First Water Flows Through #ColoradoRiver Connectivity Channel — @Northern_Water #COriver #aridification

Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin. Graphic credit: Northern Water

Click the link to read the article on the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District website:

November 7, 2023: In what’s been described as “the largest aquatic habitat connectivity project ever undertaken in state history,” crews successfully tested the new Colorado River Connectivity Channel (CRCC) at the end of October. The new channel around Windy Gap Reservoir hydrologically and ecologically now reconnects two segments of the Colorado River for the first time in approximately 40 years.  

Northern Water staff were joined by Grand County officials, Windy Gap Project Participant Representatives, Colorado Parks and Wildlife representatives and others to watch the first flows go through the long-awaited channel. This new video captures the historic day and includes comments from the project participants and stakeholders who were present to witness the occasion.    

While water is now running through the new channel, there is still construction work to be done. Crews will continue putting the finishing touches on the project’s new dam embankment, diversion structure and other elements before winter weather brings activity to a stop in the upcoming weeks. Construction is expected to resume

next spring and wrap up later in 2024. Vegetation establishment along the channel will continue into 2025 and 2026, before the area is anticipated to open for public recreation in 2027.  

The new channel will enable fish and other wildlife to move freely upstream and downstream around what is now a smaller Windy Gap Reservoir. Meanwhile, the reservoir will continue providing a diversion point on the Colorado River for the Windy Gap Project during the high flows of spring and early summer.  

The CRCC is part of a package of environmental measures, valued at $90 million, associated with construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which is ultimately where Windy Gap Project water will be stored once reservoir construction is completed.   

#Colorado Parks & Wildlife lifts closure on #ArkansasRiver after dam removed near #Salida, enhancing public safety

This low-head dam was built on the Arkansas River west of Salida in 1956 to provide water to hatcheries. It was rebuilt in 1988 with a boat chute, seen on the right, to provide a safe passage for watercraft. Still, the dam was a deadly hazard. Colorado Parks and Wildlife removed the dam with help from its partners the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (Bill Vogrin):

Nov. 16, 2023 SALIDA, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday lifted a closure of the Arkansas River above Salida that was imposed last month to allow removal of a low-head dam located 1.5 miles upstream from CPW’s Mount Shavano State Fish Hatchery.

The river was reopened as crews completed removal of the dam and an adjacent boat chute, said Tom Waters, CPW’s park manager for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which encompasses 152 miles of the Arkansas River from Leadville to Pueblo.

“We are happy to announce the river is open again, weeks sooner than expected, to instream recreation,” Waters said. “The closure and mandatory portage signs have been removed and the buoy line barrier across the river has been taken down.”

Waters said final clean-up work along the banks should be done by Nov. 23.

CPW had closed the stretch of river from the Chaffee County Road 166 Bridge to the Salida Boat Ramp to allow heavy equipment to break up and remove the dam, which was first built around 1956 to collect water for the hatchery downstream. The dam was rebuilt in 1987 with an adjacent boat chute.

“By removing the dam, we have eliminated a deadly threat to the thousands who boat on this popular stretch of the Arkansas River each year,” Waters said. River water, spilling over the dam, churned at the bottom of the dam structure, creating a powerful hydraulic that capsized and trapped boaters and swimmers. Since 2010, three people have died at the dam.

Removing the dam also enhances movements of fish – brown trout, rainbow trout and native white suckers – by easing migration access to about 85 miles of the Gold Medal river upstream. Barriers like the dam limit genetic diversity by essentially isolating segments of the river’s fish population. 

The ability of fish to move freely in a river also helps to prevent overpopulation by balancing the amount of habitat and forage with the number of fish it can support.

“This project is a great example of how CPW works with its local partners to accomplish important projects for the public,” said April Estep, deputy regional manager of CPW’s Southeast Region. She specifically praised CPW’s partners, including the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners, who provided $100,000 toward the $1.1 million removal effort.

The dam has not been used as a hatchery water supply since 2000 after whirling disease was detected in the river. Whirling disease is caused by a parasite that infects rainbow trout, leaving them deformed and swimming in circles before it quickly kills the youngest fish. CPW spent $1.5 million at the hatchery to convert it to clean spring water to raise its fish.

New Mexico’s #RioGrande Compact debt is likely to grow; El Vado Dam won’t be fixed for a long while yet; we might see a lot more Middle Rio Grande Valley farmers paid next year to fallow — John Fleck (InkStain)

Rio Grande at Albuquerque, November 2023. Photo credit: John Fleck

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (John Fleck):

Finishing the new book has thrown me into a time warp.

We’re about to hand in a manuscript for a book that traces a century and a half of the evolution of Albuquerque’s relationship with the Rio Grande, leading up to now. But the now of the act of writing (November 2023) is different from the now that will exist when the book first emerges in 2025, and the now in which readers experience it in the years that follow.

This conceptual muddle is crucial for the book. We are trying to describe the process of becoming that made Albuquerque what it is. That process of becoming, we argue at some length, cannot be understood without understanding how we as a community came together to act collectively to manage our relationship with the river that flows through our midst.

But – and this is the crucial thing, because it explains why we are writing this book – the process of becoming is never done. We hope to help inform Albuquerque’s discussion of what happens next.

There’s less water. What do we do? We will never stop negotiating our complex relationship as a community with the Rio Grande.

I spent a delightful afternoon yesterday that stretched well into the evening, listening to a series of enormously consequential discussions of these issues at the monthly meeting of the board of directors of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. One of the district’s senior folks recently pointed out how often, during the most difficult of discussions, they look at me sitting in the audience and see me grinning. Those most difficult discussions are the most fascinating to me.

I found myself leaning forward in my chair frequently, shifting my position to see the faces of the board members and staff as they wrestled with this stuff.

I grinned a lot.

Three things from yesterday’s meeting stood out. All three are things that would have merited a significant newspaper story back in my Albuquerque Journal days. This blog post is not that, but if you’re paying attention to Middle Valley water you should keep an eye out for these three incredibly important developing issues.


The Rio Grande Compact, an agreement among Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas to share the waters of the compact’s eponymous river, has a tricky sliding formula determining how much water each state is allowed to consume (through human use as well as riparian evapotranspiration), and how much it must pass to its downstream neighbor. It’s got some wiggle room – states can run a debt, as long as it doesn’t get too large and they catch up in subsequent years. But the changing hydrology of the Middle Valley has made it increasingly difficult for New Mexico to meet its downstream delivery obligations.

New Mexico is currently 93,000 acre feet in debt because of under deliveries in recent years. The hole’s likely to get a lot deeper this year, thanks to a big spring runoff (which increases New Mexico’s required deliveries) and a lousy monsoon (good summer rains can help make up a deficit – this year they did not). If our debt rises above 200,000 acre feet, bad things happen.

El Vado Dam and Reservoir. Photo credit: USBR


El Vado Dam was built in the 1930s to store water for Middle Rio Grande Valley irrigators, allowing storage of spring runoff to stretch the growing season threw summer and into fall. But it’s kinda broken. Contractors working for the US Bureau of Reclamation began work a couple of years ago to fix it, with the expectation that it would take a couple of years. It is now widely understood that it may not be done and in operation again until 2027. Or later.

This would be devastating to the portion of irrigators in the Middle Rio Grande Valley that farm for a living. As our book will deeply argue, it’s critical to understand that this represents a minority of irrigated land in the valley. Much of the farming here is non-commercial, “custom and culture” farming, a supplemental income (or even, for the affluent, a delightful money loser) for people whose livelihood doesn’t depend on it. But for either class of irrigators, a lack of late summer and fall water makes things incredibly hard.

El Vado’s problems have not been publicly announced yet, but all the cool kids are talking about them. Expect something more substantive at December’s MRGCD board meeting.

Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)


We could see a substantial expansion of acreage fallowed, with a big chunk of federal money paid to irrigators to forego their water in the next few years. MRGCD has been building the institutional widget to do this for several years, with federal money flowing to irrigators to lay off watering their land for either a partial or full season as part of a federally funded program to generate water to meet Endangered Species Act requirements for our beloved Rio Grande silvery minnow. In 2023, that generated (in accounting terms, be skeptical of the four-digit precision) 3,615 acre feet of water.

For 2024, the MRGCD, working with federal money funneled through the state, will push for a dramatic increase. Price per acre will double, to $400 an acre for a split season (irrigate in spring and fall, but not in summer when demand is highest) and $700 an acre for a full season. It’s a voluntary program, so all depends on how much irrigators want to join in, but I can imagine a lot of people looking at the El Vado shitshow and taking the money.

There was a very confusing board discussion that involved an actual invocation of Roberts Rules of Order by the district’s legal counsel and a vote that I still don’t understand with people who support the program voting “no” and people who oppose it (I think) voting “yes”. If I was still a reporter I would have had to sort all of this out while an editor hovered barking about deadlines, but thankfully it’s just a blog that no one actually reads, written by an old guy in pajamas still working on his morning coffee and breakfast.

The bottom line is the possibility of the compensated fallowing of as much as 8,000 acres next year, ~15-ish percent of all irrigated land. I think. As I said it was a pretty confusing thing, and I’m not done with breakfast.

The Rio Grande Basin spans Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Credit: Chas Chamberlin

Navajo Dam operations update October 31, 2023: Bumping releases down to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to reduced irrigation demand and sufficient forecast flows in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 450 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for tomorrow, October 31st, at 8:00 AM.  

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping down to 450 cfs October 24, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

SAN JUAN RIVER The San Juan River at the hwy 64 bridge in Shiprock, NM. June 18, 2021. © Jason Houston

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery)

In response to sufficient forecast flows in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for tomorrow, October 24th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

Protecting West Slope water: Coalition eyes pricy purchase of water rights — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This historical photo shows the penstocks of the Shoshone power plant above the Colorado River. A coalition led by the Colorado River District is seeking to purchase the water rights associated with the plant. Credit: Library of Congress photo

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River District is leading a coalition in what would be a history-making purchase involving historic water rights that are pivotal to Colorado River flows and water uses in western Colorado. The district and others in the Western Slope coalition are proposing spending potentially $98.5 million to acquire the rights from Xcel Energy for operation of the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon. According to the river district, Shoshone holds the most senior major water rights on the river, dating back to the early 1900s and totaling 1,408 cubic feet per second…

When river flows drop below 1,408 cfs the plant puts a “call” on the river, preventing access to water by many junior rights holders above the plant to ensure flows to it. That also keeps more water flowing for recreational purposes such as fishing and whitewater boating, and to benefit the environment. Because the flows used by the plant return to the river, they continue downstream, along with the benefits they provide, which also include access to the water by junior water rights holders downstream, and improved water quality for communities and water utilities that rely on the river for their supply. The improved water quality results from higher river flows that dilute pollution. Critically, the water also helps shore up flows in what is called the 15-mile reach of the river starting in the Palisade area, which is important habitat for fish federally listed as endangered or threatened.

”Preserving the Shoshone call permanently secures the flow of the Colorado River and the health of that river for our economies and our environment, literally from the headwaters in Grand County all the way down to the border with Utah,” said river district General Manager Andy Mueller.

Archuleta County joins coalition for #RioGrande fish conservation — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Sunrise March 10, 2023 Alamosa Colorado with the Rio Grande in the foreground. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

At the Board of County Commisioners work session earlier that day, County Attorney Todd Weaver explained that Archuleta County was approached by a coali- tion of counties about contributing $1,000 for the conservation of the Rio Grande trout, Rio Grande chub and Rio Grande sucker in the Rio Grande watershed. He noted that the coalition represents local interests in efforts to enhance the environment for these fish with the goal of preventing them from becoming threatened or endangered, which Weaver stated would trigger a variety of requirements and restrictions.

Navajo Dam operations update September 22, 2023 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

September 21, 2023

Due to forecast sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach of the San Juan River, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs for Friday September 22nd, at 4:00 AM.

Reclamation continues to release project water to fulfill a project water release request by the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s subcontractors, The Nature Conservancy and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, in addition to the normally scheduled release required to maintain the minimum downstream target baseflow.  

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

Navajo Dam operations update September 2, 2023: Bumping up to 800 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Pine River Marina at Navajo Reservoir. Photo credit: Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

September 1, 2023

The upcoming forecast is warmer and drier than average, and forecast flows in the critical habitat reach are steadily decreasing. For this reason, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam to 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) for tomorrow, September 2nd, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.  

Saving cutthroat trout from the brink: Rio Costilla Native Fish Restoration Project hits 120-mile mark — The Taos News

Valle Vidal. By Jeremy L Davis – Jeremy L Davis, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Click the link to read the article on the Taos News website (Idone Rhodes). Here’s an excerpt:

More than three decades of ongoing work to restore Rio Grande sucker, Rio Grande chub and, most importantly, Rio Grande cutthroat trout — New Mexico’s state fish — to their native environment culminated with a celebration last weekend (July 1) in the Valle Vidal Unit of Carson National Forest, hosted by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout are the southernmost subspecies of cutthroat trout and are native to Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Once abundant in these waters, the subspecies’ population has been severely diminished by a variety of factors, including competition or breeding with non-native species, such as brook, brown and rainbow trout, as well as habitat loss. Rio Grande cutthroat and Rainbow spawn at the same time and can interbreed to produce hybrid “cutbow” trout.

The project restored Rio Grande cutthroat trout to 120 miles of their historic range in the Rio Costilla watershed, as well as 16 lakes and one reservoir. Teams worked tirelessly to remove native fish from waterways before treating the waters with the piscicide rotenone to kill off non-native fish.

Since 2002, the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery in Jemez Springs has raised over 72,000 Rio Grande cutthroat trout using pure trout taken from streams and other water sources. These fish are then used to restore wild populations and provide angling opportunities. It’s an ongoing collaboration between the Forest Service, which manages the land, and Game and Fish, which manages the subspecies, explained Carson National Forest Biologist Alyssa Radcliff. Some of the restored waterways are also on private land. As waterways were restored, fish barriers were built to keep non-native species from moving back up stream. In 2016, a permanent barrier was constructed in the Valle Vidal Unit to maintain the restored area.

The initial goal of the project was much smaller, with a focus on specific segments of waterways upstream. Eventually, however,“We’re like, ‘Why don’t we just do the whole basin?” Francisco Cortez, the program manager for fisheries on the Carson, said. Cortez has been working on the project since the early 1990s and watched it grow from habitat and population surveys to the large-scale restoration operation it is today.

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout is pictured in 2014. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Rescuing silvery minnows like ‘slapping a Band-Aid on a severed limb’: The endangered species is only a symptom within a larger system in peril, conservationists say — SourceNM #RioGrande

Mallory Boro and Keegan Epping comb through the fine net for any silvery minnows left in the drying ponds of the Rio Grande at San Acacia. Fish litter the riverbed, inhabiting increasingly smaller ponds where the river breaks. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Click the link to read the article on the Source NM website (Danielle Prokop):

SOCORRO COUNTY, N.M. — Four people walk the streambed, combing the pools in Socorro County’s San Acacia Reach. Two wade thigh-deep in the bank crook, a seine net strung between them, and tug it through the water. Another calls out temperatures and measures the pool. The fourth jots it down in a notebook.

At the edge of the pool, the net is suddenly boiling with violent wriggling and thrashing. Mallory Boro from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gently grasps a small fish with one deft flick of a hand. An endangered silvery minnow.

The minnow is placed in a five-gallon bucket and then moved to an oxygenated rescue tank on the back of an all-terrain vehicle. Then, onward to the next pool to do it all again. There are miles of riverbed left to go.

This is a fish rescue on the Rio Grande. And the people doing it know it’s not enough.

“This is like slapping a Band-Aid on a severed limb,” said Thomas Archdeacon, who has led the silvery minnow recovery project for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, N.M., for the past decade.

Four team members, left, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service pull on their shoes before a fish rescue. Mallory Boro, Lyle Thomas, Keegan Epping and Thomas Archdeacon often work extended hours in the heat to comb through more than 18 miles of riverbed that can dry nearly overnight. Archdeacon, right, has led the silvery minnow program at U.S. Fish and Wildlife for the past decade. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

These rescues require a lot of work, but even so, the fish are often in poor health from being in shallow, hot pools with little oxygen. Or they are sickened by other dead and rotting fish left behind when the water recedes.

“The ones that we rescue don’t survive very well. We’re getting between a 5% and 15% survival rate, which is bad,” he said. “Healthy fish have an 80% to 100% survival rate.”

Archdeacon drops his posture, taking a moment to rest against the ATV. He is an earnest speaker, lent gravitas by the touch of gray in his red hair. He has been studying and publishing research about the fish for nearly 15 years — most of his career.

Between 18 and 20 miles of the river dried in the San Acacia Reach overnight in mid-June, pushing the fish rescue crew to work punishing hours. The pools were smaller and drying faster than usual for June.

A vehicle in the dry riverbed of the Rio Grande. The San Acacia Reach is a stretch of the Rio Grande that has dried nearly every year for the past 25 years. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

More effort has to go to restoring the habitat that fish could survive in, and securing water in the river, he said.

“Eventually, we’re trying to take the emphasis off of the fish rescue, because it’s not effective conservation,” he said, running a hand across his face as the day creeps above 90 degrees.

Spawning between dams

The silvery minnow is not a charismatic species. The nondescript fish is green to yellow on top, a cream underbelly usually no more than 4 inches long, with small eyes and a small mouth. It’s short-lived, estimated to survive just over one year or up to two years in the wild, and four years in captivity.

Shoals of minnows used to swim nearly 3,000 miles of the Rio Grande’s length from the Gulf of Mexico to Española, N.M., and along much of the Pecos River.

They are unique in one aspect: Unlike most freshwater fish, the silvery minnow directly spawns into the water in the spring, and then the fertilized eggs slip downstream. This technique, called pelagic broadcasting, is much more common for marine creatures. The silvery minnow is the last of five species that spawn this way living in the Rio Grande. One is extinct entirely. The others survive in different rivers, but no longer in the Rio Grande.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team pulls seine nets through almost any pool left in the drying riverbed. The rescuers check each pool for silvery minnow. They throw back the other species of fish. The pools are often hot and poorly oxygenated. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

In earlier times, shallow wetlands emerged at the river’s bend. In slow eddies and silty bottoms, the silvery minnow was prolific. The species follows the river’s rhythms, waiting to spawn when the spike of snowmelt pulses.

But federal and local irrigation projects straightened the river, making it deeper and faster. They removed the bump of snowmelt, storing it in reservoirs for crops. The construction of Elephant Butte and other dams prevented fish from moving upstream. Eggs and larvae drift downstream to face predators or cold water in Elephant Butte. The river carries others into irrigation ditches or dry streambeds, where fish may hatch, but there is little chance for returning to the river to spawn.

In 1994, after years of steep declines, the silvery minnow was listed as endangered at the federal level.

Now, the fish are primarily found in a stretch of river between Cochiti Dam and Elephant Butte — if there’s enough river to support silvery minnow.

“If some catastrophic event occurs, they’re a lot more vulnerable because it’s more likely to affect all of them,” Archdeacon said.

Silvery minnow are primarily found in a stretch of the Rio Grande between Cochiti Dam and Elephant Butte — if there’s enough river to support the fish. “If some catastrophic event occurs, they’re a lot more vulnerable because it’s more likely to affect all of them,” said Thomas Archdeacon, left. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

For 25 years, the San Acacia Reach has dried nearly every summer when farmers divert water for crops, according to documentation held by the Rio Grande Compact Commission.

Archdeacon said he doesn’t have any answers as to why the silvery minnow population has better reproduction and recruitment chances in the reach, compared with upstream in Albuquerque, where the river has only dried once in the last 40 years — in the summer of 2022.

“My guess is that the eggs float downstream, and the channel is wider — more sand bed — and shallower, which is just better for reproduction,” he said.

Drought complicates recovery efforts on all sides. In a good year like 2017, the fish population boomed into the millions. But only a tiny number lasts long enough to continue the next generation. And in lousy years, which are more frequent, that dwindling number of spawners only shrinks. In 2018 and again in 2022, the river dried before the fish could spawn.

Even when thousands of fish spawn simultaneously, only a few successfully carry on to the next generations.

Some of the pools range in depth from a few feet to a few inches. Under the June sun, they rapidly shrink. Archdeacon noted that the pools were appearing earlier each year, and the river is drying faster. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Federal agencies partnered with hatcheries and the ABQ BioPark to breed other silvery minnows, in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, both for release into the wild and as a bank against inbreeding when wild populations crash.

“Genetically speaking, it’s keeping them from going down a hole they can’t dig themselves out of,” Archdeacon said.

But dumping hatchery fish into the Rio Grande is not a silver bullet. Recovery means a wild, sustainable population, which Archdeacon added would require “serious large-scale habitat restoration” and sufficient water flows to spawn.

If 1 million to 2 million fish were upstream and successfully spawning each spring, he estimated, then fish rescue may be worth it.

But that’s not the reality.

In 2022, early drying wiped out egg collection efforts. With the 2020 and 2021 generations reaching the end of their lifespan, the 2023 generation will be vital for keeping the hatchery populations alive.

“But there’s also nothing that prevents this from happening again,” Archdeacon said.

Lyle Thomas places a silvery minnow found in a pool into an oxygenated holding tank on the back of the carts. The fish are transported to better environments, but their survival rate is low, since the fish are often unhealthy from being in the pools. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Dry beds 

Nothing dies quietly in the riverbed. Dozens of blue catfish, golden green smallmouth buffalo and red shiners grow brown as they writhe in the silt, seeking a pool. Some red remains as their gill slits flare, and they twist and slam their bodies into the mud.

Their moments of frantic slapping stretch into long, excruciating minutes. It takes nearly an hour before some of the larger fish heave their last breath.

When the pools are large enough, maybe between ankle- and knee-deep, the team can throw the fish back in to survive in shrinking pools. But when the pools shrink to just the barest puddle, it means throwing the fish that aren’t silvery minnows out into the mud.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife team measures the temperatures of each pond, noting what kind of conditions the rescued fish are coming from. At right, Mallory Boro discards a fish from the net, when the pool is too small to return it, searching for silvery minnow. (Photos by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Archdeacon cradles a native smallmouth buffalo. “If the river wasn’t dry, nothing would eat them,” he said, putting it onto the ground. “I’d guess this one is about 10-years-old.”

The minnow, unlike the other fish trapped in the pools, is on the federal list of endangered species — that’s why there’s a team to save them.

Human choice is central to what’s happening here, Archdeacon said, just as people make decisions to use water elsewhere, and this dry bed is a consequence.

“You’re choosing people over fish,” he said. “You cannot paint this into a rosy picture. If you’ve been out here, it’s not good.”

Some of the fish rescuers said they’ve become somewhat desensitized to the mass death of other fish. They have a job to do.

Still, it doesn’t really get easy, either.

“I think about this 365 days a year,” Archdeacon said. “I can’t sleep at night. It’s pretty bad.”

From left, a gizzard shad in the streambed. At right, fish species of all kinds turn muddy and brown from struggling to find water in the San Acacia reach, dying by the hundreds. (Photos by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Driving out of the sand bed of San Acacia, away from fish gasping in the riverbed, irrigation canals criss-cross under roadways, full and glistening in the sun. Fields of green alfalfa zip by, watered by pivot sprinklers.

Little fish, big controversy

The silvery minnow has been central to a slew of lawsuits against the federal government, at district and appellate levels.

Out of a case brought jointly by New Mexico, irrigation districts and conservation groups, a 10th Circuit Appeals ruling in 1999 found that top U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials at the time had not followed procedures in securing habitat for the fish. Three years later, the same court found the agency was dragging its feet in providing needed documentation, writing: “These delays and irrational decisions come at the expense of the silvery minnow, officially endangered for nearly eight years.”

More years of litigation resulted in a 2020 federal appeals court decision upholding a lower court’s determination that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not allowed to provide additional water for endangered species and was not required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change its practices.

In 2021, WildEarth Guardians — a western conservation nonprofit headquartered in Santa Fe — filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. government over a 10-year plan between agencies to ensure they wouldn’t harm endangered species.

That plan, set up just a few years before the lawsuit, was the result of a consultation on a series of reclamation projects and water operations in habitats for the silvery minnow, Southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo — all species with federal protections in the Middle Rio Grande. 

Keegan Epping checks a seine net for any live silvery minnows from a pull. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

The nonprofit wrote a letter addressed to federal agencies and New Mexico state department leaders, announcing their intention to sue:

“We hope that this warning (both the legal notice and the dire conditions on the river) will provide water managers, and quite frankly all people, an incentive to rethink water management as it has existed this past century and chart a new course for this dying river,” the letter said. “The Rio Grande is too valuable to lose.”

After talks and negotiations, further legal action is being taken.

In late November 2022, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in federal District Court, alleging that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act with the 10-year plan.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife found that the bureau did not jeopardize any endangered species in its 2016 plan. WildEarth Guardians alleges that the decision was “arbitrary,” relies on “vague, uncertain and unenforceable” conservation measures, and failed to consider climate change’s impact. 

The current plan wouldn’t meaningfully recover species, the nonprofit said.

WildEarth Guardians asked the court to toss out the 10-year plan and require the agencies to reexamine projects and operations on the Rio Grande.

When the water dries fish gasp for hours in the streambed until they die.(Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

The silvery minnow’s population is worse off than when it was listed three decades ago, said Daniel Timmons, the river programs director and Rio Grande waterkeeper for WildEarth Guardians.

“Actually limiting the amount of water that’s being taken out of the river in order to make sure there’s enough water left for fish is an action that the federal government has continued to refuse to do,” Timmons said.

Federal management of dams, diversions and depletions is the primary threat that removes water from the river ecosystem, he said.

“It’s not just about the silvery minnow. It’s about the river as a whole,” Timmons said. “That’s the piece that the federal government to date has really failed to grasp, is the importance of the species as an indicator of an entire river system in crisis and collapse.”

Crisis on the Rio Grande is a multi-part series that travels along the river from Colorado through New Mexico and into Texas.

Read more: ‘Not an object to be bartered,’ the Rio Grande is lifeblood for the land

#ColoradoRiver endangered fish recovery sees some success: Enough water for 15-mile reach remains a challenge — @AspenJournalism

Students from Palisade High School transfer baby razorback suckers from a tank into the Colorado River. The students raised the endangered fish in a hatchery as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

In May, students from Palisade High School gathered on the bank of the Colorado River to kiss goodbye to 250 juvenile, endangered razorback suckers and release them into the muddy, fast-moving spring runoff, marking the 50th anniversary of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

For the past three years, PHS student scientists have been raising the fish in a hatchery, feeding and weighing them, testing the water, cleaning their tanks and inserting a transponder tag so that biologists can track their movement once released each season as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

RAZORBACK SUCKER The Maybell ditch is home to four endangered fish species [the Humpback chub (Gila cypha), Bonytail (Gila elegans), Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)] © Linda Whitham/TNC

Razorback suckers, which can live to more than 40 years old and grow to 3 feet, are one of four prehistoric fish species that live only in the Colorado River basin and whose numbers declined with the acceleration of water development projects such as dams and diversions. In 1991, the species was listed as endangered under the ESA, and it has become something of a success story for the recovery program. The populations have recovered enough in the Colorado River that the program is pulling back on stocking and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed downlisting the species to threatened, a lesser category.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve gotten confirmation that at least two of the fish showed up on a spawning bar, completing the life cycle,” said Julie Stahli, director of the recovery program. “It’s a great sign.”

Because of rebounding populations, one of the razorback sucker’s fellow endangered species, the humpback chub, was downlisted to threatened in 2021. The other two endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail — are not recovering as well as the razorback sucker and humpback chub.

But, despite the successes and the coordinated efforts of federal and state agencies, upstream water users and environmental organizations, meeting minimum flow requirements in a chronically dry section of fish habitat remains a challenge, and stressors such as climate change, drought and nonnative predators are creating new hurdles for helping the fish recover.

Although the fish are arguably the earliest water users on the river, under Colorado’s system of water law, water for the environment typically has some of the most junior rights. Those who use water by taking it out of the river — farmers, cities, industry — usually have senior rights, giving them first use of the water and not always leaving enough for the fish. To remedy this, one of the main goals of the recovery program and its partners is to get more water into a chronically dry section of river in the Grand Valley where the fish live, known as the 15-mile reach.

Screen shot from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program website August 28, 2021

The recovery program works to reestablish healthy populations of four species of fish that are listed under the ESA by adding water to the river, restoring habitat, growing hatchery fish and controlling nonnative predator fish. It was created in 1988 to protect the fish while still allowing water development, two seemingly opposed goals.

“Shutting down water development in the West to save an endangered species was a no-go for everyone,” Stahli said. “They came up with what was then a very strange plan to use the water and recover the endangered fish at the same time. There are pathways for both.”

Students from Palisade High School kissed good-bye to hatchery-raised juvenile razorback suckers before releasing them into the Colorado River last month (May 2023). The fish are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but populations have recovered enough that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to downlist them to threatened. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

15-mile reach

The 15 miles of the Colorado River between large Grand Valley agricultural diversions and where the Gunnison River adds its flow to the Colorado is critical habitat. It also tends to not have enough water to support healthy populations, especially during irrigation season in dry years. Water diversions to the Grand Valley to grow crops, including famous Palisade peaches, can combined take up to 1,950 cubic feet per second from the river — collectively, the biggest agricultural diversion from the Colorado River on the Western Slope.

2022 memorandum that reviewed what is known as a Programmatic Biological Opinion, originally issued by the USFWS in 1999, found that during the irrigation season of dry years, flows did not meet the minimum monthly recommendation of 810 cfs 39% of the time. Peak spring flows of more than 12,900 cfs, which are needed for healthy habitat and fish spawning, are also not met 31% of the time in dry years, despite a voluntary program where upstream reservoir operators can send extra water down to the 15-mile reach at the same time to boost the natural peak.

The inability to hit target flow recommendations has led the recovery program to begin the process of reevaluating whether the monthly 810 cfs benchmark was a realistic goal to begin with.

“The recovery program has determined that the service’s spring and summer base flow recommendations in dry years are unrealistic and appear to have been unrealistic through the entire period of record,” reads the review memo. “The recovery program should work closely with the service to determine if there is utility in revising the 15-mile reach flow recommendations to more closely align with what we know about Colorado River hydrology and which studies would be needed to support such revisions.”

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Map credit: CWCB

This reassessment, which is scheduled to be completed by 2028, will look broadly at flow recommendations and the best ways to set them, according to Stahli. For example, a daily minimum flow recommendation may make more sense than a monthly average.

“It’s really an examination of how we are doing within the river basin and whether the 15-mile reach is still serving the ecological function we think it is,” she said.

One of the main actions of the recovery program has been working to add water to this reach. It has been the focus for the program’s environmental conservation partners such as The Nature Conservancy and Western Resource Advocates.

“Our approach is we have always very heavily emphasized the flow piece of it,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers director at WRA. “In the last 23 years, there has been a lot of dry years. … It’s clear that in the system as a whole, there’s been less water.”

To combat these declining flows from drought and climate change, several entities offer up water they store in upstream reservoirs and release it for the benefit of the fish. For example, for the past few years, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has leased water owned by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Garfield County and Ute Water Conservancy District in Ruedi Reservoir and sent it downstream to boost flows for the fish during dry periods.

Historically, 43% of the Upper Colorado and San Juan recovery programs’ funding, which was $8 million and $3.46 million, respectively, in 2022, has been spent on flow management and protection, according to the program’s 2023 report to Congress. Since 1998, dedicated pools in reservoirs for the fish and other sources have provided more than 1.7 million acre-feet to supplement flows in the 15-mile reach.

The recovery program helps fish in other ways, too, such as funding fish passages that help them move past dams; hatchery breeding and stocking; screens that prevent them from swimming into irrigation canals; and habitat restoration.

Nonnative predators that eat endangered fish and compete for habitat have increased since the fish were listed and are now the biggest threat to the recovery of the species, according to the PBO review memo. Smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye are the biggest problems.

“I believe if we didn’t have nonnative fish, these (endangered) fish would be fine,” Stahli said.

Historically, the program has spent 6% of its funding on management of nonnative species. But in fiscal years 2023-24, the program expects to spend 20% of its funding on getting rid of nonnative fish. Stahli said the recovery program catches 2 million to 3 million nonnatives a year.

“What keeps me up at night is nonnative fish,” Miller said. “They have the numbers throughout the basin and have really exploded over the last decade.”

These baby razorback suckers were raised in a hatchery by students from Palisade High School. Students released the endangered fish to the Colorado River last month (May 2023). CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Coordinated operations

One of the advantages of such a highly engineered and manipulated river system is that it creates opportunities for water users to coordinate their operations to the advantage of the endangered fish.

Green Mountain Dam. Photo credit: USBR

The first example of this is the Historic Users Pool, a 66,000-acre-foot pool of water in Green Mountain Reservoir, which is on the Blue River in Summit County. This water is earmarked for beneficiaries on the Western Slope, including the Grand Valley irrigators. But in some years, not all the water is needed and any surplus can be made available for endangered fish.

The details of the timing and volume of water to be released are hashed out on conference calls that can include more than 40 participants.

“In most years, the HUP surplus becomes the largest single source of flow augmentation for the 15-mile reach,” said Victor Lee, an engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who coordinates the HUP conference calls.

The second example is Coordinated Reservoir Operations (CROS), where upstream reservoir operators can voluntarily send a pulse of water that arrives at the 15-mile reach at the same time and enhances the peak flow of the year. Retiming excess flows in this way creates a flushing flow that clears out excess sediment built up on fish-spawning grounds over the previous year. CROS is managed by the CWCB.

“Each reservoir operator decides for themselves whether or not they will participate in CROS for that year,” said Michelle Garrison, a water resources specialist with CWCB. “The fundamental idea behind CROS is to retime what you were going to bypass anyway. If the reservoir operators don’t think they have excess inflow, they will not participate.”

CROS is more likely to occur in wetter-than-average years, but not extremely wet years, Garrison said. In 11 of the past 30 years, peak flows were supplemented with CROS releases. CROS did not happen this year because the prolonged high runoff from a big snowpack was enough of a benefit.

Despite its ongoing challenges, the recovery program proves that entities with different missions can come together for the good of four species of vulnerable wildlife. The fish, although they are the charismatic megafauna of the Colorado River ecosystem and are important in their own right, are also a proxy for river health. If humans can successfully aid in their recovery, it says something about our values, Miller said.

“Do we care that the rivers still flow in the month of August? And if we do, then these fish are the canary-in-the-coal-mine example,” Miller said. “They are the first species that are feeling the brunt of climate change and river management and diversions and everything humans have imposed on the river in the last century and a half. It’s a tribute to us that we can get together on a big geographic scale and put our energy behind trying to keep all the pieces of our larger Colorado River community in place.”

Game & Fish: West Fork Dam would cause ‘substantial negative impacts’ — @WyoFile #LittleSnakeRiver #YampaRiver #GreenRiver

A technician measures flow in the Little Snake River near Dixon in 2018. (USGS)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

Wyoming Game and Fish Department comments cast doubt on irrigators’ claims that a 264-foot-high dam proposed in Carbon County will benefit fisheries, riparian zones and wetland-wildlife habitats.

The dam proposed for the West Fork of Battle Creek above the Little Snake River on the Medicine Bow National Forest would provide 6,000 acre-feet of late-season irrigation to ranches near Baggs, Dixon and Savery and in Colorado. The 700-foot-long concrete dam and associated 130-acre reservoir would also provide a “minimum bypass flow” to improve fisheries in downstream creeks and rivers, according to the proposal.

The reservoir itself could be a “brood facility” and refuge for native Colorado River cutthroat trout, a species of conservation concern, the Wyoming Water Development Commission and others say.

As dam backers’ plans were opened to formal public review and comment earlier this year, however, critics challenged the rosy ecological picture and accounting of public benefits claimed by water developers.

Among these critics is Wyoming’s own Game and Fish Department, which says construction and operation of the dam would cause “substantial negative impacts on the aquatic and fisheries resources in the West Fork Battle Creek, Battle Creek and Little Snake River drainages.”

Even though mitigation efforts are “likely” to offset such impacts and may conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat, the wildlife agency expressed reservations about the project. 

“Given the complexity of ecological systems and inherent uncertainties about project operation and impacts and future climate and hydrology,” Game and Fish wrote in nine pages of comments, “it is not known if the proposed project will benefit fisheries, riparian, and wetland wildlife habitats, as suggested by the proponents.”

In-stream flow vs. bypass

Wyoming’s wildlife agency made its comments along with 935 other individuals and organizations as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency tasked with aiding agriculture on private lands, analyzes the project through an environmental impact statement. Eight hundred ninety-nine commenters opposed dam construction and an associated land swap with the Medicine Bow National Forest that would enable it.

Game and Fish offered six pages of recommendations for how to potentially alleviate some of the dam’s impacts. Those include a program to wipe out non-native trout from a network of creeks that extends about six miles upstream of the dam site. Colorado River cutthroat trout would then be planted in an artificial “brood facility” in the reservoir and upstream.

The valley in which the West Fork dam and reservoir would be constructed. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

In launching the plan to dam the West Fork of Battle Creek, dam backers declared benefits would accrue to “fisheries, riparian and wetland wildlife habitats, and water-associated recreation,” according to a legal notice published in the Federal Register.

“Ecological objectives … include improvements to aquatic ecosystems and riparian habitats by supplementing stream flows during low-flow periods, and … to terrestrial habitat associated with irrigation-induced wetlands,” the notice posted by the NRCS states. “Benefits are expected to accrue to these attributes [downstream] to the confluence with the Yampa River including improvements to both cold water and warm water sensitive species.”

Fisheries below the dam could benefit from 1,500 acre-feet earmarked for bypass flow, a 483-page Wyoming study says. Bypass water that would be released from the dam would maintain a minimum flow for about 4 miles downstream.

Nothing in the plan as currently written, however, would prevent any irrigator from taking water out of the creek below that point and using it for irrigation.

“Without an in-stream flow water right, once released from the bypass flow account in West Fork Reservoir, the water could be used or diverted for other purposes,” Jason Mead, interim director of the Wyoming Water Development Office wrote in an email. Nevertheless, “[m]ost of the water released solely for habitat flow purposes, according to hydrologic models, occurs during the non-irrigation season months,” Mead wrote. “[T]here are no irrigation diversions below the [proposed] West Fork Reservoir on the West Fork of Battle Creek or Battle Creek until it runs on to private land.”

‘Habitat units’

The 4.8-mile reach of Battle Creek that runs across private land would benefit from approximately 1,414 new fishery “habitat units” if the dam were built, according to Wyoming’s study. A “habitat unit” supports about one pound of trout per acre. Together, the new aquatic productivity “could facilitate additional private enterprise investment which could generate direct private fishing benefits of $144,228 annually,” the Wyoming Water Development Office says in the 2017 study.

That money would increase through an economic theory known as an “indirect benefit multiplier,” producing $379,320 in private benefits annually and $8.2 million over 50 years, Wyoming’s plan states.

Little Snake River agricultural lands along the Colorado-Wyoming border. Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

That, plus other “instream flow benefits,” are estimated to generate $35 million in public benefits in the dam’s half-century life, the WWDO study states. All told, the state forecasts $73 million in public benefits. That sum justifies the state paying for most of the 2017-estimated $80 million project price tag.

“Given the unique location of the West Fork Reservoir project, its most valuable recreation attribute may be its isolated location which provides a sense of solitude that some recreationalists seek and consider priceless,” the state study reads.

In a comment letter, downstream ranch owners Sharon and Pat O’Toole said the proposed dam “offers multiple benefits,” and would offset the city of Cheyenne’s water diversions from the Little Snake River Basin.

“An environmental benefit would include creating and enhancing wetlands and riparian habitats upstream from the West Fork Reservoir, and improving stream habitat to sequester copper and other metals” from an abandoned mine, the O’Tooles wrote. “The created wetlands and improved stream channel could also provide wetland and stream channel mitigation for the project.

“Our family owns all the private land on Battle Creek,” the couple wrote, adding that “in the lower reaches we have Colorado Cutthroat Trout,” along with other species.

“Haggerty Creek [above the site of the proposed reservoir] used to provide habitat for this species of interest, and could again, with the benefit provided by the dam. The proposed dam would offer value to the recreating public. It would provide a fishery on Haggerty Creek and downstream that does not presently exist.”

John Cobb, chairman of the Little Snake River Conservation District, an irrigation group, wrote that there are “many self-mitigating aspects of this [dam-building] alternative with the potential to drastically offset any potential negative impacts.” Dam construction could “result in a net benefit to the native ecosystems and human economies that thrive within the proposed service area of this project,” his comment reads.

The project would also contribute to the goals of the Colorado-based Yampa, White, Green Roundtable, a consortium of river users, according Jonathan Bowler, watermaster for the Savery-Little Snake River Water Conservancy District that applied to build the dam. Among those is a goal to develop a system to reduce water shortages and meet environmental and recreation needs, he said in a presentation to the group.

Professional, expert critique

In addition to Game and Fish comments on the plan, reaction includes reviews and criticism from angling and conservation groups.

Wyoming proposes to swap state property for federal land to enable construction, and budgets $594,000 of the estimated $80 million project cost for wetland and stream mitigation, public documents state.

Without endorsing construction, Wyoming Trout Unlimited recommended that any plan include funding for non-native brook trout removal and other conservation measures, Kathy Buchner, Wyoming TU Council chair and two other TU officers wrote. Other groups were more critical.

Little Snake River watershed S. of Rawlins, Wyoming via the Wyoming Water Development Office.

“Five years of construction will destroy the present aquatic habitat for all populations of vertebrate and invertebrate species and terrestrial wildlife habitat,” wrote Brian Smith, a former Wyoming water development technician who operated the nearby High Savery Dam and Reservoir where Game and Fish established a similar Colorado River cutthroat trout reserve. “Spawning migrations that have occurred [in and above Battle Creek] presumebly (sic) since the last ice age by CRCT will be terminated. The Little Snake River Drainage is one of only 3 in the State of Wyoming, where the CRCT exist.”

The nonprofit American Rivers also criticized the state plan saying the proposed project could threaten year-round water in the Belvidere Ditch upstream of the proposed reservoir. That ditch is “a WGFD stocking source of cutthroat trout,” and disruption there could harm “these valuable populations.”

Matt Rice, the group’s Colorado River Basin program director, said threats to the ditch could damage “one of the only remaining healthy populations of cutthroat trout [and] could perhaps push the species sufficiently to the brink to merit a federally endangered listing.” The dam would further reduce flows downstream, including in the Yampa River “with additional consequences for protection and recovery of pikeminnow and other sensitive species,” Rice wrote.

A promise of ecological benefits downstream is unsubstantiated, wrote Ben Beall, Friends of the Yampa president. He said that was “a questionable claim given the project’s stated primary purpose is to supply late season irrigation water and the limitation of capacity of the bypass account in the reservoir.”

Forest staffer worried

Worries about the dam’s impacts and a lack of critical review emerged well before the NRCS opened the issue for comments. When the Medicine Bow began preparing for a potential land swap two years ago, a staff hydrologist became alarmed that the dam’s effects wouldn’t be thoroughly analyzed.

The Medicine Bow distributed a briefing paper to its staff that included language “taken from the water development justifications/benefit promotional material and adopted by FS management/lands staff w/o consultation of fisheries professionals,” Medicine Bow hydrologist Dave Gloss wrote to colleagues.

The Medicine-Bow distributed the briefing paper after dam backers had held several meetings with national forest officials and put the bureaucratic wheels in motion for the land exchange, according to an email chain obtained by WyoFile through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“There is much more to the aquatics story,” Gloss wrote, “including the upstream reaches above the reservoir not supporting fish populations due to metals contamination and dewatering from an irrigation ditch, the in-reservoir and downstream trade-offs from altered flow, etc.

“If I could achieve one thing related to this project, it would be an honest and critical look at the social and environmental effects …” Gloss wrote.

He held out little hope for that “honest and critical” look. “There are a lot of factors in play making that approach very unlikely at the moment …” his email read.

A Medicine-Bow spokesman earlier this year wrote that Gloss’s worries are now unfounded. In briefing papers like the one Gloss complained about, “external opinions are encouraged to be included in the full range of information, as they help give situational awareness,” spokesman Aaron Voos wrote in an email. Information in the briefing paper was appropriately cited to make clear it came from project proponents, he wrote.

Further the Medicine Bow will consider the social and environmental effects of the dam and a wide range of public input and values for the public lands, water and resources involved, Voos wrote. “That will be accomplished with the EIS. We are a cooperating agency in that process and will be involved.”

The Medicine Bow, however, has no plans to peer-review Wyoming’s study of public benefits that justifies state funding of the dam, Voos wrote. The NRCS also said it will not peer-review the 483-page Wyoming Little Snake River final report of 2017.

“At this time we cannot say whether or not the Little Snake River Supplemental Storage Level II Phase II Study Report will be used in the land exchange feasibility analysis,” Voos wrote. “[H]owever, it could be used as a reference document during the feasibility analysis or at other points in the land exchange and NEPA processes.”

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

#ColoradoSprings seeks to keep #water rights tied to dams, reservoirs: Water court process for diligence filing enters eighth year — @AspenJournalism #BlueRiver #ColoradoRiver #CORiver #aridification

Colorado Springs Utilities is fighting to keep conditional water rights tied to three small reservoirs in the headwaters of the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

A Front Range water provider is entering its eighth year of trying to keep water rights alive for three small reservoirs in the headwaters of the Blue River in Summit County to take more water from the Western Slope.

Colorado Springs Utilities has been mired in water court since 2015, fighting for its conditional water rights, which date to 1952 and are tied to three proposed reservoirs: Lower Blue Lake Reservoir, which would be built on Monte Cristo Creek with a 50-foot-tall dam and hold 1,006 acre-feet of water; Spruce Lake Reservoir, which would be built on Spruce Creek with an 80- to 90-foot-tall dam and hold 1,542 acre-feet; and Mayflower Reservoir, which would also be built on Spruce Creek with a 75- to 85-foot-tall dam and hold 618 acre-feet.

An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot.

The water rights case has eight different opposers, including the town of Breckenridge; Summit County; the Colorado River Water Conservation District; agricultural and domestic water users in the Grand Valley; the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District; and a private landowner who has mining claims in the area. Most of the opposers say they own water rights in the area that may be adversely impacted if the Blue River project’s conditional rights are granted.

Representatives from the town of Breckenridge, Summit County and Colorado Springs Utilities all declined to comment on the case to Aspen Journalism.

The proposed reservoirs would feed into Colorado Springs’ Continental-Hoosier system, also known as the Blue River Project, which takes water from the headwaters of the Blue River between Breckenridge and Alma, to Colorado Springs via the Hoosier Tunnel, Montgomery Reservoir and Blue River Pipeline. It is the city’s first and oldest transmountain diversion project. The Hoosier Tunnel takes an average of about 8,000 acre-feet of water a year, according to state diversion records.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Each year, transmountain diversions take about 500,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River basin to the Front Range. Colorado Springs is a large part of this vast network of tunnels and conveyance systems that move water from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side, where the state’s biggest cities are located.

Colorado Springs Utilities, which serves more than 600,000 customers in the Pikes Peak region, takes water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork, Eagle and Blue rivers — all tributaries of the Colorado River. Colorado Springs gets 50% of its raw water supply — about 50,000 acre-feet annually — from the Colorado River basin, according to Jennifer Jordan, public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities. The existing Blue River system represents about 9% of Colorado Springs’ total raw water supply, she said.

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

CSU and the city of Aurora are working on another potential transmountain diversion project: a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin that would hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet.

The River District, which was formed in 1937, in part, to fight transmountain diversions that take water from the Western Slope, is opposing the Blue River water rights case.

“We are open to hear what the applicants have to say about the project, what their needs are and if they can provide meaningful compensation and mitigation of the impacts,” said Peter Fleming, River District general counsel. “At the end of the day, there might be a deal where the West Slope gets a result that hopefully makes sense.”

Proposee Blue River headwaters reservoirs. Credit: Colorado Springs Utilities via Laurine Lassalle/Aspen Journalism

A water rights place holder

In Colorado water law, the prior appropriation doctrine reigns supreme. Those with the oldest water rights get first use of the water, making the oldest rights the most valuable, or senior. Under the prior appropriation system, a water user has to simply put water to “beneficial use” — for example, irrigating land or using water in a home — to get a water right. The user can then ask a court to make it official, securing their place in line.

Conditional water rights are an exception to this rule, letting a water user, such as Colorado Springs Utilities, save their place in line in the prior appropriation system while they work to develop big, complicated, multiyear water projects. But they must file a “diligence” application with the water court every six years, proving that they have, in fact, been working toward developing the project and that they can and will eventually put the water to beneficial use. Hoarding water rights with no real plan to put them to beneficial use amounts to speculation and is not allowed.

In its 2015 diligence filing, CSU said during the previous six years that it had hired consultants — Wilson Water Group and its subcontractors — to do a water supply assessment; an engineering and geotechnical evaluation of each reservoir site; and an investigation of potential environmental effects of development of the reservoirs. CSU said it also acquired 28 undeveloped parcels of land to protect the project’s infrastructure and also performed maintenance work on other parts of the Blue River system that contributed to more than $4.2 million in spending on the overall Blue River Project.

Assistant Pitkin County Attorney Laura Makar is not involved in the Blue River case, but she is a legal expert in conditional water rights.

“The idea is that every six years, you address what the needs are, so you don’t have someone out there parking themselves in line for 100 years,” Makar said. “They must show that the project can and will be completed with diligence in a reasonable time and applied to the beneficial uses in the amounts they have claimed.”

The Wilson Water Group study concludes there is enough water physically and legally available to fill the reservoirs.

Declining snowpack will lead to more variable and unpredictable streamflow. Some of the snowmelt flowing in the Blue River as it joins the Colorado River near Kremmling, Colo., will reach the Lower Basin states. Dec. 3, 2019. Credit: Mitch Tobin, the Water Desk

Ancient fens and endangered species

According to the Wilson Water Group study, there are several environmental considerations. Soil samples indicate that at least a portion of the wetlands near the Lower Blue Lake Reservoir site contain fens, ancient and fragile groundwater-fed wetlands with organic peat soils.

“The presence of fen wetlands may result in permitting challenges,” the report reads.

The report also says the three reservoir sites may be home to endangered species, including Canada lynx and Greenback cutthroat trout. Construction access to the Spruce Lake Reservoir would be challenging and would require a new 2-mile-long road. A new 1.5-mile-long road would be needed for access to Mayflower Lake Reservoir.

The project would need permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Forest Service, and a 1041 permit from Summit County.

Kendra Tully, executive director of the Blue River Watershed Group, said her organization’s main concern with the project is its potential impacts to the already-low flows in the Blue River.

“We do feel like there is an environmental concern already with how much water is allotted for environmental flows in the river, and if we remove anymore from the very, very top, we are just going to affect everything downstream,” she said.

Although the Blue River Watershed Group is not an opposer in the water court case, Tully said the group is encouraging Summit County to do its own environmental impact study of the project and to potentially use their 1041 powers, which allow local governments to regulate development. In 1994, Eagle County stopped Colorado Springs and Aurora from building the Homestake II reservoir project using its 1041 powers to deny permits.

“What we are asking (Summit County) to do is make sure they are really taking into consideration all the power they have with the 1041 permit, which is what CSU will need to actually develop any of their water right,” Tully said.


But before permitting and construction of the reservoirs could begin, CSU first has to secure another six-year extension on its conditional storage rights. It has been eight years since CSU filed the diligence case — a lengthy but not totally unusual period of time, according to Makar. If CSU can’t work out agreements with each of the opposers with the help of a water referee, the case may go to a trial, which is not an ideal situation for any water user, Makar said.

“When you get on a trial track, then you are forced into discovery and a standard litigation posture, you’re taking depositions of everyone’s witnesses, and it tends to make people clam up,” she said. “It’s not a great model to allow for discussion and resolution of issues.”

The next status conference in the case is scheduled for April 13.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Seven Women Who Made the World Better for Birds and People: We’re giving a major hat tip to these die-hard conservationists, because every month should be Women’s History Month — Audubon #WomensHistoryMonth2023

Rachel Carson in 1940. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceat this pageThis tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing.See Category:Images from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service., Public Domain,

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (from March 31, 2016, Emily Silber). Here’s an excerpt:

When we hear the word “naturalist,” we often think of Charles Darwin and his theories, John Muir, the “Father of National Parks,” and of course, John James Audubon. But let’s not forget the women who rallied to preserve the natural realm. From creating the first avian field guide, to ending the feather trade, to dying in pursuit of birds, these seven femmes prove that the history of incredible women transcends any single month.

Ornithologist and artist [{:en:Genevieve Estelle Jones|Genevieve Estelle Jones]]. By Anonymous –, Public Domain,

Genevieve Estelle Jones


Ohio native Genevieve Estelle Jones was a self-taught scientific illustrator christened the “other Audubon.” After seeing some of Audubon’s paintings at an exhibition, Jones decided to draw the nests and eggs of the 130 bird species nesting in Ohio at the time. But before she could finish, she died from typhoid fever at age 32. Her family spent the next seven years completing the hand-colored plates, of which 90 copies were made. Only 26 still exist.

Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall

1858-1960 and 1864-1944

This two-woman dream team was responsible for taking down the 19th-century plume trade and establishing the National Audubon Society. Appalled by the number of birds being killed in the name of fashion, Hemenway, an impassioned amateur naturalist, and her cousin Hall, persuaded their socialite friends to boycott the trade and protect the wildlife behind it. Ultimately, they recruited 900 women to join the fight, and gave rise to an establishment that, a century later, has grown to 1 million members and supporters strong.

Florence Merriam Bailey, maker of the first known bird guide, in New Mexico, 1901. Photo: Vernon Bailey Collection/American Heritage Center/University of Wyoming

Florence Merriam Bailey


American nature writer and ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey was a jane of all trades. Not only did she work with the National Audubon Society during its early years, she is also credited for writing the first known bird guide, Birds Through an Opera Glass, published in 1889. A true pioneer in the field, Merriam protested the mistreatment, killing, and trade of feathered animals. Her legacy still remains in the form of a subspecies of the California Mountain Chickadee, Parus gambeli baileyae, that was named in her honor.

Rachel Carson


Rachel Carson is most famous for her book Silent Spring, in which she bared the sins of the pesticide industry. In her later writings, the author and activist continued to examine the relationship between people and nature, questioning whether human beings are truly the dominant authority. Needless to say, she was an outspoken advocate for the environment and one of the greatest social revolutionaries of her time.

Frances Hamerstrom Position title:1907-1998. Photo credit: University of Wisconsin — Madison

Frances Hamerstrom


This female ornithologist dedicated the majority of her life to just one kind of bird: The Greater Prairie-chicken. Frances Hamerstrom headed a research team that ultimately saved the eccentric species from extinction in Wisconsin. She helped identify the ideal habitat for prairie-chickens, and was also one of the first to put colored leg bands on wild birds—a technique that has helped reveal important information on bird behavior through the decades.

Phoebe Snetsinger. Photo credit: Ornithology: The Science of Birds

Phoebe Snetsinger


When faced with the grim diagnosis of melanoma, 50-year-old Phoebe Snetsinger turned her life upside down: She went from being a housewife to racing around the globe as a competitive birder. Despite being beaten and raped in Papua New Guinea, Snetsinger never gave up on her passion. In 1995, she broke a world record by being the first person to spot more than 8,000 species of birds. A short time later she died in a bus crash while birding in Madagascar. But she will always be celebrated for living life with absolute fearlessness.

These women are just a few of the heros who forged the path for the modern-day bird-conservation movement. Today’s ornithologists, birders, and activists certainly match their passion and dedication. In fact, in 2011, of the 47 million birdwatchers in the United States, more than half were women. Between women spearheading sustainable projects around the world, Audubon’s standout conservationists, and badass chicks who love to bird . . . our avians are in very good hands.   

#ClimateChange and pesticides imperil a once common pollinator — USGS #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the release on the USGS website (Heidi Koontz):

BOZEMAN, Mont. — The western bumble bee was once common in western North America, but increasing temperatures, drought, and pesticide use have contributed to a 57% decline in the occurrence of this species in its historical range, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey-led study.

Using data from 1998-2020, scientists determined that increasing summer temperatures and drought partly drove declines of the native western bumble bee in recent decades, with rising temperatures being particularly important. The decline in pollinators is a cause for concern because most flowering plants depend on pollinators such as the western bumble bee to promote reproduction. Pollinators are also essential to our agriculture industry and economy and provide fruits, seeds and nuts that both humans and wildlife rely on. To further complicate matters for the western bumble bee, climate change continues to make rising temperatures and drought more common in the western states. 

“There has been an ongoing global decline in pollinators, including in North America,” said Will Janousek, USGS scientist and co-lead author of the study. “The decline in the once common western bumble bee shows that common, widespread species are not excluded from this trend and our study showed that climate change is an important reason for the decline of this native bee species.”  

Death by a thousand cuts: Global threats to insect diversity. Stressors from 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock anchor to climate change. Featured insects: Regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) (Center), rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) (Center Right), and Puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela puritana) (Bottom). Each is an imperiled insect that represents a larger lineage that includes many International Union for Conservation of Nature “red list” species (i.e., globally extinct, endangered, and threatened species). Illustration: Virginia R. Wagner (artist).

The research team found another reason for the reduced distribution of the once common western bumble bee in a pesticide use dataset spanning 2008-2014: a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are commonly used in agriculture. In areas where neonicotinoids were applied, the western bumble bee was less likely to occur and as the rate of neonicotinoid application increased, the bumble bee’s presence declined further. 

The scientists also projected the future status of the western bumble bee in 16 regions of the western United States in the 2050s under different future scenarios, considering increasing levels of future climate stressors, changing forest and shrub cover, and other factors.  

“Even considering the most optimistic scenario, western bumble bee populations are expected to continue to decline in the near future in nearly half of the regions across the bumble bee’s range,” said Tabitha Graves, USGS scientist and co-lead author on the study. “Considering the more severe, but probably more likely scenarios, western bumble bee populations are expected to decline an additional 51% to 97% from 2020 levels depending on the region.” 

This study was a collaborative effort between the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service, Dickinson College, Canadian Wildlife Service, Montana State University, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, University of Colorado Boulder, The Ohio State University, and the University of Wyoming. It is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For more information on bumble bee research in the West, please visit the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center website

Sources/Usage: Public Domain. USGS scientist Tabitha Graves collects western bumble bee samples in eastern Montana.

Still Pools: Teeming with life at the edge: “But extinction is not a promise. It’s a process” — Source #NewMexico #RioGrande

White-throated swifts carry insects to feed their young, nestled against the bottom of bridges along the Rio Grande. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

Click the link to read the article on the Source New Mexico website (Danielle Prokop):

SUNLAND PARK — Below the crags of Mount Cristo Rey, a string of little pools in the riverbed reflect its steep hills and white cross perched atop the peak. Black-necked stilts pick their way across on shocking pink legs, pushing through vibrant grass. A lone peacock, gone feral, zips through the streambed, interrupting the mountain’s reflection.

Diana, quietly stalking the stilts, nearly misses my wild pantomiming, trying to point out the bright blue bird just a few yards away. We both catch a glimpse of indigo wings as he flaps into the brush, and melts away unseen.

We came to this place to see the year-round pools. The high groundwater squeezes through the earth in a space between state and international borders — nearly a no-man’s land. A truck occasionally rumbles across the bridge, or a cyclist pauses to look over the river. Most city sounds sink away, replaced by the flutter of young cottonwoods, the rustle of grasses, the squawk if we get too close to a stilt, a frog gently peeping.

People from all walks of life, all along the river spoke a poetry of place. Each shared a memory of the Rio Grande — taking a fishing trip with grandparents or being struck for the first time by the lush green of a wetland in the desert.

We return again and again. At dawn and dusk, the place is filled with the raucous twittering of white-throated swifts, corkscrewing to alight on precarious lumpy nests, cradling their young. We pick in the mud under the bridge, looking up to see bright-eyed chicks peeping out their heads — next to the empty imprints of broken nests.

Groundwater pools into the Rio Grande riverbed, offering refuge to black-necked stilts, waterfowl, even a rogue peacock. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

This is just one of thousands of small places on the river, already reshaped by a different climate, an echo of a river system that no longer runs naturally. It is a place where creatures belong, but none express rights to its water.

Diana and I set out to tell stories about the memory of a river and document the Rio Grande as it is now. One of those aims was to foster a sense of place, even if people had never seen these portions of the river before.

“I feel oftentimes, we don’t get outside enough,” Diana said in a talk with Estela Padilla at the outset of this project. “If people don’t get a chance to love a place, they don’t understand it’s fragile — it’s not here forever.”

So much of the river’s story is about human hands dipping into it — to take from it, to manipulate it, and also to restore it, to worship in it.

We’ve told some of the story of how governments reshaped the river through dams and other controls over decades. How climate change is amplifying the consequences of that interference. How such major alterations to the Rio Grande set us on a path to where the riverbed goes dry now for miles at a time. How the overallocation of water for agriculture is paired with a refusal to devote water to the river just so it can sustain itself and its ecosystems. How we’re all a part of those ecosystems.

Black-necked stilts alight in the pools in Sunland Park, where the high groundwater creates year-round pools that offer sustenance and a home to creatures in the desert landscape. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

We told you about the desperate, short-sighted rescue effort to save one kind of fish while throwing hundreds of others back into the mud. The historic and ongoing exclusion of the pueblos from the decision-making table

We’ve talked to some of the farmers and ranchers who are trying to figure out how to conserve, who understand how the river’s health is essential to survival. And we’ve sat with some of the advocates hand-watering trees and fighting for patches of restoration along the river — or for its overall endurance in the era of global warming. 

And Source NM has published other stories about big legal fights over less and less water, and still more articles about extractive industries and their outsized contribution to ever hotter, drier conditions.

Even with all of this time, all of these miles on the river, I don’t have any simple answers.

But extinction is not a promise. It’s a process.

Trucks occasionally rumble over the Sunland Park pools, cut by a train horn in the distance. Otherwise, sounds of the city slip away, and the twittering of swallows dominates the pools. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM

People alter processes and their trajectories all the time. Sometimes just a few people’s efforts build the backbone of transformation. But across place, across life experience, many value the river. They fight to sustain it, as it sustains life here. 

Any real shift takes time, and there’s not much left. The Rio Grande remains suspended on the bleeding edge of climate change. I fear one day all of these little pools will just be a memory of ours. That our prayer for this river, too, will be a lamentation. 

But the fear subsides a little, slipping into the rustle of long grasses. This moment remains, suspended aloft, like young swifts.

Swifts fly to and from a bridge near the Sunland Park pools to roost for the night in nests they have built out of sediment from around the river. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

This is the last article in our series. Find our other stories:Crisis on the Rio Grande

This project was funded by a grant from the Water Desk and by States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit news organizations and home to Source NM.

Conservation Organizations Emphasize Need to Protect Environmental Priorities in #ColoradoRiver Basin — Audubon #COriver #aridification

Great Blue Heron. Photo: Patricia Kappmeyer/Audubon Photography Awards

Click the link to read the release on the Audubon website:

Several conservation organizations today [February 2, 2023] urge Colorado River Basin decision-makers to protect critical environmental priorities as they wrestle with Basin management decisions being made over the next several months. The groups warn that ignoring these priorities risks further damage to the Basin’s environment and natural heritage, the foundation of the iconic Colorado River system. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is pursuing a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) process to evaluate the need to partially modify operating criteria for primary Colorado River reservoirs given extreme drought conditions and historically low reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

While the groups are encouraged to see six of the Basin states put forward a “consensus based modeling alternative” for Reclamation to consider in the SEIS process, the groups seek to ensure that critical environmental concerns are considered in any operational actions that Reclamation models and evaluates.

As the Colorado River community considers operational changes, seven conservation organizations identify five (5) environmental priorities that are most directly linked to or implicated by the SEIS process, which is expected to be completed in the summer of 2023:

  • Investing federal funds in watershed health, long term resilience, and agricultural innovation in the Upper Basin tributaries with high fish and wildlife and recreational value;
  • Preserving the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs in the Upper Basin and the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program;
  • Safeguarding the integrity of the Grand Canyon ecosystem and recreational values;
  • Restoring wetlands at the Salton Sea to minimize toxic dust and benefit bird habitat along the Pacific Flyway;
  • Forestalling the loss and continuing restoration of the Colorado River Delta.

“We highlight these particular priorities because, for the Colorado River community, they are closely tied to the continued integrity of the Colorado River Basin and are potentially most affected by the current SEIS process,” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director for National Audubon Society. “In the face of a hotter, drier climate, the Colorado River—and all of the living things depending on it—require that we stay focused on these priorities.”

“Whatever options Reclamation ultimately considers as part of the SEIS process, these environmental priorities cannot be lost in the mix or sacrificed in the name of a crisis, or we risk making the entire situation worse,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer for Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“These and related priorities are essential to the continued sustainability of the Colorado River system.  Failing to consider them when making basin management decisions would undermine the ecological health of the Colorado River Basin, adding more potential for controversy in a Basin that needs to move forward—urgently—with consensus efforts to reduce water demand and restore the health of the watershed,” said Sara Porterfield, western water policy advisor for Trout Unlimited. 

“Our groups have worked hard over the last decade to find environmental solutions that also benefit water users. We want to ensure those hard-won solutions and benefits aren’t sacrificed because of interstate disputes over water allocations,” said Taylor Hawes, director of the Colorado River Program at The Nature Conservancy. “We know the Basin’s stakeholders are facing difficult decisions with dropping reservoir levels, drier soils, hotter temperatures, and that adjustments are needed now to deal with those issues in both the Upper and Lower Basins. Nevertheless, we don’t want to lose sight of the risks to the extraordinary natural heritage of the Colorado River,” Hawes added.

“We stand ready to work with Basin states, Tribes, water users, and the federal government to ensure that the SEIS process is sufficiently transparent, efficient, and comprehensive,” said Kevin Moran, associate vice president of regional affairs for Environmental Defense Fund.

Plans for 264-foot dam above #LittleSnakeRiver spur conflict — WyoFile #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The upper reaches of Haggarty Creek on the Medicine Bow National Forest. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Angus M. Thuermer):

Above the Colorado-Wyoming border, the Sierra Madre Mountain snowpack holds water that ranchers say flows downstream too fast. Some question whether a proposed 10,000-acre-foot reservoir is pork or progress.

As officials this week outline plans for a 264-foot-high concrete dam proposed for a wooded canyon in the Medicine Bow National Forest, irrigators and critics remain divided over the project’s benefits and impacts. The two sides disagree whether the estimated $80-million structure and accompanying 130-acre reservoir are pork or progress, boon or bane.

Federal officials begin receiving public comments on the proposed dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek in Carbon County as ranchers and environmentalists disagree over whether 450,000 cubic yards of concrete should plug a forested gorge and whether federal and state agencies are conducting environmental examinations appropriately. In what one official admitted is a complex process with parallel reviews, two federal agencies will make key findings to resolve the project’s fate.

The federal Natural Resource Conservation Service will examine dam construction and alternatives in an environmental impact statement. Meantime, the U.S. Forest Service will launch a separate “feasibility study” to decide whether it should take part in an estimated 6,282-acre land exchange facilitating construction of the dam. The study will determine whether trading the federal dam site to Wyomining “is in the best interest of the American public,” Medicine Bow spokesman Aaron Voos said.

Proponents want the dam and reservoir to yield 6,500 acre-feet of late-season irrigation for between 67-100 irrigators in Wyoming and Colorado. The 10,000 acre-foot impoundment would hold 1,500 acre-feet as a minimum bypass flow for fish and wildlife. The state would pay for most of the estimated $80 million cost, a figure calculated in 2017.

“We would like to have a project here because it’s good for our valley,” said Pat O’Toole, a former state representative who ranches along the Little Snake River. “The public interest is clearly that the storage project [aids] biodiversity” and boosts food production while creating “a really healthy landscape.”


The land exchange is an end-run around environmental reviews, he said, an assertion dam supporters and review agencies reject. [Gary] Wockner is worried that Medicine Bow officials won’t apply the same scrutiny to the land exchange that they would to the construction of a dam on National Forest property, he said. Building on federal land would require a more extensive review, he said, echoing dam backers’ own public statements.

Medicine Bow spokesman Voos rejected the assertion his agency is shirking its responsibilities. It is speculation to assert what level of review a proposal to build the dam on federal property would require, he said.

Wyoming agrees the process is sound. “It wouldn’t limit the environmental review at all,” Jason Crowder, deputy director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, told WyoFile.

In addition to its public-interest swap determination, the Medicine Bow is participating in a separate environmental impact review and statement — conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service — that will consider environmental and social impacts of dam and reservoir construction and operation. All that “satisfies the environmental review requirements for the land exchange,” Voos said.

Dwindling basin flows

At the upper reaches of the Colorado River Basin, where dwindling flows put seven Western states and Mexico at odds over historic and future use, the project comes at an uneasy time. It will test Wyoming’s willingness to impound and use what it believes river laws allow, despite an arid landscape of dwindling Colorado River flows, oversubscribed demands, climate change and growth.

Federal regulations state that a land exchange can take place only if the public interest “will be well served.”

One benefit to the Medicine Bow could be acquiring 640 acres of state-owned school-trust sections inside the national forest. “Quite a few of them are either in or adjacent to [a] wilderness area or roadless areas,” said Jonathan Bowler, watermaster for the Savery-Little Snake River Water Conservancy District.

Little Snake River agricultural lands along the Colorado-Wyoming border. Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

“The public could potentially see an expansion of roadless and wilderness in those areas,” he said.

The reservoir itself would flood land within about a half mile of the boundary of the Medicine Bow’s 31,057-acre Huston Park Wilderness Area, according to maps.

Bowler outlined other ways existing irrigation aids the environment; the dam would expand those benefits.

“You’ve got hundreds of ranchers pretty much doing the work of beavers to build riparian areas and habitat,” he said. Such irrigation-induced wetlands today cover more than 7,000 acres in the area, he said.

Birds and water at Bosque de Apache New Mexico November 9, 2022. Photo credit: Abby Burk

Irrigation aids amphibians and species like sandhill cranes that migrate to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, he said. “Our irrigation actually directly benefits that mating grounds down there that’s quite a tourist attraction.” Elk and other wildlife benefit from the open private land, he said.

Irrigation “basically fills up the soil … the largest reservoir that we have,” he said. When that moisture starts coming back out to the river, “that means that our rivers are higher [in] flow [in] late summer, early fall than historically they were.”

Wyoming calculates those returning flows — about 45% of what’s diverted onto fields — as water that can be used for irrigation again and counted as a benefit, according to a Water Development Office study.

“That late-season irrigation especially can help cool down river temperatures, which helps to provide for those big game populations as well as fish and other wildlife,” Bowler said.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

The dam also could benefit Colorado River cutthroat trout because it would be an upstream barrier to competitors, helping fisheries managers enlarge a sanctuary for the species in and above the reservoir.

Said O’Toole, “this is may be as conservation-minded a place I know of in the western United States.”

Environmental review

…Wyoming wants 1,700 acres of Forest Service land for the dam and would analyze the value of between 2,024 and 4,400 acres of Wyoming school-trust land inside the Medicine Bow for the trade. Public announcements differ over the state acreage to be considered for trade.

The valley in which the West Fork dam and reservoir would be constructed. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

State and federal officials agree a land swap would make approval of the 130-acre reservoir easier. Wyoming’s exchange request states that a land swap “would eliminate the need for a USFS special use permit.”

Federal land ownership of the dam site “adds millions of dollars to that [permitting] process,” Harry LaBonde, former director of the WWDO told lawmakers in 2018. “Dealing with the Forest Service … very much complicates the NEPA process,” he said, and an exchange “very much streamlines” potential development.

Dam proponents “were running into a bit of a roadblock with Forest Service on Forest-Service-managed land,” OSLI Deputy Director Crowder told the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners in 2021.

The Medicine Bow told Wyoming officials that building on federal, not state, land “would not be the best approach just due to all the regulations that would come along with a [required] special use permit,” Voos said in an interview. “And so I think that [land swap] has been our suggestion.”

The value of exchanged parcels can be balanced by adjusting the acreage or paying for a difference, according to Wyoming’s proposal.

Any increase in federal acreage — the state offered 4,400 acres for analysis and potential trade for 1,700 acres of Medicine Bow land — could run afoul of Carbon County’s Natural Resource Management Plan. That plan supports valuable exchanges but also calls for “no net loss of private or state lands in exchange for federal lands.”

Gov. Mark Gordon, too, “is not supportive of the federal government expanding their [sic] estate in Wyoming,” Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told WyoFile when the governor protested the 35,670-acre conservation purchase of the private Marton Ranch along the North Platte River last year.

Of the 1,700 acres of Medicine Bow property Wyoming would acquire, the state wants 1,336 acres for the dam and reservoir itself and another 426 acres covering parts of Haggarty Creek and the Belvidere Ditch, site of a water spatamong area irrigators.

Owning all the property would “provide for the efficient operation of the reservoir and surrounding lands,” the state said in its land-swap proposal.

The state would lease the newly acquired land to the Water Development Commission, which would eventually transfer ownership to Carbon County or some other entity, according to plans. That final owner would be responsible for compensating the school trust — whose land the state would trade away.

A mining company that owns land at the reservoir site also would be involved with the project. American Milling LP of Cahokia, Illinois owns about 124 acres inside the national forest at the proposed site of the reservoir. The Carbon County assessor lists the market value of the property, site of mineral claims, at $40,675. Wyoming would presumably have to acquire that property too, or somehow arrange for it to be flooded.

WyoFile did not receive a response to a certified letter sent to the company seeking comment on Wyoming’s plans to inundate the private land.

Equal values

The Forest Service must show that values and public objectives of the state parcels “equal or exceed” those that would be swapped, regulations state. Medicine Bow land that would become the dam site must “not substantially conflict with established management objectives on adjacent Federal lands,” the Forest Service said.

Medicine Bow officials last week couldn’t immediately outline those objectives.

A WWDO study, however, listed the benefits of a new dam, saying it would generate $73.7 million in public benefits. Reservoir releases would be coordinated with those from the High Savery Dam.

A fish barrier on Haggarty Creek provides an upstream sanctuary for Colorado River cutthroat trout. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Critics have questioned the accounting of benefits, including rosy projections for recreational revenue and the acreage that would benefit from irrigation.

The cost/benefit ratio allows the state to reduce the required contributions from irrigation districts from the typical 33% to 8% of construction costs.

Wyoming, however, has seen costs for dam construction increase dramatically in recent years, potentially upsetting the cost/benefit ratio. The environmental review will update those figures, Jason Mead, interim director of the WWDO, wrote in an email.

Construction would require an estimated 450,000 cubic yards of concrete, according to an application to appropriate water filed with the state engineer in 2014. The Forest Service public-interest determination and separate NRCS environmental impact statement seek to examine the construction plan through two separate reviews.

A 70-step process 

The parallel review process is complex, Voos said. The Medicine Bow is engaged with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a larger analysis of the dam’s environmental and social impact. Other state and federal agencies also are involved.

The separate Forest Service public-interest decision is entwined in that process, both to be explained at public meetings in the region on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The public-interest determination, “that’s kind of a parallel process to the land exchange,” Voos said. “We are piggybacking in essence, on those public meetings,” to get comments on the swap.

“We have a full, almost … 70-step process that we have to go through for the land exchange,” Voos said. Reservoir construction on National Forest System lands “is not commonplace,” the Medicine Bow said in a statement.

After determining the public-interest benefit, “we proceed or don’t proceed with the rest of the land exchange process,” Voos said. The Forest Service is “not for or against the project.”


Interested parties can read a legal notice published by the NRCS or weigh in online, by post or hand-delivery. The comments go to the NRCS, which will forward relevant land-swap ones to the Forest Service, Voos said. Meetingsoutlining the scope of the analysis and potential alternatives will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Craig, Colorado, and Baggs and Saratoga respectively.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Bipartisan bill aims to extend protections of endangered fish: Upper #ColoradoRiver and #SanJuanRiver Basins Recovery Act targets preservation of native species — The #Durango Herald #COriver #aridification

Endangered Razorback sucker. Photo credit: Reclamation

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Megan K. Olsen). Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Mitt Romney, along with Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, have teamed up to ensure the continuation of conservation programs aimed at protecting native and endangered fish species through the Upper Colorado and San Juan Basins Recovery Act. The recovery act has been included with the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Government Funding Bill that has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting approval from President Joe Biden…

The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Recovery Programs are set to expire on Sept. 30. The recovery act would extend any programs that currently study, monitor and stock four endangered fish species of the Upper Colorado and San Juan rivers through the end of 2024…

{Senator] Romney also showed interest in the impact of human activity and climate change on the Colorado River and its native species in 2021, when he went on a rafting trip with Sen. Michael Bennett and the Colorado River Commissioner and director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Becky Mitchell.

Navajo Dam operations update January 3, 2023: Bumping down to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation Susan Novak Behery:

In response to sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs for Tuesday, January 3rd, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Sambrito Wetlands restoration project beginning in January at Navajo State Park — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife #SanJuanRiver

The Sambrito Wetlands at Navajo State Park will undergo a project to restore 34 acres of the wetlands and streamside habitat beginning the first week of January. John Livingston/CPW

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (John Livingston):

A project to restore an additional 34 acres of wetland and streamside habitat is set to begin its final phase in January at the Sambrito Wetlands Complex at Navajo State Park. The area will be closed to the public during construction and will be well marked with closure signs.

This project, coordinated by the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited, will bring to life the vision of a myriad of partners who have participated in various planning efforts for the project during the last decade.

“We are happy to see this project come to fruition after multiple years of work and planning,” said CPW Deputy Southwest Region Manager Heath Kehm. “Through the work of key partners and funding through several grants, we are eager to see this area of Navajo State Park restored for the benefit of wildlife, wildlife viewing and waterfowl hunting here in southwest Colorado.”

The Sambrito Wetlands are on federal land owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and managed under agreement by CPW. Sambrito is part of a wetland complex in Colorado that was enhanced to benefit wildlife during construction of Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.

Since its construction, the water infrastructure and ditches have fallen into disrepair, resulting in diminished environmental and recreational benefits.

In 2012, CPW commissioned a management plan that identified several areas where infrastructure improvements could be made to restore wetland function and increase recreational opportunities. In 2013, CPW funded an initial phase of work which was completed in 2016.

This current project will continue and complete all work identified in the management plan published in 2013 to restore the Sambrito Wetlands to full functionality.

The Sambrito and adjacent Miller Mesa Wetlands Complex were intensively managed for wildlife between 1964 and 1993 through habitat improvements, food production units and wetland creation and enhancements. However, the complexes were not as actively managed in the intervening years and became dilapidated because of limited resources.

The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus) is native to the southern Rocky Mountains. It is 7 to 9 inches long including its tail, which is more than half of its length. The mouse is a jumper, making use of its inch-long back feet. It lives among dense, tall, herbaceous (non-woody) plants that are next to flowing streams and eats a variety of plant material, such as grass seeds and flowers. Photo credit: National Park Service

The current project will reinvigorate waterfowl habitat and improve recreational opportunities by renovating and repairing the existing water diversion and conveyance system, which will deliver water from West Sambrito Creek (Vallejo Arroyo) to five wetland impoundments. The project will also restore hydrologic functions to a section of West Sambrito Creek and potentially benefit the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

Strategies to avoid and minimize impacts to the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and its habitat guided development of the project, and Bureau Reclamation staff will be onsite to monitor construction activities occurring in critical habitat.

Ducks Unlimited designed and engineered the wetland improvements and will lead as the project manager. Geringer Construction, a contractor from the San Luis Valley experienced in wetland restoration, will work on the project from early winter through spring 2023.

“We are very excited to move forward with this project,” said John Denton, Colorado Manager of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. “The habitat improvement work in this unique and important wetland complex will highlight this great conservation partnership and will pay dividends for wildlife and the public for years to come.”

CPW will provide any ongoing management and maintenance for the wetlands.

Funding for this project has come through the Colorado Water Conservation Board Water Supply Reserve Fund grant, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant and the CPW Colorado Wetlands and Wildlife Program grant.

The Southwest Wetlands Focus Area Committee has also been a champion for the project through its continued leadership and support.

CPW’s ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Wetlands for Wildlife Program is a voluntary, collaborative and incentive-based program to restore, enhance and create wetlands and riparian areas in Colorado. Funds are allocated annually to the program, and projects are recommended for funding by a CPW committee with final approval by the Director.

For more about the CPW wetlands project funding, go to:

Navajo State Park is a major recreational facility in southwest Colorado, drawing more than 300,000 visitors every year. The 2,100-acre park offers boating, fishing, trails, wildlife viewing, 138 camp sites and three cabins.

#Cop15: historic deal struck to halt biodiversity loss by 2030: Agreement on ’30 by 30’ target forced through by Chinese president, ignoring objections from African states — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

he Cop15 agreement in Montreal is the culmination of more than four years of negotiations. Photograph: Julian Haber/Courtesy of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Click the link to read the key points from COP15 from The Guardian website (Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston). Here’s an excerpt:

Main points of the historic agreement signed in Montreal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems

The Kunming-Montreal pact is a series of agreements that range from scientific cooperation to human-wildlife conflict. Here are the main points at a glance in the once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems.

Agreement to conserve 30% of Earth by the end of the decade

Inspired by the Harvard biologist EO Wilson’s vision of protecting half the planet for the long-term survival of humanity, the most high-profile target at Cop15 has inspired and divided in equal measure. The final wording commits governments to conserving nearly a third of Earth for nature by 2030 while respecting indigenous and traditional territories in the expansion of new protected areas…

Indigenous rights at the heart of conservation

Indigenous peoples are mentioned 18 times in this decade’s targets to halt and reverse biodiversity, something to which activists are pointing as a historic victory. Several scientific studies have shown that Indigenous peoples are the best stewards of nature, representing 5% of humanity but protecting 80% of Earth’s biodiversity…

Reform of environmentally harmful subsidies

Definitely in the category of boring-but-important, the world spends at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on government subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a study earlier this year…

Nature disclosures for businesses

Although the language was watered down in the final text, target 15 of the deal requires governments to ensure that large and transnational companies disclose “their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity”…

A way forward on digital biopiracy

Ahead of Cop15, digital sequence information (DSI) was the controversial hot potato – and something few really understood. DSI refers to digitised genetic information that we get from nature, which is used frequently to produce new drugs, vaccines and food products. These digital forms of biodiversity come from rainforests, peatlands, coral reefs and other rich ecosystems, but they are hard to trace back to their origin country, with many in the developing world now expecting payment for the use of their resources.

Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments appear to have signed a once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems, but the agreement seems to have been forced through by the Chinese president, ignoring the objections of some African states…In an extraordinary plenary that began on Sunday evening and lasted for more than seven hours, countries wrangled over the final agreement. Finally, at about 3.30am local time on Monday, news broke that an agreement had been struck. The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s negotiator appeared to block the final deal presented by China, telling the plenary that he could not support the agreement in its current form because it did not create a new fund for biodiversity, separate to the existing UN fund, the global environment facility (GEF). China, Brazil, Indonesia, India and Mexico are the largest recipients of GEF funding, and some African states wanted more money for conservation as part of the final deal. However, moments later, China’s environment minister and the Cop15 president, Huang Runqiu, signalled that the agreement was finished and agreed, and the plenary burst into applause…

Amid plummeting insect numbers, acidifying oceans filled with plastic waste, and the rampant overconsumption of the planet’s resources as humanity’s population grows wealthier and soars past 8 billion, the agreement, if implemented, could signal major changes to farming, business supply chains and the role of Indigenous communities in conservation. The deal was negotiated over two weeks and includes targets to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reform $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and restore 30% of the planet’s degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems. Governments also agreed urgent actions to halt human-caused extinctions of species known to be under threat and to promote their recovery. The deal follows scientific warnings that humans are causing the start of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, the largest loss of life since the time of the dinosaurs. Canada’s Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental campaigner turned minister, said the Kunming-Montreal pact was a “bold step forward to protect nature”.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, #NewMexico Interstate Stream Commission and The Nature Conservancy Enter Next Phase in Historic #Water Supply Agreement: Water expected to be released into the #SanJuanRiver in 2023 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Map credit: USBR

From email from the Nature Conservancy (Lindsay Schlageter and Maggie Fitzgerald):

Today [December 14, 2022] the Jicarilla Apache Nation (Nation), New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced the next phase in their Water Supply Agreement (agreement) that was reached earlier this year.  With final federal and state approvals secured, the NMISC has placed an order for all 20,000-acre feet of water and the Nation has approved and reserved the water to be released from Navajo Reservoir to the San Juan River in 2023. 

In January 2022, the partners signed a first-of-its-kind agreement that allows the NMISC to lease up to 20,000-acre feet of water per year (for 10 years) from the Nation to benefit threatened and endangered fish and increase water security for New Mexico. As the western US faces its driest period in 1,200 years, this agreement demonstrates how Tribal Nations and state governments can work on a sovereign-to-sovereign basis–with support from conservation organizations–to find collaborative solutions that benefit multiple interests and users of the San Juan and Colorado rivers.

“The Jicarilla Apache Nation looks forward to the implementation phase of this project and hopes that this transaction can serve as a model across the Basin for collaboration with conservation organizations, negotiation of arms-length sovereign-to-sovereign agreements, and development of creative solutions that serve multiple interests,” said Jicarilla Apache Nation President Edward Velarde.

The partners are exploring multiple options about when and how the water will be released in 2023. The decision on timing will be made by the lease agreement parties with input from scientists to determine the best outcome for endangered fish species. Scientists are working on a plan to monitor how the habitat for endangered fish reacts to the release and will use the information garnered to help make decisions for future releases. 

“The NMISC is pleased that we are able to support this important project through New Mexico’s Strategic Water Reserve,” said NMISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen. “We want to be sure we’ve carefully thought through the logistics of the first water release and seize the opportunity to measure benefits to the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow.”

This project will use the Nation’s water temporarily placed in the State of New Mexico’s Strategic Water Reserve for the two purposes of the Strategic Water Reserve:  1) to assist the State in complying with interstate stream compacts and court decrees, and 2) to assist the State and water users in water management efforts to benefit threatened or endangered species.

“The Colorado River is in an unprecedented crisis,” said Celene Hawkins, Colorado River tribal partnerships program director for The Nature Conservancy. “Communities must proactively work together, focusing on water conservation and management. This project is a step toward those goals, and we are thrilled to be a part of this great partnership.”

Lawsuit filed to protect #RioGrande silvery minnow from extinction — WildEarth Guardians

Click the link to read the release on the WildEarth Guardians website (Daniel Timmons):

WildEarth Guardians has filed a lawsuit seeking to hold federal agencies accountable for the continued decline of imperiled species in the Middle Rio Grande, including the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

The lawsuit filed today in the federal District of New Mexico, alleges that the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in violation of the Endangered Species Act and seeks a court order compelling the federal agencies to reassess the effects of water management activities on threatened and endangered species along the Rio Grande. If successful, Guardians’ lawsuit would require federal agencies to develop enforceable measures to ensure that dams and diversions in the Middle Rio Grande do not jeopardize the survival or recovery of imperiled species.

The Rio Grande is a critical artery of life through the desert of the American southwest. But a century of dams, diversions, and modifications have decimated this living river and driven numerous native species to extinction and others to the brink. Critical wildlife habitat in and along the Rio Grande has been impaired, threatening bird species such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo. And nearly 30 years after the silvery minnow was listed as endangered in 1994, this once-abundant fish remains perilously close to extinction. While federal, state, and local agencies have been working to protect and recover silvery minnow populations for decades, critically-low population levels show that new solutions are desperately needed.

“Fish need water. With the Rio Grande running dry through Albuquerque during the summer of 2022—for the first time in decades—it comes as little surprise that silvery minnow populations remain in crisis,” said Daniel Timmons, Wild Rivers Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It is time to move beyond band-aid solutions for the Middle Rio Grande and think holistically about how to save a living river and all the native species that call the river home.”

“With the climate crisis and aridification contributing to long-term changes in Rio Grande flows, federal water managers must recognize that the status quo is a recipe for extinction,” said Timmons. “Time is running out—not just for the silvery minnow, but for a living Rio Grande. If future generations of New Mexicans are to enjoy a living, flowing Rio Grande, a verdant bosque, and abundant fish and wildlife, we must come together and figure out new, sustainable solutions to meeting human needs for water for cities and farms, while protecting our environment.”

Rio Grande. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

Saving the #RioGrande Cutthroat Trout: Beavers show the way — @AlmosaCitizen

Construction of Beaver Dam analogue Photo courtesy of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Owen Woods):

THE Rio Grande cutthroat trout is the Rio Grande National Forest’s only native trout. It needs help. Biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Rio Grande National Forest are trying to bring the cutthroat back to its full glory, but they need help, too. So who do the humans look to for help?

Easy answer: Beavers. 

Jason Remshardt, wildlife and fisheries program manager for the Rio Grande National Forest, recently gave a presentation on the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. He is the only fish biologist in the RGNF. He talked about the effort to create and conserve habitat for the cutthroat, and how the answer might just come from nature’s finest engineers. 

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout used to exist in just about every part of the Rio Grande basin, but due to a wide range of circumstances, these fish only occupy a fraction of the area they used to. Part of conservation and successful reintroduction is habitat restoration. Right now, the experts are looking at nature’s experts. These projects are imitating “what the beaver dams are doing,” said Remshardt. 

These “Beaver Dam Analogues” or “Temporary Wood Grade Structures,” or TWGS, (pronounced like twigs), are designed to help back up water and create a lively wetland habitat that encourages healthy biodiversity not just for the cutthroat, but the entire ecosystem. 

“Beaver Dam Analogues” or “Temporary Wood Grade Structures,” or TWGS, (pronounced like twigs), are designed to help back up water and create a lively wetland habitat that encourages healthy biodiversity not just for the cutthroat, but the entire ecosystem. They are being employed in what’s called “Process-Based Restoration.” These man-made structures are relatively easy and straightforward to make. They are built with natural resources such as wooden posts, willow branches, aspen branches, and rocks. Though they are simple to create, Remshardt said “we’re not as good at building them” as the beavers. Photo courtesy Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project

“It’s a technique that’s become increasingly popular across the western U.S. within the last few years,” said Connor Born, project manager for the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. 

The man-made structures can help to create a more complex habitat that encourages a healthier fish population. Born says that this can mean “deeper pools that serve as low-flow refuge and slower moving water for younger fish. The structures can also benefit surrounding vegetation, provide fire breaks, increase stream shading, and grazing forage.” 

Cutthroat trout populations often live in smaller streams that don’t have much water. According to Born, “The structures can help attenuate water in these smaller streams to provide more consistent flow and temperature during periods of drought.”

Cat Creek near La Jara Reservoir once had populations of the cutthroat and beavers. For unclear reasons, the beavers left that area. Their departure, Born says, “paired with prolonged drought conditions, caused flows to become much more intermittent, eventually leading to the suspected die-off” of the cutthroat trout population there. 

So far, the groups undertaking this project have implemented 10 of these structures in the Rio Grande National Forest. Remshardt noted that “if they last for a few years, that’s great. If the beavers take them over, that’s great. If they disappear, then you haven’t lost that much. You’ve just lost like half a day’s work.” 

According to Born, the first 10 structures are in the headwaters of Saguache Creek in Saguache Park. There are 12 more ready for construction in the coming year that will be built along Big Springs Creek, a cutthroat stream near Saguache.

Born said that the restoration structures can function without beavers, but the organizations are hoping to find places where the two can combine forces. 

Beavers in the national forest are alive and thriving. Remshardt says that the RGNF is happy with current populations, but there is room for expansion and improvement. With that, the benefits of beaver dams create healthy, expansive wetlands. Beaver dams and habitats also make great fire breaks

These animals, however, are considered a nuisance species to certain areas of the Valley. Beavers can be troublesome to infrastructure like irrigation canals and roads. 

“There’s this stark contrast of existing as a pest species on the Valley floor while being highly beneficial up in the headwaters. The logical solution,” Born said, “is an efficient, legal, and humane way to translocate them to areas where their engineering is more appreciated and doesn’t impact infrastructure.”

Relocating the beavers pairs well with the restoration efforts. Born said that the structures may encourage beavers to stay in areas that “have habitat that would otherwise be too degraded.”

Remshardt says there’s plenty of space to relocate any problematic, or displaced wood-chopping rodents. 

“We’re ready to take them and we have places all over the forest to take them. Plenty of places we can put them,” Remshardt said. 

Identifying where beavers are and where beavers aren’t is a part of the job that requires a lot of work from a lot of people. Software like iNaturalist allows anyone to report animal sightings and tracks to help in identification. These reports can help biologists like Remshardt identify populations and locations to help further studies and surveys. 

Helping the beavers help us really boils down to, Remshardt said, the fact that “beavers are the best at doing their own work.”

Photo courtesy of Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project

Surveys and History

The largest effort for studying these fish are surveys. Remshardt said they conduct surveys on every population of RGCT about every five years. These surveys cover at least 40 streams in the national forest and take a large number of people to conduct. The surveys gather the number of fish and their sizes, take genetic samples, and conduct health surveys. 

Most of the streams and lakes are easy to access, but the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout lives in the alpine, too. Remshardt said almost every drainage and lake in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range has cutthroat populations. So, in order to keep these high mountain lakes stocked and healthy, they conduct High Mountain Lake Airplane Stocking. A video from CPW shows just how these operations are done. 

Conservation of the cutthroat, Remshardt said, remains the most intensive and expensive project. Ongoing research for more cutthroat introductions to expand them into their historic ranges is an ongoing and expansive effort. Currently, an effort to successfully reintroduce the cutthroat to the Sand Creek drainages at the Great Sand Dunes National Park is taking place. The project first started in 2005. 

The Rio Grande cutthroat is the only trout native to the San Luis Valley. Evidence suggests it was a native fish to Lake Alamosa 700,000 years ago. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

blog post by Trout Unlimited’s Rio Grande Basin project manager Kevin Terry breaks down the history of this project. You can also read the USGS’s in-depth report on this effort here.

CPW estimates that the RGCT occupies just 12 percent of its native habitat. Biologists estimate that 127 “conservation populations” exist in Colorado and New Mexico. The cutthroats’ range has seen a dramatic decrease over the last 150 years. Some of the factors that have led to this decline are habitat changes, climate change, drought, water quality, hybridization with non-native Rainbow Trout and other cutthroat trout species, as well as aggressive competition from Brown and Brook trout. 

Evidence suggests that the cutthroat trout thrived in healthy populations in Lake Alamosa, a lake that existed for over three million years. 

The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, US Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited “are hoping to identify both at-risk RGCT populations and future locations for reintroduction and enhance the habitat using these restoration techniques,” Born said.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Navajo Dam operations update (November 23, 2022): Bumping releases to 350 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to falling flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 350 cfs for today, November 23rd, at 4:00 PM.  

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Biden-Harris Administration announces $20 million for environmental projects in five states: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds #ColoradoRiver endangered species recovery projects — Reclamation #COriver #CRWUA2022

Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Mary Carlson):

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced $20 million in funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for endangered species recovery and conservation in the Colorado River Basin. Project funding will support the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program and Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program.

“Our mission is to protect and manage water in an environmentally sound manner,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “This funding will help each of these programs to advance or complete projects to help protect species that are also feeling the impacts of drought.”

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program work to recover endangered and threatened fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin while water development proceeds in accordance with Federal and state laws and interstate compacts. The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program was created to balance the use of the Colorado River water resources in Arizona, California and Nevada with the conservation of native species and their habitats.

The selected projects are:

  • Colorado: $6.4 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and partner Grand Valley Irrigation Company to install a fish screen to reduce or prevent entrainment of fish species into the canal system. Rehabilitation efforts will increase the survival of threatened and endangered fish species while providing more reliable deliveries for water users.
  • Utah: $2.8 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to address needed repairs that will improve performance and efficiency of fish hatcheries in order to enhance production of threatened and endangered fish for stocking purposes.
  • Utah, Colorado, New Mexico: $800,000 for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to improve and expand endangered fish monitoring capabilities.
  • New Mexico: $3 million for the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program to provide expansion and enrichment facilities at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry Ponds and the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources Recovery Center, which will allow the Program to meet stocking objectives for endangered fish.
  • Arizona, California: $6 million for the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program to provide for dredging activities and equipment rental within the Section 26 Conservation Area and the design work for a power line extension needed within the Beal Lake Conservation Area.  Funding will also provide for equipment needed for backwater and marsh construction at both.  

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over the next five years to repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. In August, Reclamation announced an $8.5 million investment for the Lake Mead State Fish Hatchery as part of Colorado River endangered species recovery efforts.

Screen shot from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program website August 28, 2021:

The #GreatSaltLake’s ecological collapse has begun — The #SaltLake Tribune #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Click the link to read the article on The Salt Lake Tribune website (Leia Larsen). Here’s an excerpt:

Scientists note changes to the food web they’ve never seen before, which could lead to endangered species listings and other disasters at Utah’s famous natural wonder

The lake is known for thick, black clusters of brine flies by the billions, which pupate in its salty water then gather in dense mats to reproduce on shore. The insectile masses occasionally gross out beachgoers, but the bugs are harmless to humans. Crucially, they provide a nutrient-rich feast for millions of migrating birds. This year, however, the fly swarms are gone. And something’s off about the few bugs that remain. Scientists say it’s a sign the lake’s ecological demise is here…

“We don’t have clouds of flies around our ankles anymore,” biology professor Bonnie Baxter, who helms Westminster College’s Great Salt Lake Institute, told a group of researchers and lake-based industry experts late last month. “The flies don’t look right. They’re small. They’re behaving funny.”

Brine flies and brine shrimp are saline lakes’ most unique and charismatic endemic critters. They draw more than 10 million migrating shorebirds and waterfowl to the Great Salt Lake every year, from phalaropes to ducks to gulls to avocets. Now, the fly food web is all but gone, and things aren’t looking good for the shrimp, either.

The largest saline lake in the western hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake dropped to a record low in 2022 as a result of a hot drought that increased evaporation and decreased water flows. USGS technician at the Great Salt Lake July 20, 2021. Photo credit: USGS

State of the Birds Report United States of America 2022 — North American Bird Conservation Initiative

State of the Birds Report United States of America 2022 cover — North American Bird Conservation Initiative

From the report:

The 2022 State of the Birds report presents data on changes in bird populations across habitats of the United States in the past five decades. These changes are shown for the groups of breeding species that are most dependent on each habitat and for which long-term monitoring data are available.

Population rebounds of waterfowl show that when investments in habitat conservation are made, we can bring birds back. At the same time, continuing declines in other habitats show the critical need to restore ecosystems under stress.

The Birds of Conservation Concern (BCC) list, mandated by law and updated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, identifies 269 migratory nongame bird species that, without additional conser- vation actions, are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In this report, scientists with the Road to Recovery initiative have identified 70 Tipping Point species from the BCC and/or state lists of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. These birds have lost half or more of their populations in 50 years and are on a trajectory to lose another half in the next 50 years—or they already have small remaining populations and face high threats, but lack sufficient monitoring data (see page 16).

The following pages highlight the plight of birds in each habitat, with the pronounced declines of Tipping Point species shown in red, for species with sufficient data.

In addition to summaries of trends, this report also highlights conservation opportunities and successes in each biome, as examples of how actions that benefit birds create healthier environments for people and all life that depends on these shared habitats.

Western public lands are habitat for aridland birds: This map shows the cumulative range for 30 aridland bird species in North America, with the vast majority of that range falling within the boundaries of federal and state public lands. Source: Aridland bird data from Bird Conservation Regions, Bird Studies Canada and NABCI. Public lands map from

Click the link to read “More Than Half of U.S. Birds Are in Decline, Warns New Report” on the Audubon website (Margo Rosenbaum):

The Rufous Hummingbird, Greater Sage-Grouse, Pinyon Jay, and 67 other birds in the United States are teetering on the edge of disaster, having lost at least half of their populations in the past 50 years. A report released today [October 12, 2022] by North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) calls these birds “Tipping Point” species, on track to lose another 50 percent of their populations in the same time frame if conservation efforts do not improve.

Since 2009, NABCI has published a report every few years to track the health of breeding birds in habitats across the nation over the past five decades. The State of the Birds 2022 report for the United States focuses on the wane of bird populations across every habitat except wetlands. Among the groups in the fastest decline are grassland birds, such as Bobolinks and Mountain Plovers, which have shown a total 34 percent loss. Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrels, and other shorebirds aren’t far behind with populations down by 33 percent. Despite the dire situation, the report also emphasizes the success of 40 years of concerted wetland conservation: Waterfowl and waterbirds have surged 34 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

While some duck, goose, and swan populations are exploding, more than half of all U.S. bird species are dwindling. Without further efforts to restore ecosystems under stress, the report paints a grim future for birds in a nation where climate-intensified natural disasters and human-caused habitat loss and degradation continue to worsen. The report’s authors call on decision-makers to learn from the accomplishments of wetland restoration to save birds and boost climate resilience in other ecosystems.

“Protecting wildlife and biodiversity is something that everybody should be concerned with,” says Peter Marra, a 2022 State of the Birds science committee member and director of the Earth Commons at Georgetown University Institute for Environment and Sustainability. “Once we save birds, we’re going to save a lot of other species that we share the earth with.”

This year, 33 organizations and agencies, including the National Audubon Society, contributed to the report using data from five sources: the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Christmas Bird Count, the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, International Shorebird Surveys, and the American Woodcock Singing-ground Survey.

Compiling data from these reports, the authors illustrate how birds act as indicators of the overall health of the environment, informing policymakers and the public of vital conservation needs. “We really can’t respond or meet the challenges we’re facing to protect a healthy environment for us and for other species unless we really know the state that it’s in,” says co-chair of the report’s science committee, Amanda Rodewald, also the director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The 2022 State of the Birds report is the first overall assessment of the nation’s birds since a 2019 Science study indicating the United States and Canada have lost more than 3 billion birds in the past 50 years. “We’re basically watching the process of the sixth mass extinction,” says Marra, who is a co-author of the 2019 paper.

Swift conservation action can bring at-risk birds back from the brink of extinction. The report emphasizes the necessity of these efforts for 90 “On Alert” bird species, which lack Endangered Species Act listings but have lost half or more of their breeding populations in the past 50 years. Within this group, the 70 Tipping Point species are further identified as potentially losing half or more of their populations in another five decades. While there’s a range of urgency within this group, many of these birds are the next likely candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, which Rodewald calls “the last-ditch effort” to save a species. “We don’t want to get to the point of having to list species.”

Identifying Tipping Point birds allow conservation efforts to begin before a listing is necessary. “Why should we wait for them to get closer to extinction?” Marra says. “We need to figure out the problem much sooner than that.”

Nicole Michel, National Audubon’s director of quantitative science, points to the report’s emphasis on the success of waterfowl and waterbirds in recent decades as proof that conservation efforts work. It “gives us hope that we can similarly take action to reverse declines of other species, including these Tipping Point species,” she says. 

Underscoring such achievements can create tangible motivators but should not drive complacency, says Mike Brasher, co-chair of the report’s science committee and senior waterfowl scientist for Ducks Unlimited Inc. The American Black Duck, for example, is rebounding after a long decline, but not all waterbirds and ducks have healthy populations—Mottled Duck, Black Scoter, and King Eider are listed as Tipping Point species.

King eiders (male and female) in natural habitat in Alaska wildlife refuge. By Bergman, B (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) –, Public Domain,

“Although waterfowl populations have fared better than other birds or other bird groups, they’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” Brasher says. “The threats, and potential threats, facing them are intensifying.”

In habitats across the world, birds face challenges caused by climate change and human actions, such as expanding agriculture, unsustainable forest management, and introduced species. “Climate change is already impacting birds, and especially moving forward, it’s going to increasingly be a major, major threat to bird populations,” Michel says.

NABCI’s U.S. report comes on the heels of the equally distressing State of the World’s Birds published separately by Birdlife on September 29. This year’s report shows how close to half of the world’s bird species are decreasing and “the risk of species going extinct is escalating,” says Lucy Haskell, science officer for the world report. The United States is eighth globally for the greatest number of threatened species.

Despite the alarming findings of both reports, the authors remain hopeful. Advances in research and engagement of community scientists provide researchers with more information than ever before. Estimated at 45 million strong in the United States alone, a global “army of bird watchers” provides a steady stream of new data and insights, Haskell says.

Well-studied and found in nearly every habitat, birds are excellent biodiversity indicators—barometers for the planet’s well-being. Responsive to environmental changes and with population trends mirroring other wildlife, “birds also tell us about the solutions needed to prevent this biodiversity crisis,” Haskell says.

Given the widespread declines, both reports emphasize that proactive conservation across habitats and species will build a healthier environment for animals and people. “It’s not just about birds, right?” Rodewald says. “There are so many reasons to engage in conservation actions because they benefit all people.”

Navajo Dam operations update (November 1, 2022): Bumping releases down to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aerial view of Navajo Dam and Reservoir. Photo credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs for tomorrow, November 1st, at 4:00 AM.  

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.  

Navajo Dam operations update (October 26, 2022): Bumping releases down to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Lake

From email from Relamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 550 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for tomorrow, October 26th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

Reclamation lowers Lake Mohave water level to aid with annual razorback sucker harvest

Lake Mohave and Davis Dam seen from Spirit Mountain, Newberry Mountains, southern Nevada. By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Doug Hendrix):

The Bureau of Reclamation is lowering water levels in Lake Mohave to aid in harvesting razorback suckers (Xyrauchen texanus) from lakeside rearing ponds. The fish is an endangered species native to the Colorado River, and the drawdown is part of annual river operations which are timed to coincide with conservation activities for the fish. Lake Mohave will steadily lower from its current elevation of 637 feet above mean sea level (msl) to an elevation of about 633 feet msl by the week of Oct. 24 and will remain at approximately the same elevation for about one week. The lake level will begin to rise at the end of October and is estimated to reach an elevation of 639 feet msl by the end of November. Boaters should use caution when navigating the lake, as areas, especially downstream of Hoover Dam, will be shallower than normal.

Endangered Razorback sucker. Photo credit: Reclamation

Each year, Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (LCR MSCP) gathers tens of thousands of newly hatched razorback sucker larvae from Lake Mohave and transfers the larvae to state and federal hatcheries throughout the Southwest. After an initial growth period in these hatcheries, many of the fish are placed in lakeside rearing ponds around Lake Mohave, where they continue to grow and learn how to forage for food. In the fall, these fish are harvested from the lakeside ponds, tagged with microchips, and released back into Lake Mohave.

The project is part of Reclamation’s continuing collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and other interested parties. The LCR MSCP is a multi-agency effort to accommodate water and power needs while conserving species and their habitats along the river. More information about conservation efforts for razorback suckers is available at

Lake Mohave is located above Davis Dam on the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada. Updated information on water levels at Lake Mohave and other Lower Colorado River reservoirs is located at under Current Conditions. For current recreational information, visit the National Park Service website at

Bees face many challenges – and #ClimateChange is ratcheting up the pressure — The Conversation #ActOnClimate

Native solitary bee. Photo: The Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield

Click the link to read the article on The Convesation website (Jennie L. Durant):

The extreme weather that has battered much of the U.S. in 2022 doesn’t just affect humans. Heat waves, wildfires, droughts and storms also threaten many wild species – including some that already face other stresses.

I’ve been researching bee health for over 10 years, with a focus on honey bees. In 2021, I began hearing for the first time from beekeepers about how extreme drought and rainfall were affecting bee colony health.

Drought conditions in the western U.S. in 2021 dried up bee forage – the floral nectar and pollen that bees need to produce honey and stay healthy. And extreme rain in the Northeast limited the hours that bees could fly for forage.

In both cases, managed colonies – hives that humans keep for honey production or commercial pollination – were starving. Beekeepers had to feed their bees more supplements of sugar water and pollen than they usually would to keep their colonies alive. Some beekeepers who had been in business for decades shared that they lost 50% to 70% of their colonies over the winter of 2021-2022.

These weather conditions likely also affected wild and native bees. And unlike managed colonies, these important species did not receive supplements to buffer them through harsh conditions.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency host federal pollinator experts to share the latest scientific findings on bee and pollinator health, and assess the status of these important insects, birds, bats and other species. One clear takeaway from this year’s meeting was that climate change has become a new and formidable stressor for bees, potentially amplifying previously known issues in ways that scientists can’t yet predict but need to prepare for.

Millions of bees and countless hectares of habitat have been destroyed in Australia by recent unprecedented bushfires and drought. Australian honey may soon be imported and the vital pollinators will be in short supply for agriculture. A third of the world’s food relies on bee pollination.

The scourge of Varroa mites

Pollinators contribute an estimated US$235 billion to $577 billion yearly to global agriculture, based on the value of the crops they pollinate. Understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change on pollinators is key for supporting healthy ecosystems and sustainable agriculture.

Bee health first attracted widespread attention in 2006 with the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where the majority of adult worker bees in a colony disappeared, leaving their honey and pollen stores and some nurse bees behind to care for the queen and remaining immature bees. In the past five years, reported cases have declined substantially. Now, researchers are focusing on what beekeepers call the “four Ps”: parasites, pathogens, pesticides and poor nutrition, as well as habitat loss for wild and native bees.

One of the most severe threats to honey bees over the past several decades has been Varroa destructor, a crablike parasitic mite that feeds on honey bees’ fat body tissue. The fat body is a nutrient-dense organ that functions much like the liver in mammals. It helps bees maintain a strong immune system, metabolize pesticides and survive through the winter.

These are vital functions, so controlling mite infestations is essential for bee health. Varroa can also transmit deadly pathogens to honey bees, such as deformed wing virus.

Here you have a honey bee and two mites upon that honey bee. Both are varroa mites, one by the leg is feeding on the bee and the other is hitching a ride after leaving another bee. This drama was provided by Krisztina Christmon at the University of Maryland where she studies the life history of mites and bees. Photo credit: USGS

Controlling mite populations is challenging. It requires using an insecticide in an insect colony, or as beekeepers say, “trying to kill a bug on a bug.” It’s hard to find a formula strong enough to kill mites without harming the bees.

Monitoring Varroa takes significant skill and labor, and mites can build up resistance to treatments over time. Researchers and beekeepers are working hard to breed Varroa-resistant bees, but mites continue to plague the industry.

Pesticide microdoses

Pesticides also harm bees, particularly products that cause sublethal or chronic bee health issues. Sublethal pesticide exposures can make bees less able to gather foragegrow healthy larvae and fight off viruses and mites.

However, it can be hard to document and understand sublethal toxicity. Many factors affect how bees react to agrochemicals, including whether they are exposed as larvae or as adult bees, the mixture of chemicals bees are exposed to, the weather at the time of application and how healthy a bee colony is pre-exposure.

Researchers are also working to understand how soil pesticides affect ground-nesting wild bees, which represent over 70% of the U.S. native bee population.

A ground-nesting bee (Colletes inaqualis) emerging from its burrow. Rob Cruickshank/Flickr, Creative Commons

Junk food diets

Like many other species, bees are losing the habitat and food sources that they depend on. This is happening for many reasons.

For example, uncultivated lands are being converted to farmland or developed worldwide. Large-scale agriculture focuses on mass production of a few commodity crops, which reduces the amount of nesting habitat and forage available for bees.

And many farmers often remove pollinator-friendly plants and shrubs that grow around farm lands to reduce the risk of attracting animals such as deer and rodents, which could spread pathogens that cause foodborne illness. Research suggests that these efforts harm beneficial insects and don’t increase food safety.

As diverse and healthy bee forage disappears, beekeepers feed their bees more supplements, such as sugar water and pollen substitutes, which are not as nutritious as the nectar and pollen bees get from flowers.

Climate change is a force multiplier

Researchers don’t know exactly how climate change will affect bee health. But they suspect it will add to existing stresses.

For example, if pest pressures mount for farmers, bees will be exposed to more pesticides. Extreme rainfall can disrupt bees’ foraging patterns. Wildfires and floods may destroy bee habitat and food sources. Drought may also reduce available forage and discourage land managers from planting new areas for bees as water becomes less readily available.

Climate change could also increase the spread of Varroa and other pathogens. Warmer fall and winter temperatures extend the period when bees forageVarroa travel on foraging bees, so longer foraging provides a larger time window for mites and the viruses they carry to spread among colonies. Higher mite populations on bee colonies heading into winter will likely cripple colony health and increase winter losses.

Studies have already shown that climate change is disrupting seasonal connections between bees and flowers. As spring arrives earlier in the year, flowers bloom earlier or in different regions, but bees may not be present to feed on them. Even if flowers bloom at their usual times and locations, they may produce less-nutritious pollen and nectar under extreme weather conditions.

Research that analyzes the nutritional profiles of bee forage plants and how they change under different climate scenarios will help land managers plant climate-resilient plants for different regions.

Creating safe bee spaces

There are many ways to support bees and pollinators. Planting pollinator gardens with regional plants that bloom throughout the year can provide much-needed forage.

Ground-nesting native bees need patches of exposed and undisturbed soil, free of mulch or other ground covers. Gardeners can clear some ground in a sunny, well-drained area to create dedicated spaces for bees to dig nests.

Another important step is using integrated pest management, a land management approach that minimizes the use of chemical pesticides. And anyone who wants to help monitor native bees can join community science projects and use phone apps to submit data.

Most importantly, educating people and communities about bees and their importance to our food system can help create a more pollinator-friendly world.

Fish Protection in Hydropower — National Renewable Energy Laboratory

30 Ways Environmentalists Can Participate in Democracy: Voting on election day is job one, but the planet needs your civic commitment every other day of the year, too — The Revelator

Click the link to read the article on The Revalator website (John R. Platt):

Wolves and frogs can’t vote, a lake or river can’t call their elected representatives, and a polluted ravine can’t blow the whistle on a toxic coal plant.

But you can do all those things — and more.

The trouble is, not enough people who care about climate change, the extinction crisis or environmental justice make themselves known to the people who can make a systemic difference.

“The truth is the environmental movement needs more political power,” says Nathaniel Stinnett, executive director of the Environmental Voter Project. “We can’t rely on politicians doing the right thing. Instead, we need to get more political power so that they lead on our issues because it’s politically smart.”

So how do environmentalists get that power, especially in an age when so many feel powerless? One route starts by engaging in democracy — not just by voting in the midterms or general elections, but by participating in our civic systems year-round, at the federal and local levels, on an ongoing basis.

“Voting isn’t important just because you can elect the right people,” Stinnett says. “It’s also important because in between elections is when policy is made.”

Ocean Biology Processing Group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, public domain

It’s hard to influence policy, though, if people don’t participate in the political system. And if people don’t feel they have a voice, it can create a feedback loop that makes them even less likely to vote.

“In certain states, the number of unlikely voters who list climate and the environment as their top priority is twice as large as the number of likely voters,” Stinnett says. “You can see that data and get frustrated, or you can see it as an enormous opportunity.”

That opportunity comes from getting more people who care about the environment to vote and otherwise engage — something those who are already active on those fronts can encourage by being public about their environmental concerns and what they’re doing about them.

That will help build support for issues that, ironically, people already care about but don’t speak of in political contexts.

“Human beings are social animals,” Stinnett adds. “One of the most impactful things environmentalists can do in the civic sphere and the political sphere is to be loud and proud about being an environmental voter and a political activist. Your friends and colleagues look to you for cues as to what is good behavior, and it’s up to everyone who cares about the environment to model that voting is part of what makes a good environmentalist.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says the most important thing beyond voting itself is to speak proudly about your environmental commitments. “One of the ways in which we could increase the likelihood that we perceive that climate action itself is normative is for us to speak out more as individuals and find ways to represent our climate commitments as a form of almost personal witness.”

Our personal achievements and goals have another benefit: They work as an antidote to the feeling of helplessness that pervades society and erodes trust in our institutions.

“Your vote is an expression of your commitments to things, and that has an impact,” says Jamieson.

So let’s increase that impact. Here are 30 ways environmentalists can participate in democracy to better themselves, their communities and the planet throughout the year.

1. Vote. That’s job one, in every election, no matter how big or how small, and whether it’s national or local. Too many environmentalists don’t vote, and that means their voices get lost.

“The simple truth is that politicians don’t care about the priorities of non-voters,” says Stinnett. “Politicians don’t poll unlikely voters. They don’t poll the people who stay at home. So simply by voting, you become a first-class citizen. You make sure that your policy preferences and your policy priorities drive decision-making.”

2. Encourage others to vote. Are your friends, family members and neighbors registered? They can check their registration status at, where they can also make a pledge to vote. Come to think of it, you can do that, too.

3. Help others vote. Sometimes just getting to the polls can be an overwhelming challenge. You can help by freeing up peoples’ time — for example, by offering free babysitting — or volunteering to drive someone who lacks access to transportation or has health issues that prevent them from driving. Your community may already have initiatives you can volunteer through, or you can find people in need through Carpool Vote. (Need a ride? You can also find one there.) And of course, carpooling is always a greener option than each person driving.

4. Demand a plan and an accounting. Insist that political candidates and elected officials publish their proposed and current climate policies — then take that idea much further and make it broader. “I want everybody to have a climate action plan for themselves and for every community and organization,” says Jamieson. Each climate action plan, she says, should be “real and accountable, with demonstrated benchmarks.”

And this isn’t just about government. Jamieson says we should expect the same from our employers, our kids’ schools, our places of worship, and the companies with which we do business.

5. Keep track. Once people and organizations make their climate plans known, hold them to it. “We know when people make public commitments, you increase the likelihood they act on those commitments,” says Jamieson. “They’re going to be accountable.”

6. Learn how to sort fact from fiction during election season. The News Literacy Project and the League of Women Voters will host three webinars about disinformation over the next few weeks.

7. Be a good boss. Got employees? Give them paid time off to vote. Maybe close your business to the public for half a day so you can all go together. (Got a boss? Ask for time off yourself.)

8. Sign up to be a poll worker. Anyone can volunteer to do this essential job, not just retired folx (and unfortunately the need has never been greater due to ongoing threats against election workers). The website Stacker has compiled details on how to become a poll worker and what to expect from the experience.

9. Support voting-rights organizations. Think voter suppression doesn’t affect you? Think again.

“The people who are most likely to care deeply about climate and other environmental issues are young, lower income and people of color — and they also happen to be the three groups that are always the objective of voter-suppression efforts,” says Stinnett. Volunteering or donating to groups like Fair Fight, the ACLUVoting Rights Lab or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund can help ensure everyone can always freely elect their representatives and shape environmental policy.

10. Support ranked-choice voting. As we discussed in a recent op-ed, this is a great way to weed out extremist candidates and balance bipartisanship.

A notable victory took place this year in Australia, where ranked-choice voting helped push coal-supporting politicians out of power — even with the country’s media dominated by notoriously climate-denying publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. “I really love that it made a difference in Australia,” says Jamieson. “They basically managed to defeat the Murdoch anti-climate agenda with ranked-choice voting.”

11. Support environmental groups. Whether you donate or volunteer, they’ll amplify the collective voices of people advocating for better environmental laws and policies.

Coastal redwood trees in Humboldt, California. (Photo by trevorklatko, CC BY-NC 2.0)

12. Advocate for or against specific regulations, either by yourself or as part of a broader grassroots environmental effort. Rules and opportunities vary by state, so check with the groups and experts in your area.

13. Run for office (or encourage a friend to run). You don’t need to run for president to make a difference. Local offices like city councils, parks commissions, utilities and school boards — a particular target of extremist takeover attempts — can have tremendous impact on a region’s environmental policies.

14. Volunteer for local positions. Nonelected government and community positions need climate expertise. Is there a role for you and your environmental perspective on your local planning commission, library board, arts council, parks and recreation committee, PTA, homeowners’ association, Rotary Club or other institution?

15. Write to elected officials. Your opinions matter year-round, so drop your senator, mayor, governor or other representative a line to discuss what matters to you or how they’re doing. (You can do this on social media or through their official phone and email channels, which tend to have more impact.)

16. Sign petitions. Amplify your voice through collective impact. Whenever possible, focus on petitions organized by groups that actively collect and deliver your signatures.

17. Submit public comments on proposed regulations and projects. You may be surprised how few people do this, and you don’t want anti-environmental advocates to have the only say. You can find open calls for comment on the federal level at, or do a web search for your state or county for more local opportunities (which you may find listed under multiple agencies).

18. Join lawful protests. The bigger, the better. The media notices, and so do politicians.

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

19. Read banned and challenged books — and share what you learn from them with friends, colleagues and elected officials. Nothing scares authoritarians and corporatists more than independent thinking and dangerous ideas — well, dangerous to them, anyway.

20. Take a civics class. It’s probably been a few years; we could all use a refresher. You can find some great, free, self-paced online classes on U.S. government and civics from Khan AcademyHarvard Law School, the Bill of Rights Institute and the Center for Civic Education.

21. Support a free press. Read, share, subscribe, give gift subscriptions, buy ads, donate — especially local news publications, which have really suffered in recent years, and in too many cases stopped publishing. This has given rise to dangerous news deserts — regions without an effective Fourth Estate — an important issue for democracy. Studies show that informed civic participation goes down as news deserts emerge. And when civic participation goes down, corporate malfeasance goes up and government accountability declines.

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

22. Send local story tips to the media or share ideas for environmental coverage with the bigger outlets. Journalists depend on an active populace, and you should never underestimate the power of a good whistleblower. (Hint: We like tips.)

23. Have discussions. Not everyone fully understands the threats of climate change or biodiversity loss or comprehends the systemic causes of environmental injustice. Sometimes that means breaking through their sources of disinformation (Skeptical Science can help with that). Other times it requires some back and forth. The First Amendment Museum offers tips on having a civil conversation that will change someone’s mind, while Psyche magazine offers advice on how to have better arguments.

24. Avoid the cult of personality. Talk about issues and the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of specific environmental legislation rather than individual candidates. (And if your preferred candidate doesn’t win, don’t take it personally or get dissuaded.)

25. Show up and speak at town halls, planning board meetings, school board meetings — anywhere the public can help shape policy. The Earth can’t speak for itself, so someone needs to — especially since proponents of development or other destructive projects will certainly show up.

26. Propose ballot initiatives or their local equivalents. The process and nature of these types of initiatives, which allow citizens to vote directly on major issues, vary by state and municipality, so check with your local experts to see what you can do.

27. Self-advertise. Those ubiquitous “I voted” stickers on election day serve multiple purposes: They display our pride and remind others to get to the polls. But why limit that to one day a year? Buttons, bumper stickers, social-media icons and even memes can remind people year-round of the need to vote or otherwise participate — and hold you up as an example of someone who does.

Photo: Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

28. Support libraries, museums, community centers and local organizations that themselves support an engaged, educated community. Encourage them to set up displays on environmental topics, organize speakers, conduct outreach efforts, or whatever best fits their mission.

29. Spread the news about the ways democracy is in peril. Attacks on voting, the right to protest, the media, LGBTQ+ rights and other freedoms are symptoms of the worldwide rise in authoritarian forces. And as authoritarian governments rise, environmental protections fall. (Nazi Germany and modern-day Russia are notable examples.) Keep track of these threats, especially the home-grown kind, and spread the word about the dangers they pose. (There’s no single source devoted to tracking this, so it may require keeping your eyes open. A good starting place, though, is these newsletters from Democracy Docket.)

30. Have (and share) a contingency plan. In our age of ever-increasing climate disasters, far too many people every year find themselves displaced by fire, smoke, flood or other kinds of crisis. Don’t let that interfere with your ability to vote and otherwise participate. Do your research early so you know how to contact your representatives or election officials in case something forces you to flee your community. And share what you learned with your neighbors so others aren’t disenfranchised.

And finally, keep going. You can find many more ideas for encouraging systemic change in our 30-day climate action plan.

Navajo Dam operations update (October 13, 2022): Bumping up to 600 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Dam spillway via Reclamation.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to dry weather and decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 450 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs for tomorrow, October 13th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

#GrandCanyon beach restoration program at risk because of #drought — KNAU #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A rare sight: Water shoots out of Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlets or “jet tubes” during a high-flow experimental release in 2013. Typically all of the dam’s outflows go through penstocks to turn the turbines on the hydroelectric plant. The outlets are only used during these experiments, meant to redistribute sediment downstream, and when lake levels get too high. Spillways are used as a last, last resort. The river outlets may be used again in the not so distant future: Once Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, water can no longer be run through the turbines and can only be sent to the river below via the outlets. This is cause for concern because the river outlets were not built for long-term use. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the KNAU website (Melissa Sevigny). Here’s an excerpt:

In the autumn of 2012, a flood swept through the Grand Canyon. Not one provided by nature, but by the engineers who cranked open the bypass tubes at the base of Glen Canyon Dam. It was the start of a program heralded by many as a triumph. Fall floods happened again in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018.

“And then,” says hydrologist Paul Grams, “we hit these drought conditions.”

The program is in trouble. Lake Powell is three quarters empty and just 40 feet above the level where hydropower production stops. It’s risky now to release floods.

“So we have a condition now, where it’s been four years since the last high flow and the sandbars have eroded a lot,” Grams explains…

Chapman says the beaches are vital: they create backwaters for native fish and habitat for plants and animals. And for more than 20,000 river runners in the Grand Canyon every year, Chapman says, “The sandbars themselves are the only durable, nonfragile environment that everyone can camp on; you don’t have to go bushwacking to find a place to camp.” Some scientists want to save the program by switching floods to spring, when snowmelt bolsters Lake Powell’s level. That could help balance the need for floods with the demand for hydropower.

Navajo Dam operations update (October 8, 2022): Bumping releases down to 450 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and sufficient flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 550 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 450 cfs for tomorrow, October 8th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

The San Juan Generating Station in mid-June of 2022 The two middle units (#2 and #3) were shut down in 2017 to help the plant comply with air pollution limits. Unit #1 shut down mid-June 2022 and #4 was shut down on September 30, 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

The Native Three — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife #ColoradoRiver

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic research scientists have embarked on multiple projects to protect the three fish species native to the Upper Colorado River Basin (Flannelmouth Sucker, Bluehead Sucker and Roundtail Chub). This video, ‘The Native Three’ helps tell that story.

Governor Polis Announces #Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s Discovery of Greenback Cutthroat Naturally Reproducing in Ancestral Waters of their Native #SouthPlatteRiver Drainage

Stocking Greenback cutthroat trout September 22, 2021. Photos credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

After more than a decade of intensive efforts to rescue the greenback cutthroat trout from the brink of extinction, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Friday it has discovered that the state fish is naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch, one of the first places the agency stocked it in its native South Platte River drainage.

This is a huge breakthrough by CPW’s aquatics team considering that in 1937 the greenback cutthroat trout was considered extinct. For decades, it was believed only two native cutthroat – the Colorado River and Rio Grande – had survived while the greenback and yellowfin had succumbed to pollution from mining, pressure from fishing and competition from other trout species.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

In 2012, CPW confirmed that tiny Bear Creek, on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs and in the Arkansas River drainage, was home to an unlikely population of wild greenback cutthroat trout. Outside their native range, the fish are believed to have been brought to Bear Creek from the South Platte Basin in the late 1800s for a tourist fishing enterprise. 

The discovery triggered a massive effort by CPW and the Greenback Recovery Team – a multi-agency group of state and federal aquatic researchers and biologists – to protect the 3½-mile stretch of water holding the only known population of naturally reproducing greenbacks.

After a decade of work to protect and reproduce greenbacks, the Herman Gulch discovery marks a major milestone.

“While we will continue to stock greenback trout from our hatcheries, the fact that they are now successfully reproducing in the wild is exciting for the future of this species. This is a huge wildlife conservation success story and a testament to the world-class wildlife agency Coloradans have in Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado’s ecological diversity strengthens our community, supports our anglers, and our thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “CPW’s staff and our partner agencies have worked for more than a decade to restore this beloved state fish, and today’s news truly highlights the success of the work.

The governor’s thoughts were echoed by officials throughout CPW.

“The bedrock mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state,” said CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan. “This is a tremendous example of CPW fulfilling its mission. I am so proud of all the aquatic researchers, biologists, hatchery staff, volunteers and partner agencies who helped achieve this milestone of naturally reproducing greenback cutthroat trout. 

“Despite more than a decade of setbacks and frustrations, CPW staff worked as a team across departments and across regions, stayed focused on the goal and now we gave this great news. It’s a great day.” 

Front-line aquatic researchers and biologists celebrated the news.

“It’s just great to see all the hard work everyone has put in to save these fish is starting to pay dividends,” said Kevin Rogers, CPW aquatics researcher who has devoted much of his career to rescuing the greenbacks. “This is just another affirmation that our conservation practices work and that we can save species on the brink.”

In the years since the 2012 confirmation of greenbacks in Bear Creek, CPW has worked with its partners including U.S. Forest Service to protect and improve the creek habitat and the surrounding watershed and to develop a brood stock –  a small population of fish kept in optimal conditions in a hatchery to maximize breeding and provide a source of fish for the establishment of new populations in suitable habitats.

Each spring, CPW aquatic biologists have strapped on heavy electro-fishing backpacks to painstakingly hike up Bear Creek to catch greenbacks and collect milt and roe – sperm and eggs.

Then, they use the milt to fertilize all the roe in a makeshift lab on the banks of the creek. All the spare greenback milt collected is then raced to the Leadville National Fish Hatchery to fertilize eggs from the greenbacks in its brood stock. In 2014, an additional broodstock was started in Zimmerman Lake, near the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River and thus within the greenback’s native South Platte basin.

Mount Shavano Hatchery. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

All fertilized eggs are then sent to the CPW Mount Shavano Hatchery in Salida where they are kept in a greenback isolation unit where conditions are carefully controlled to allow the maximum number of eggs possible to hatch.

In 2016, CPW began stocking the greenback fry that hatch from those eggs into Herman Gulch west of Denver. Stocking into other streams in the South Platte drainage soon followed. Today, fledgling greenback populations exist in four South Platte basin streams. But only the fish in Herman Gulch have existed long enough to reach adulthood and begin reproducing.

CPW and its partner agencies in the Greenback Recovery Team and others including Trout Unlimited have carried bags of greenback fry miles up steep mountain trails every summer since trying to get them into water where they might reproduce. The agency tried different age classes and sizes each year over a three-year period.

“The news of the natural reproduction of greenback cutthroat trout in Herman Gulch is truly monumental,” said Josh Nehring, CPW’s assistant aquatic section manager who previously was senior aquatic biologist in the Southeast Region and oversaw efforts to protect the lone greenback population in Bear Creek.

“CPW aquatic biologists in the Southeast Region have worked incredibly hard to protect and preserve the only known population of greenbacks in Bear Creek,” Nehring said. “Our hatchery staff along with our federal hatchery partners overcame immense obstacles to be able to replicate the species in captivity. Now to see them on the landscape in their native habitat replicating on their own is a huge sense of accomplishment for everyone involved.”

The news of reproducing greenbacks in Herman Gulch was never a sure bet. And over the years CPW aquatic biologists even feared they could lose the population in Bear Creek. There was intense pressure from increased recreation on adjacent trails and traffic on a road that parallels the creek, delivering sediment into Bear Creek. 

There were flash floods that could have wiped out the rare trout. Invasive and aggressive brook trout remain a constant threat to move upstream and outcompete the greenbacks. And there have even been wildfires that have erupted in the forests that surround the creek.

Worst was a survey conducted by CPW aquatic biologist Cory Noble in the fall of 2020 that showed a troubling decline in the greenback population in Bear Creek with no reproduction that year. Noble launched even greater efforts to modify the habitat to reduce the influx of sediment, to patrol for invasive brook trout and to monitor the population by less stressful techniques using underwater cameras.

While Noble worked on Bear Creek, a long list of his CPW aquatic colleagues were spending countless hours and piling up miles hiking high-country streams in the gritty work of identifying host creeks, preparing them for greenbacks and then hauling them miles in heavy backpacks to be stocked.

“As our colleagues worked to protect the Bear Creek population and successfully raise them in our hatchery, our Northeast Region biologists were on the ground building a wild brood source at Zimmerman Lake and searching for just the right habitats where we could remove non-natives, safely stock the greenback and protect them from other threats and give them the best chance to survive and reproduce,” said Jeff Spohn, senior aquatic biologist in the Northeast Region.

Leading that effort was Boyd Wright, aquatic biologist in Fort Collins, who has dedicated the past decade to returning wild populations of greenbacks to their native range in the South Platte Basin.

Like Noble on Bear Creek, Wright and his team hauled heavy electro-fishing backpacks up Herman Gulch and the other stocking sites to study the fish they had stocked. After some disappointments, just a few days ago they made a stunning discovery: they documented greenbacks up to 12 inches long and found fry.

“Our team of field technicians literally high-fived right there in the stream when we captured that first fry that was spawned this year,” Wright said. “When moments later we captured a one year old fish produced in 2021, we were truly beside ourselves.”

“After many years of hard work and dedication, it is extremely satisfying to see our efforts paying off.”

It’s news the entire agency had waited to hear for a long time: greenback cutthroat trout that were naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch.

“This is a great achievement for the recovery of greenback cutthroat trout,” said Noble, the Colorado Springs-based aquatic biologist who has shouldered daily responsibility for the greenbacks in Bear Creek. “It is really rewarding to see that all of CPW’s hard work is paying off.”

Similar relief was voiced by Bryan Johnson, hatchery manager at Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery in Salida. Johnson, a 20-year CPW hatchery veteran, has endured 10 years of frustration trying to find the right combination of water temperatures and genetic combinations just to get greenbacks to survive in the hatchery, much less in the wild.

“This represents a lot of years and a lot of hard work and a lot of disappointment along the way,” Johnson said. “Frankly, we have low survival rates in the hatchery compared with other strains of cutthroat. We started the broodstock in 2008 and here it is 2022 and we’re finally seeing the first natural reproduction. We’ve gone through a lot to get these fish back on the landscape.”

Just this week, Johnson and staff were bagging greenback fry at 4:30 a.m. so he could drive them 11 hours up gravel roads to a new reintroduction site. There, he handed off the fish to the Northeast Region team led by Kyle Battige, aquatic biologist from Fort Collins.

“This is just the start,” Johnson cautioned. “We need more. We’ve only got a few places where we have greenbacks  on the landscape. But it’s awesome to see natural reproduction in Herman Gulch.”

Harry Crockett, CPW’s native aquatic species coordinator and chair of the Greenback Recovery Team, said he’s confident the news of natural reproduction in Herman Gulch will be followed by even better headlines.

“We found a greenback that was born in Herman Gulch that was already a year old,” Crockett said. “This indicates successful reproduction both this year and last, plus overwinter survival. This is important because trout that survive to one year are likely to live even longer.

“And with more of these reintroductions going, we expect to find more reproduction in more places in the coming years.”

Navajo Dam operations update (September 22, 2022): Bumping down to 500 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map credit: USBR

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to wet weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for today at 12:00 PM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. 

The #ColoradoRiver Is Dying. Can Its Aquatic Dinosaurs Be Saved? — Mother Jones Magazine #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Mother Jones website (Stephanie Mencimer). Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

Found nowhere else in the world, the native razorback has occupied the waterways of the Colorado River basin for at least 3 million years, one reason why Olsen says they’re known as the “dinosaurs” of the Colorado. Known as “detritivores,” the bottom-feeding fish were once an important part of the river’s food chain because they nosh on dead plant and animal matter that might otherwise build up and cause disease while returning essential nutrients to the ecosystem. The fish have adapted to the harsh monsoon-to-drought cycles of the desert rivers that flood with melted mountain snowpack in the spring and are parched in the late summer. Razorback suckers can grow up to three feet long, 80 pounds, and live for 50 or 60 years. But such geriatric monster fish are rare in the wild today.

The native fish have not fared so well over the past century since humans began trying to make the western desert bloom by damming the Colorado and its tributaries, a watershed that was once one of the most biologically diverse in North America. “They’re a bellwether for the health of the entire river ecosystem, from Wyoming to the Gulf of California,” says Taylor McKinnon, senior public lands advocate at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity…

The US Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the razorback as endangered in 1991, and the species would be extinct in the Upper Basin but for the hatchery program, which was established in 1996 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and is funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The program has been successful enough that last year, FWS proposed downlisting the razorback from “endangered” to merely “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. But the extreme mega-drought of the past two years makes that proposal seem wildly optimistic…

Meanwhile, the biggest ongoing threat to the Colorado’s endangered fish is other, nonnative fish. Only 12 fish are native to the Upper Colorado River Basin, Breen says. But now more than 50 species compete in the rivers. Many that were intentionally introduced to promote sport fishing are highly predatory in a way the razorback and others have not evolved to survive…The recovery program spends more than $2 million a year trying to eliminate the non-native fish from the Green River and elsewhere in the system—a move that is not always popular with local anglers who like to fish for the bass. “For the record: I love smallmouth bass,” says Breen. “I grew up fishing for smallmouth bass in the Midwest. But that’s where they’re supposed to be. Bass are very predacious, and they’re not supposed to be in that river.”

Left Out to Dry: Wildlife Threatened by #ColoradoRiver Basin #Water Crisis — The Revelator #COriver #aridification

The drought’s ‘bathtub ring’ of Lake Mead at the inlet for Hoover Dam, May 2022. Photo: Don Barrett (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

Lost in much of the coverage of the region’s water woes is the ecological crisis caused by prolonged drought, climate warming and development.

In the Colorado River basin, our past has come back to haunt us.

We’re not just talking about the dead bodies emerging from the drying shoreline of Lake Mead. The river’s water crisis has caused the nation’s two biggest reservoirs to sink to historic lows.

It’s a problem of our own making — in more ways than one.

The Colorado River Compact, signed a century ago, overallocated the river’s water. Experts have long warned that nature can’t continue to deliver the water that the government has promised to farms, cities and towns.

A drying West, warmed by climate change, has now made that shortage impossible to ignore.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

For years demand has outstripped natural flows on the river, and some states and Tribes have already taken cuts to their allocations. Additional conservation measures were expected as the seven U.S. states that share the river — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California and Nevada — have been working on hammering out a new deal. The region’s more than two dozen federally recognized Tribes have also been fighting for a seat at that table and a hand in the river’s management. But the deadline for a revised agreement between all the parties came and went this summer with no resolution in sight.

To say there’s a lot at stake would be an understatement.

Some 40 million people rely on the 1,400-mile-long river in the United States and Mexico, including in many of the West’s biggest cities. It also greens 5 million acres of irrigated agriculture.

But that’s come at a cost. Long before cities and industrial farms emerged, the river supported diverse mountain and desert ecosystems, providing refuge and resources for countless animals and plants.

Many of those species now struggle to survive the cumulative pressures from drought, climate warming and human developments. And they remain an overlooked part of the region’s water crisis…

Hot Drought

A lot can happen in two decades.

In 2000 Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which help manage water supplies along the Colorado, were nearly full. Today they’re both hovering just above one-quarter capacity — the lowest ever since being filled.

Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2014. Photo: James Marvin Phelps (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In the intervening 20 years the Colorado River basin has seen a prolonged drought that’s now believed to be the driest period in the region in the last 1,200 years. River flows have fallen 20% compared to the last century’s average.

And it’s not just from a lack of precipitation. Researchers attributed one-third of that reduced river flow to climate change. Warming temperatures increase evaporation, as well as evapotranspiration by plants. So even when the Rocky Mountains do receive snow or rain, less of that runoff makes it to the Colorado River and its tributaries.

CO2 trend: This graph shows the monthly mean abundance of carbon dioxide globally averaged over marine surface sites since 1980. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

Experts say we’ll see more of these so-called “hot droughts” as the climate continues to warm. The basin is expected to see a five degree-Fahrenheit jump by 2050. That will make things not just hotter but drier. If we don’t dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Colorado’s flow could drop 35% to 55% by the end of the century.

Years ago the region’s prolonged drought was dubbed a “megadrought,” but some of the region’s top scientists say “aridity” may be a better term. That means that the combination of warming and drying will be much more permanent.

Aridity and Animals

The region’s ecosystems — and those who live in them — are feeling the heat.

“Climate warming is just hammering this basin, and part of what we see in addition to the water disappearing is this protracted wildfire season,” says Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River program director for Audubon, the bird-conservation organization. “The fires are more intense and cover ever-larger landscapes, that in turn has the possibility to severely impact the health of the watershed.”

Millions of trees have also been lost to insects and disease exacerbated by drought, including along riverbanks, where less shade is warming streams. Many desert plants, like ocotillos, Washington fan palms and Joshua trees, are also declining from warming temperatures, less precipitation and thirstier animals.

Across the region streams and springs are drying up, too, leading to declines in populations of aquatic amphibians, fish and insects that make up the base of the food chain.

“We haven’t seen any entire species go extinct yet,” says Michael Bogan, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. “But if you project this into the future, that’s certainly something we’re worried about.”

His concern includes the fate of endangered desert pupfish and Gila topminnows.

“They used to be present in large river systems, but the changes in the habitat and the introduction of non-native fishes have basically excluded them from all of those large historic habitats,” he says. “Now the only refuge where they can survive is these smaller habitats — these headwater streams and springs — and those are the exact types of places that are disappearing now.”

Birds are at risk, too, a recent study found. The researchers visited areas of the Mojave Desert that had been studied in the previous century and found that, on average, the sites lost 43% of their species. The main driver, they believe, is decreased precipitation from climate change.

Birds who live in the desert already endure harsh conditions, but climate change could push them past tolerable limits, causing lethal hyperthermia or dehydration. A lack of water can also cause reduced fitness and or force birds to skip a breeding cycle.

We already see this happening with burrowing owls. A study by researchers from the University of New Mexico looked at how increasing air temperature and aridity affected the species.

Burrowing owls. Photo: Wendy Miller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Between 1998 and 2013 the birds at their study area in New Mexico experienced a decline in the number of young that left the nest and a precipitous 98.1% drop — from 52 breeding pairs to just one.

The researchers associated the declines with the effects of decreased precipitation and increased temperature. “An increasingly warm and dry climate may contribute to this species’ decline and may already be a driving force of their apparent decline in the desert Southwest,” they concluded.

Mammals aren’t immune to the changes, either. Another recent study found grave threats to pronghorn across the region. Their models predicted that half of the 18 populations they studied would disappear by 2090.

A decrease in water supply affects animals’ health but can also cause behavioral changes that could put them in harm’s way. If animals need to move outside their normal range in search of declining food or water, it could lead to more interactions with predators or more human-wildlife conflicts, especially if animals look for resources in more urbanized areas.

Fewer sources of water also force a greater number of animals to congregate at the remaining watering holes. Experts say this increases the risk of disease outbreaks like the one that happened in 2020 along the Pacific flyway in California and Oregon, when 60,000 birds crowded into sparse wetlands perished from avian botulism.

An Altered River

Many of the most severe ecosystem impacts currently affecting the Colorado basin predate the 20-year drought.

Hoover Dam’s construction in 1936, followed by the building of Glen Canyon Dam 30 years later, dramatically altered river’s flow, blocked sediment that creates riparian habitat, and changed the temperature of the river…

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. Photo: Simon Morris (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Today the 360 miles between the two dams, which include the Grand Canyon, have become “a river that’s managed to pool-to-pool,” says Pitt. “There’s not much flowing river once you get below Hoover Dam.” That’s caused a loss of riparian forest, which supported birds and other wildlife, and pushed four native fish — humpback chub, bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker — to the brink of extinction.

“There’s concern for quite a number of species because of the historically altered river flow,” says Pitt.

Colorado River Delta via 2012 State of the Rockies Report

It also decimated 1.5 million acres of wetlands downstream at the Colorado River Delta in Mexico.

“For most of the last 50 years, the river has not flowed to the sea,” says Pitt. “An untold wealth of wildlife disappeared off the map because of the desiccation of that landscape.”

Compounding Problems

Development, dams and water diversions along the Colorado, along with today’s drought and climate warming, have pushed many species to the razor’s edge. Some are barely hanging on.

Humpback chub

Of particular concern right now are humpback chub, which suffered after Glen Canyon Dam’s construction. Managers have spent decades trying to recover the fish — with some recent success.

But now the species faces a new threat: non-native largemouth bass — a voracious predator of humpback chub — who thrive in the warmer water that’s being released from the diminished reservoir.

In June researchers detected the fish downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, in the same habitat where humpback chub numbers were finally improving.

“The National Park Service is really worried that if those populations of non-native fish get established in the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, that could be catastrophic for the humpback chub,” says Pitt.

Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2014. Photo: James Marvin Phelps (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The situation is emblematic of the larger ecological consequences stemming from our river management.

“How we manage the dams and the water levels is directly affecting the ecology of the Colorado River itself,” says Bogan.

And while that imperiled ecology may not be the headline news regarding the Colorado River crisis, its significance shouldn’t be understated.

Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon each year to peer over the canyon’s lip and glimpse the Colorado’s path through the ancient towering walls. They come, too, to see California condors, bald eagles and southwestern willow flycatchers — all of whom could disappear if the river does.

The loss of plants and animals across the basin is also a loss of cultural resources for the region’s Tribes.

And as the river declines, so does everything around it…

Worse Before It Gets Better

As states work to deal with shortages of water from the Colorado River, there’s a chance that things could get worse before they get better.

One concern is an overdrafting of groundwater, particularly in Arizona, which legally bears the brunt of shortages on the Colorado and has many areas where groundwater pumping is not regulated.

That can leave groundwater-dependent springs and streams at risk of drying.

Another area of concern is California’s Salton Sea — the famously saline lake in the desert fed now only through agricultural runoff from the neighboring irrigation districts. One of those is the Imperial Irrigation District, which gets the biggest chunk of California’s Colorado River allotment. As the region attempts to work out a new plan to decrease water use, there’s pressure on the agency to fallow some of its 475,000 acres, but that would also mean less runoff making it to the Salton Sea.

Burrowing owls. Photo: Wendy Miller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“The Salton Sea is some of the only remaining habitat for migrating water birds and shorebirds in interior California,” says Pitt. “The Central Valley was that habitat once upon a time, but has been completely developed. So it’s a critical habitat for many species.”

It’s also a public health threat. As winds sweep across the drying lake, particles of dust and pollution are swept into neighboring communities where residents suffer from high rates of asthma and respiratory problems.

“The answer is not that we can’t reduce any water use from the Imperial Irrigation District,” she says. “As uses of water are reduced in irrigated agriculture that drains to the sea, there needs to be mitigation.”

A plan, that includes habitat restoration and dust mitigation suppression projects, created decades ago to do just that has been slow to get off the ground. It needs to “ramp up quickly to protect wildlife and to protect public health,” she says.

The Path Forward

There is some good news.

Minute 323 environmental section signing. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

Agreements between Mexico and the United States in the past decade have enabled “pulse flows” of water to flow downstream to repair a small amount of the lost wetland habitat in Mexico’s California River Delta. And in the desert, fortunately, a little can go a long way.

“We’re seeing improvements in both the number of bird species detected there and the populations of those species,” says Pitt. She’s optimistic that the two governments will continue to support that environmental program in the future.

It’s an idea that could help upstream habitat as well.

“I think really the most important thing that’s being done at both the state level and at the local level is trying to get dedicated flows in streams that are explicitly for the conservation of aquatic species,” says Bogan. Although right now, because of the complexities of water rights, that work is limited and usually local in scope.

“But it’s something that at least has given me a little bit of hope,” he says.

Another strategy, says Pitt, is “natural distributed storage,” which means restoring wetlands and high-elevation meadows to slow water down as it runs across the landscape. That can help recharge groundwater and provide moisture to soil and plants.

“The more moisture we’re keeping around the less vulnerable these areas are to fire,” she says. “It will have an incredible wildlife benefit because those meadows are rich habitat.”

It’s akin to the work that beavers do naturally, but people can replicate.

“It sounds small if you look at it on one little creek,” she says, “but if we can start to see it implemented across the upper basin, I think it could really scale up to make a difference.”

With the cumulative impacts of human development and climate change adding up, Pitt says we should look to the federal government and states to make sure that Endangered Species Act programs are supported to help protect and restore habitat for the dozens of already at-risk species in the basin. This means going beyond supplementing the number of endangered wild fish with hatchery-raised fish, which is the current management strategy.

And of course, the region still needs to grapple with how it allocates and manages the Colorado River’s water. Pitts says she’d like to see a greater role for Tribes in that process and the inclusion of adequate water to maintain healthy ecosystems.

“Environmental water needs to be recognized as part of our objectives for water management,” says Pitt.

“It’s both extremely challenging at this moment because there’s so much less water available to carve up between users,” she says. “But it’s a moment to really rethink how we do things.”

More wolves, beavers needed as part of improving western United States habitats, scientists say — #Oregon State University

Beaver. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Click the link to read the article on the Oregon State University website (Steve Lundeberg):

Oregon State University scientists are proposing management changes on western federal lands that they say would result in more wolves and beavers and would re-establish ecological processes.

In a paper published today [September 9, 2022] in BioScience, “Rewilding the American West,” co-lead author William Ripple and 19 other authors suggest using portions of federal lands in 11 states to establish a network based on potential habitat for the gray wolf – an apex predator able to trigger powerful, widespread ecological effects.

In those states the authors identified areas, each at least 5,000 square kilometers, of contiguous, federally managed lands containing prime wolf habitat. The states in the proposed Western Rewilding Network, which would cover nearly 500,000 square kilometers, are Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“It’s an ambitious idea, but the American West is going through an unprecedented period of converging crises including extended drought and water scarcity, extreme heat waves, massive fires and loss of biodiversity,” said Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the OSU College of Forestry.

Gray wolf. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in the West but were reintroduced to parts of the northern Rocky Mountains and the Southwest starting in the 1990s through measures made possible by the Endangered Species Act.

“Still, the gray wolf’s current range in those 11 states is only about 14% of its historical range,” said co-lead author Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral scholar in the College of Forestry. “They probably once numbered in the tens of thousands, but today there might only be 3,500 wolves across the entire West.”

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Beaver populations, once robust across the West, declined roughly 90% after settler colonialism and are now nonexistent in many streams, meaning ecosystem services are going unprovided, the authors say.

By felling trees and shrubs and constructing dams, beavers enrich fish habitat, increase water and sediment retention, maintain water flows during drought, improve water quality, increase carbon sequestration and generally improve habitat for riparian plant and animal species.

“Beaver restoration is a cost-effective way to repair degraded riparian areas,” said co-author Robert Beschta, professor emeritus in the OSU College of Forestry. “Riparian areas occupy less than 2% of the land in the West but provide habitat for up to 70% of wildlife species.”

Similarly, wolf restoration offers significant ecological benefits by helping to naturally control native ungulates such as elk, according to the authors. They say wolves facilitate regrowth of vegetation species such as aspen, which supports diverse plant and animal communities and is declining in the West.

The paper includes a catalogue of 92 threatened and endangered plant and animal species that have at least 10% of their ranges within the proposed Western Rewilding Network; for each species, threats from human activity were analyzed.

The authors determined the most common threat was livestock grazing, which they say can cause stream and wetland degradation, affect fire regimes and make it harder for woody species, especially willow, to regenerate.

Nationally, about 2% of meat production results from federal grazing permits, the paper notes.

“We suggest the removal of grazing on federal allotments from approximately 285,000 square kilometers within the rewilding network, representing 29% of the total 985,000 square kilometers of federal lands in the 11 western states that are annually grazed,” Beschta said. “That means we need an economically and socially just federal compensation program for those who give up their grazing permits. Rewilding will be most effective when participation concerns for all stakeholders are considered, including Indigenous people and their governments.”

In addition to Beschta, Wolf and Ripple, authors from Oregon State include J. Boone Kauffman, Beverly Law and Michael Paul Nelson. Daniel Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is also a co-author.

The paper also included authors from the University of Washington, the University of Colorado, the Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, Michigan Technological University, the University of Victoria, the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the National Parks and Conservation Association, RESOLVE, the Florida Institute for Conservation Science, Public Lands Media and Wild Heritage.