the Paradox Valley and the impacts downstream to endangered Colorado River fish,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “Those impacts were simply unacceptable, and we’re happy to know that corporations who want to revive the uranium industry in Colorado will be required to fully comply with the laws aimed at protecting the environment.”

[…]

Lexi Tuddenham, executive director or Sheep Mountain Alliance, based in San Miguel County, said the decision helps to resolve the uncertainty about the project in the community and encourages a more diversified economic future that does not rely on the toxic uranium industry.

“The decision is a long time coming,” she said. “The impacts to the ecosystem and public were unacceptable. The mill was really a pipe dream, more speculation that contributes to the historic boom and bust cycle of mining that has been difficult for this area’s economy.”

The region is turning to hemp farming and outdoor recreation because they are more sustainable and do not pollute the environment, she said.

This is the second time the CDPHE granted, then revoked the radioactive license for Piñon Ridge. After it was granted in 2011, environmental groups challenged it, pointing out that the state had not held a public hearing as required. A judge agreed and invalidated the permit. After a five-day hearing in Nucla, the state reapproved the license in 2013, which was again revoked this week.

Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy and Conservation Law in Durango, represented the environmental groups in the case.

He said Dana’s ruling was based on community testimony and scientific evidence that indicated the mill plan questionable.

“The project plan had big holes in it and did not protect water, life and air,” he said. “Experts testified that micro-climates and inversions would have caused the valley to be socked in with industrial emissions.”

The towns of Telluride and Ophir also objected to the mill, fearing that prevailing winds would carry radioactive pollution onto the local snowpack and San Miguel watershed, Stills said.

Gunnison County: Trampe Ranch protection a done deal

Here’s the release from the Trust for Public Land:

Broad coalition protects more than 4,300 acres with help from the largest-ever GOCO grant

The Trust for Public Land today announced the final-stage closing in the protection of 4,377 acres of working ranchland in the scenic valleys of the Gunnison and East Rivers between Gunnison and Crested Butte. The protection effort, for land on the Trampe Ranch, was completed through three working-ranch conservation easements and with help from a $10 million grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) funding program, the largest single transaction grant in the organization’s history.

The easements prevent subdivision and development of scenic ranchlands stretching for 30 miles in one of Colorado’s most iconic landscapes. These lands are essential to agriculture, with Trampe Ranch generating 20 percent of Gunnison County’s agricultural economy. In addition, the conserved lands provide scenic views that attract tourists and visitors, include habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, and serve as research lands for scientists from the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

“The lands and waters of the Trampe Ranch play such an important role in defining the character and sense of place of one of Colorado’s last, great mountain valleys,” said Jim Petterson, The Trust for Public Land’s Southwest and Colorado Director. “This project brought together a deep and broad partnership of individuals, governments and organizations, all allied around a shared commitment of helping local communities fulfill their visions for how they want to grow and what they want to preserve.”

Efforts to protect ranchlands and open space in the Gunnison Valley began in the 1980s in an alliance between local land trusts, national conservation groups, funders like GOCO, local governments, and agricultural landowners, including Trampe Ranch owner Bill Trampe, who has been a leader in encouraging ranchers to conserve their land with easements. With the completion of the most recent project, Trampe Ranch has more than 6,000 acres under easement.

“GOCO is proud to be one of the partners to help make this monumental land conservation effort possible, and our Board of Trustees and staff are eternally grateful to Bill Trampe for his vision, leadership, and generosity,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Trampe Ranch received GOCO’s largest ever, single transaction grant award at $10 million, because conserving this iconic property means the protection of vital agricultural land and stunning scenic views for those who will recreate on beautiful, adjacent public lands for generations to come.”

“What this one very special place means to the Gunnison Valley and to our entire state cannot be overstated. Today we join our fellow Coloradans in celebrating Bill Trampe, his family, and all they have accomplished,” added Castilian.

In addition to the GOCO grant, funding for the project came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County, The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte Land Trust, and 1% for Open Space, a consortium of Gunnison County businesses that collects a voluntary donation of 1% of sales for its customers to fund open space conservation in Gunnison Valley. Additional private funding came from a multi-million dollar campaign. Trampe Ranch also donated a significant portion of the conservation easement value toward the project.

“This land has been the heart of our ranch for more than 100 years,” said Bill Trampe. “Conservation of our home place means this land is available forever for agriculture.”

Local partners cheered the completion of the conservation effort.

“We are very excited to see this critical step in the conservation of the East River Valley,” said Dr. Ian Billick, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. “Keeping the properties in ranching is one of the most important things we could do to leverage the nation’s large investment in the field research that helps us manage our water, air, and food.”

“Nothing is more important than the preservation of the natural state of Colorado and its heritage of ranching. Especially in this day and age when there seems to be a valid threat to open spaces throughout the West,” said Mayor Jim Schmidt from the Town of Crested Butte.

“We are very excited about the completion of this final conservation easement,” said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “The Trampe Ranch is a spectacular property with some of the most outstanding scenery in Colorado. Conserving this iconic ranch leaves an amazing legacy for the Gunnison Valley, reminding us of Colorado’s history and landscape.”

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

One of the most significant land preservation actions in Colorado concluded Tuesday, April 10 with the closing of the last parcel of the Trampe Ranch property in Gunnison County. The final closing puts thousands of acres of prime ranchland stretching from Gunnison to Gothic into a conservation easement that is meant to keep the property free of development and focused on agriculture in perpetuity.

This multimillion-dollar deal was broken up into three parts totaling 4,377 acres. The first step took place in February 2017 when the 1,447-acre Trampe Home Ranch was preserved. That parcel, located near Gunnison, resulted in Gunnison sage grouse habitat being protected.

“This land has been the heart of our ranch for more than 100 years,” said Bill Trampe at the time. “The meadows and pastures are the resource base for ranch production, and also provide habitat for Gunnison sage grouse and other wildlife species. Conservation of our home place means this land is available forever for agriculture and for the birds.”

The second phase of the overall effort took place in October 2017 when 284 acres were preserved in the corridor between Gunnison and Crested Butte near Jack’s Cabin. And Tuesday’s 2,647-acre closing put land primarily located in the Upper East River Valley near Crested Butte into the conservation easement.

The Nature Conservancy is the holder of the Trampe Ranch conservation easement and the Trust for Pubic Land facilitated the transactions and led the public and private fundraising campaign…

While 4,377 acres were protected in these latest three closings, in sum total, the Trampe Ranch will have close to 6,000 protected acres from prior projects near Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery.

Drug waste clogs rivers around the world, scientists say: “We need a substantial reduction in consumption” — Francesco Bregoli

The White-Rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) is an Old World vulture native to South and Southeast Asia. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2000, as the population severely declined. White-rumped vultures die of renal failure caused by diclofenac poisoning. In the 1980s, the global population was estimated at several million individuals, and it was thought to be “the most abundant large bird of prey in the world”. As of 2016, the global population was estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals. Photo credit: Wikimedia

From The Guardian:

Large numbers of pharmaceuticals found at levels dangerous for wildlife and the environment

River systems around the world are coursing with over-the-counter and prescription drugs waste which harms the environment, researchers have found.

If trends persist, the amount of pharmaceutical effluence leaching into waterways could increase by two-thirds before 2050, scientists told the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

“A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals,” said Francesco Bregoli, a researcher at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, and leader of an international team that developed a method for tracking drug pollution “hotspots”.

A large number of drugs – analgesics, antibiotics, anti-platelet agents, hormones, psychiatric drugs, antihistamines – have been found at levels dangerous for wildlife.

Endocrine disruptors, for example, have induced sex changes in fish and amphibians.

Bregoli and his team used a common anti-inflammation drug, diclofenac, as a proxy to estimate the presence and spread of other medications in freshwater ecosystems.

Both the European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency have identified diclofenac as an environmental threat. Veterinary use of it has driven a sub-species of vultures on the Indian subcontinent to the brink of extinction.

More than 10,000km of rivers around the world have concentrations of diclofenac above the EU “watch list” limit of 100 nanograms a litre, the new research found.

“Diclofenac emissions are similar to any of thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products,” said Bregoli.

Global consumption of diclofenac tops 2,400 tonnes a year. Several hundred tonnes remain in human waste, and only a small fraction – about 7% – of that is filtered out by treatment plants.

Another 20% is absorbed by ecosystems, and the rest go into oceans.

Bregoli and his team developed a computer model to predict current and future pharma pollution based on criteria such as population densities, sewage systems and drugs sales.

They compared the results to data gathered from 1,400 spot measurements of diclofenac toxicity taken from around the world. Most of the data points were in Europe and North America.

Pollution levels are likely to be substantially higher in much of Latin America, Africa and Asia where less than a quarter of waste water is treated, and with technology unable to filter out most pharmaceuticals.

Technology alone cannot solve the problem, said Bregoli.

“We need a substantial reduction in consumption,” he said.

In other research presented at the conference, scientists found that the rapid expansion of sewage systems in large urban areas has sharply raised river pollution because much of it is not adequately treated.

“In 2000, sewage was a source of pollution in about 50% of the rivers in the world,” said Maryna Strokal, a scientist at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands.

“By 2010, sewage was a source of pollution in almost all rivers worldwide.”

Antibiotics and chemicals waste is also driving the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, UN Environment warned in a study in December.

Between 70% and 80% of all antibiotics consumed by humans and farm animals – thousands of tonnes – find their way into natural environments, it said.

#ColoradoRiver: Humpback chub populations stabilizing #COriver

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

In a recent analysis, scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the chub’s five distinct populations throughout the Colorado River watershed in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona are stable enough to reclassify the fish as threatened rather than endangered.

Humpback chubs all but disappeared as large dams began filling the Colorado River’s tight canyons, controlling flows and changing water temperature. The fish thrives in rapid, turbulent flows, which were tamed as dams went up throughout the watershed since the 1930s…

[Tom] Chart says efforts to better manage dams, releasing water to mimic seasonal high and low flows, have provided more habitat. The agency also attempts to control and kill non-native fish like small mouth bass that feast on the humpback chub…

The largest population of humpback chub, found at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in the Grand Canyon of Arizona, is a stable group of about 12,000 adults according to USFWS estimates. Another 3,500 are in the Colorado River’s Westwater Canyon in Utah, plus 500 in Black Rocks in Western Colorado, near the Utah border. Other populations are found in Utah’s Cataract Canyon and Desolation and Gray Canyons. A previously documented group in Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument haven’t been seen there since 2004.

The fish is not completely out of the woods just yet, Chart cautions. A full recovery of the humpback chub in the Colorado River will require more population monitoring, continued flow management from dams and coordinated kills of nonnative fish.

$60k grant from NFWF means more greenback cutthroats in Colorado waters — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Greenback cutthroat trout photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

More greenback cutthroats are headed to a creek near you, thanks to a $60k grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Bring Back the Natives” (BBN) program.

This project to restore native greenback cutthroat trout to 14 miles of stream in George and Cornelius Creeks in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Poudre River, reached a major funding milestone with the award of the $60k grant. The BBN grant will go toward the design and construction of a temporary barrier to upstream fish migration in Cornelius Creek, enabling systematic eradication of non-native brook trout, brown trout, and whirling disease from the watershed.

“George Creek holds great promise for recovering Greenback cutthroat trout, but our conservation success depends on broad support from many partners,” said Canyon Lakes District Ranger Katie Donahue. “Receiving a national funding award from NFWF is a great step along our path.”

The grant is the direct result of continued support for the project from Colorado Trout Unlimited. In addition to this grant “The Greenbacks,” a chapter of CTU, previously leveraged funds from a crowd sourced fundraising effort to secure a grant from Patagonia’s World Trout Initiative, resulting in the contribution of $17k toward a permanent barrier at the downstream end of the project. This barrier will exclude non-native trout from the watershed in perpetuity.

“We’re proud of how our volunteers have risen to meet the call,” said David Nickum, Executive Director for Colorado Trout Unlimited. “From backpacking fish into high-mountain restoration sites and releasing them back into their native range, to helping install fish barriers to protect native recovery areas, TU members have been hardworking, enthusiastic partners in recovery.”

This recent BBN grant brings the total amount of funding raised from grant sources and other public fundraising activities to $162k for the project.

About the George Creek Multi-phase greenback recovery project

The George Creek greenback restoration project has been in the works for three years and consists of three phases: (1) eradicate nonnative trout from upper George Creek [Summer 2018], (2) eradicate trout from upper Cornelius Creek, (3) eradicate non-native trout in lower reaches of George Creek down to a permanent barrier near the confluence with Sheep Creek. The BBN grant will help fund phase 2.

Native greenback cutthroat trout will be re-stocked into the streams when it has been confirmed that all non-native trout and whirling disease have been completely eradicated, in the year 2025 at the earliest.

The George Creek restoration project will ultimately restore native greenbacks to 14 miles of quality trout stream habitat, more than tripling the number of stream miles currently occupied by greenbacks in their native range, the South Platte Basin.

“Our work has been benefitted greatly from our strong partnerships with Colorado Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service,” said Boyd Wright, Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It is gratifying to work together to ensure that future generations will enjoy Colorado’s greenback cutthroat trout for years to come.”

For more information on the native greenback cutthroat story, visit: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchGreenbackCutthroatTrout.aspx

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout