Prairie Flower Becomes Endangered Species Act Success Story: Cooperative Conservation Saved Colorado, Wyoming Botanical Gem — Center for Biological Diversity

From the Center for Biological Diversity (Michael Robinson):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Colorado butterfly plant from the list of threatened species today. The delisting is the result of protection of the species’ habitat through the Endangered Species Act, and represents a victory for a prairie flower that, just 20 years ago, was headed toward extinction.

“I’m grateful that the Colorado butterfly plant is out of danger,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This beautiful flower’s pink petals will draw pollinating moths on summer evenings for decades, and maybe even millennia, to come. It’s a testament to the power of people working together through the science-based protocols of the Endangered Species Act.”

For more than a century, livestock grazing, mowing and haying, water diversions and development had eliminated Colorado butterfly plants from the high plains streams of north-central Colorado, southeastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

Federal protection began in 2000, followed by the protection of 3,500 acres of critical habitat along 51 miles of streams in southeastern Wyoming in 2005.

In addition 11 land owners agreed to conserve their own populations of the Colorado butterfly plant. Fort Collins also protected the plants on city-owned land. And the Defense Department protected the plants on Francis E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Many if not all of those voluntary protections are expected to continue.

The Colorado butterfly plant is the 45th species to be delisted for recovery in the United States, including 21 in the past five years.

The Colorado butterfly plant’s delisting comes months after the Trump administration finalized rollbacks to key Endangered Species Act regulations. The changes could lead to extinction for hundreds of animals and plants.

Background
The Colorado butterfly plant is in the evening primrose family and grows 2 feet tall. It lives along streams between 5,000 and 6,400 feet in elevation in Boulder, Douglas, Larimer and Weld counties in Colorado. In Wyoming it lives in Laramie and Platte counties, and in Nebraska it may be found in Kimball County.

Protecting a plant or animal as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act leads to science-based measures tailored to prevent its extinction. And critical habitat designated under the Act has been found to correlate closely with conservation success. The Act has been successful in saving more than 99 percent of species placed under its care, despite significant underfunding of the law’s vital measures.

Colorado butterfly plant Credit: USFWS via the Center for Biological Diversity

@COParksWildlife hopes enhanced wetlands will help boreal toad survival

In an ongoing conservation project, CPW recently released 1,700 boreal toad toadlets in a wetland in the San Juan mountains. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

In mid-September Biologist Dan Cammack walked slowly along the edge of a boggy pond in the San Juan Mountains high above the San Luis Valley and peered into the mud and black water looking for a camouflaged critter the size of a dime.

After just a couple minutes, he saw the jumping movements of tiny boreal toads. The amphibians, colored a brownish-black, sat in the mud, on rocks, in the grass or moved on the top of the water attempting to stay clear of danger. Cammack had placed the toads in the ponds for the first time a few weeks earlier.

“Watch where you step,” Cammack said, “We don’t want to step on them.”

The toads are precious. Twenty years ago, they were abundant throughout Colorado’s high country. Today, however, they are scarce as they battle the mysterious chytrid fungus that is threatening amphibians throughout the world. CPW biologists are working statewide to revive populations of these high-altitude amphibians that live from 8,000 to 13,000 feet. But as is the nature of wildlife research, biologists will not know for at least three years if the work will help toads survive.

To start the process, Cammack and his crew collected eggs from two wetlands in the Triangle Pass area near Crested Butte. The fertilized eggs, collected in early summer, were then taken to CPW’s Native Aquatic Species Hatchery in Alamosa where they were hatched in captivity. By late summer, they grew into tadpoles and were ready for stocking in the San Juans.

In the high country above the San Luis Valley, the West Fork fire in 2013 burned through 100,000 acres of forest. Paul Jones, a now retired CPW biologist, had seen research that suggested burned areas might prevent development of the chytrid fungus. He also knew, based on historic records, that toads had once inhabited the area. So he worked with the Rio Grande National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and the San Luis Valley Water Conservation District to build small levies in a wetland area to enhance and enlarge optimal reproductive boreal toad habit. The area mimics wetlands created by beaver ponds ‒ favorite breeding areas for toads.

In late August, Cammack and his crew released about 2,700 tadpoles for the first time into the ponds. He traveled back to the area in mid-September to check if the tadpoles had transitioned to toadlets. All along the edge of the five-acre pond, he saw toadlets moving, swimming and hiding.

“It looks like we have a lot of survival,” Cammack said. “The next critical test comes when we come back next spring to see if they survived the winter and hibernation.”

What is particularly challenging for the biologists is that young toads are less likely than adults to contract the fungus. So biologists have to wait to know if toads are affected.

“Making a determination about whether the site is positive for chytrid will not be established for about three years,” Cammack explained. “And reproductive maturity is not reached for five or six years, so it will take patience to see if the toads will breed in these ponds.”

Until then, Cammack and his crew will continue to collect eggs and release tadpoles into the ponds. The ongoing work is needed to maintain multiple “age classes” of the amphibians.

Cammack noted that he has found a few boreal toads at various locations in the mountains. However, outside of the Triangle Pass area, breeding in the wild has been unsuccessful.

“While each sighting is encouraging, the numbers are a mere shadow of the past when toads were once thriving in the region,” Cammack said. “We hope that careful management and novel approaches to encourage reproduction will keep boreal toads from disappearing.”

CPW biologists throughout the state are working on a variety of boreal toad conservation projects.

“We’re working on creative ideas to help bring these toads back. Building these ponds in this burn area is one idea. Hopefully, one of them will work; but it will take time,” Cammack said.

And he’s hopeful: “With wildlife we have to manage with optimism.”

Link to this video to see how CPW biologists are working on boreal toad restoration.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dS-d8JL11_o

Mature Boreal toad. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Audubon’s New Climate Report and What it Means for Birds in the Arid West

Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

From Audubon’s Western Water Initiative (Karyn Stockdale):

Audubon just released a new scientific report, Survival by Degrees, showing that 64 percent (389 out of 604) of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. The good news is our science also shows that if we take action now we can help improve the chances for 76 percent of species at risk. We know what to do to protect the birds we love and the places we all need now and in the future.

Climate and Water in the West
In the West, we’re already dealing with a multi-decade historic drought and longer, more intense fire seasons. Climate change threatens western water resources and some researchers are calling our new reality “aridification.” Overall, the West has experienced increases in the severity and length of droughts over the past 50 years, taking a toll on water supplies.

Climate change not only alters the quantity of flows, but also the timing. Rising temperatures in the winter cause more precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in mountainous areas from Colorado to California. Furthermore, warming temperatures are causing snow to melt earlier in the spring, altering the timing of streamflow in headwaters rivers.

The Colorado River’s water supply is stretched thin—due to diversions, over-allocation and climate change—and further increases in temperature will reduce snowpack and river flows harming the river and the 40 million people and 400 species of birds that rely on it. By mid-century, climate warming is projected to decrease total Colorado River flows by 20 percent from the observed historic average.

Likewise, across the network of saline lakes that dot the West—including Great Salt Lake—we see reduced water levels that can negatively impact millions of shorebirds, waterbirds, and waterfowl. These drying lake beds can cause health and economic problems as well as a decrease in food and habitat for birds.

It’s essential that we curb carbon emissions to limit temperature increases and work proactively, doubling down on conservation practices, so that these already stressed water ecosystems can sustain life in the arid West for decades to come.

How were the species evaluated?
Audubon scientists analyzed 140 million bird records, including observational data from bird lovers and field biologists across the country, to assess vulnerability for species based on the amount of a species’ range that may be gained or lost with climate change. Audubon designated species that may lose much more range across North America than they have potential to gain as climate vulnerable. Sources for this report include eBird, U.S. Geological Survey, North American Breeding Bird Survey, and Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

What does this mean for bird species in the arid West?
It should come as no surprise that western forests are one of habitat groups with the most threatened bird species in warming scenarios. As temperatures increase, drought, extreme heat, and fire will become more intense, more widespread, and more devastating across the West. This has implications for water quality and watershed health and will affect both birds and people.

Two examples of birds associated with Western Water priority freshwater and saline lakes habitats that are highlight climate vulnerable in Audubon’s report are Yellow Warbler and Long-billed Curlew. The bright, sweet song of the Yellow Warbler is a familiar sound in streamside willows across the West. Long-billed Curlews are often found around the Great Basin of Utah around emergent wetlands and marsh, as well as using agricultural fields where nesting and brood-rearing take place in pastures and hay meadows.

Of all the birds listed as vulnerable, there are distinctions between those that would respond favorably if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (versus 3 degrees C) and would benefit from our actions. For instance, if we keep the rise in temperature to less than 3 degrees C, we can protect birds like the Yellow Warbler and Long-billed Curlew in their summer range.

Birds associated with Western Water priority habitats that are highly climate vulnerable include:

  • Yellow Warbler (High vulnerability in 3 degrees C warming scenario especially in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Moderate in summer at both 2 and 3 C)
  • Sandhill Crane (Moderate vulnerability in summer at 2 and 3 C with species projected to shift north and mostly out of the contiguous U.S. range)
  • Long-billed Curlew (High vulnerability rangewide in summer at 3 C including in Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico. Moderate at 1.5 and 2 C)
  • American Dipper (High vulnerability in winter at 3 C particularly in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, and Arizona. Moderate in summer and at 1.5 and 2 C)
  • Other vulnerable species associated with Western Water and mentioned in the report:

  • Eared Grebe
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Mountain Plover
  • Summer Tanager
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Ridgway’s Rail and Clapper Rail
  • This is not an exhaustive species list and there’s much more information in the report on the 389 species vulnerable to a changing climate. One key takeaway is that if we reduce emissions by 2050 and hold warming to 1.5 C, we expect 38 percent of the species would come off the climate vulnerable list.

    What are the best ways to help birds (and people) in the West?

  • Improve resiliency for healthy watersheds (rivers, wetlands, and lakes);
  • Increase reliability of our water supply (now and in the future) through planning and cooperative, multi-benefit agreements among stakeholders;
  • Fund conservation and clean energy measures at the local, state, and federal levels (ask your elected officials to expand conservation funding and clean energy development in your community);
  • Restore and protect priority habitats;
  • Manage water comprehensively with an understanding of the connections between surface water and groundwater, and more;
  • Sign up for the Western Water newsletter to stay in touch and look for opportunities to help.
  • A quick guide to threatened terrestrial and freshwater species in your state — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Jolene Yazzie and Helen Santoro):

    New rules would weaken protections for plants and animals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act

    Jolene Yazzie/High Country News, Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    The Trump administration is proposing several changes to the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented that would weaken the rules governing protections. One change targets species newly listed as “threatened,” or those that are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. Under the new rules, the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to create individual regulations for each species based on its conservation needs, rather than simply extending the same level of protection that endangered species receive. Environmental groups worry this will strain the agency’s workload and put animals and plants at risk of extinction. While this change will not impact the species currently listed as threatened, any future additions to their ranks would be subject to the new rules.

    Here are the 167 threatened species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for overseeing in the West; this list does not include marine and anadromous species that are the sole responsibility of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration:

    AMPHIBIANS
    California red-legged frog · Calif.
    Chiricahua leopard frog · Ariz., N.M.
    Oregon spotted frog · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    California tiger salamander · Calif.
    Yosemite toad · Calif.

    BIRDS
    Yellow-billed cuckoo · Ariz., Calif., Colo., Idaho, Mont., N.M., Nev., Ore., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
    Spectacled eider · Alaska
    Steller’s eider · Alaska
    Coastal California gnatcatcher · Calif.
    Streaked horned lark · Ore., Wash.
    Red knot · Mont.
    Marbled murrelet · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Mexican spotted owl · Ariz., Colo., N.M., Utah
    Northern spotted owl · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Piping plover · Colo., Mont., N.M., Wyo.
    Western snowy plover · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Gunnison sage grouse · Colo., Utah
    San Clemente sage sparrow · Calif.
    Inyo California towhee · Calif.

    CRUSTACEANS
    Vernal pool fairy shrimp · Calif., Ore.

    CONIFERS AND CYCADS
    Gowen cypress · Calif.
    Santa Cruz cypress · Calif.

    FISHES
    Yaqui catfish · Ariz.
    Chihuahua chub · N.M.
    Hutton tui chub · Ore.
    Sonora chub · Ariz.
    Desert dace · Nev.
    Foskett speckled dace · Ore.
    Arkansas River shiner · N.M.
    Beautiful shiner · Ariz., N.M.
    Pecos bluntnose shiner · N.M.
    Delta smelt · Calif.
    Big Spring spinedace · Nev.
    Little Colorado spinedance · Ariz.
    Railroad Valley springfish · Nev.
    Santa Ana sucker · Calif.
    Warner sucker · Calif., Nev., Ore.
    Apache trout · Ariz.
    Bull trout · Idaho, Mont., Nev., Ore., Wash.
    Gila trout · Ariz., N.M.
    Greenback cutthroat trout · Colo., Utah
    Lahontan cutthroat trout · Calif., Nev., Ore., Utah
    Little Kern golden trout · Calif.
    Paiute cutthroat trout · Calif.

    INSECTS
    Delta green ground beetle · Calif.
    Valley elderberry longhorn beetle · Calif.
    Bay checkerspot butterfly · Calif.
    Oregon silverspot butterfly · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Kern primrose sphinx moth · Calif.
    Ash Meadows naucorid · Nev.
    Pawnee montane skipper · Colo.

    MAMMALS
    Northern long-eared bat · Mont., Wyo.
    Grizzly bear · Idaho, Mont., Wash., Wyo.
    Polar bear · Alaska
    Wood bison · Alaska
    Columbian white-tailed deer · Ore., Wash.
    Santa Catalina Island fox · Calif.
    Canada Lynx · Colo., Idaho, Mont., N.M., Ore., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
    Preble’s meadow jumping mouse · Colo., Wyo.
    Northern Sea Otter · Alaska
    Southern sea otter · Calif.
    Olympia pocket gopher · Wash.
    Roy Prairie pocket gopher · Wash.
    Tenino pocket gopher · Wash.
    Yelm pocket gopher · Wash.
    Utah prairie dog · Utah
    Northern Idaho ground squirrel · Idaho

    PLANTS
    Purple amole · Calif.
    Encinitas baccharis · Calif.
    Parachute beardtongue · Colo.
    Dudley bluffs bladderpod · Colo.
    White bluffs bladderpod · Wash.
    Ash meadows blazingstar · Nev.
    Chinese Camp brodiaea · Calif.
    Thread-leaved brodiaea · Calif.
    Umtanum desert buckwheat · Wash.
    Colorado butterfly plant · Colo., Wyo.
    Layne’s butterweed · Calif.
    Cochise pincushion cactus · Ariz.
    Colorado hookless cactus · Colo.
    Kuenzler hedgehog cactus · N.M.
    Lee pincushion cactus · N.M.
    Mesa Verde cactus · Colo., N.M.
    Pariette cactus · Utah
    Siler pincushion cactus · Ariz., Utah
    Uinta Basin hookless cactus · Utah
    Winkler cactus · Utah
    Spalding’s catchfly · Idaho, Mont., Ore., Wash.
    Vail Lake ceanothus · Calif.
    Spring-loving centaury · Nev.
    Nelson’s checker-mallow · Ore., Wash.
    Springville clarkia · Calif.
    Big-leaved crownbeard · Calif.
    Jones cycladenia · Ariz., Utah
    Parish’s daisy · Calif.
    Conejo dudleya · Calif.
    Marcescent dudleya · Calif.
    Santa Cruz Island dudleya · Calif.
    Santa Monica Mountains dudleyea · Calif.
    Verity’s dudleya · Calif.
    Marin dwarf-flax · Calif.
    San Benito evening primrose · Calif.
    Zuni fleabane · Ariz., N.M.
    MacFarlane’s four-o’clock · Idaho, Ore.
    Colusa grass · Calif.
    Eureka dune grass · Calif.
    Ash Meadows gumplant · Nev.
    Water howellia · Calif., Idaho, Mont., Ore., Wash.
    Ash Meadows ivesia · Nev.
    Webber’s ivesia · Calif., Nev.
    Ute ladies’-tresses · Colo., Idaho, Mont., Nev., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
    Laguna Beach liveforever · Calif.
    San Clemente Island lotus · Calif.
    Kincaid’s lupine · Ore., Wash.
    Ione manzanita · Calif.
    Morro manzanita · Calif.
    Pallid manzanita · Calif.
    Tiburon mariposa lily · Calif.
    Ash Meadows milk-vetch · Nev.
    Fish Slough milk-vetch · Calif.
    Heliotrope milk-vetch · Utah
    Peirson’s milk-vetch · Calif.
    Welsh’s milkweed · Ariz., Utah
    Penland Alpine fen mustard · Colo.
    Spreading navarretia · Calif.
    Western prairie fringed orchid · Colo., Wyo.
    San Joaquin orcutt grass · Calif.
    Slender orcutt grass · Calif., Ore.
    Fleshy owl’s-clover · Calif.
    Ash-grey paintbrush · Calif.
    Golden paintbrush · Ore., Wash.
    San Clemente Island paintbrush · Calif.
    Slickspot peppergrass · Idaho
    DeBeque phacelia · Colo.
    Maguire primrose · Utah
    Mariposa pussypaws · Calif.
    San Francisco Peaks ragwort · Ariz.
    Clay reed-mustard · Utah
    Island rush-rose · Calif.
    Bear Valley sandwort · Calif.
    Navajo sedge · Ariz., Utah
    Monterey spineflower · Calif.
    Hoover’s spurge · Calif.
    San Joaquin adobe sunburst · Calif.
    Pecos sunflower · N.M.
    Ash Meadows sunray · Calif., Nev.
    Otay tarplant · Calif.
    Santa Cruz tarplant · Calif.
    Howell’s spectacular thelypody · Ore.
    Sacramento Mountains thistle · N.M.
    San Diego thornmint · Calif.
    Last Chance townsendia · Utah
    Dudley bluffs twinpod · Colo.
    Red Hills vervain · Calif.
    Gypsum wild-buckwheat · N.M.
    Southern mountain wild-buckwheat · Calif.
    Desert yellowhead · Wyo.

    REPTILES
    Narrow-headed gartersnake · Ariz., N.M.
    Northern Mexican gartersnake · Ariz., N.M.
    Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard · Calif.
    New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake · Ariz., N.M.
    Olive Ridley sea turtle · Calif., Ore.
    Giant garter snake · Calif.
    Desert tortoise · Ariz., Calif., Nev., Utah
    Alameda whipsnake · Calif.

    SNAILS
    Bliss Rapids snail · Idaho
    San Bernardino springsnail · Ariz.

    Note: This story has been updated to add the northern spotted owl, San Ana sucker, Arkansas River shiner, gypsum wild-buckwheat and southern sea otter; and to reflect that the Little Colorado Spinedace is found in Arizona, the Oregon spotted frog is found in Washington, the bull trout is found in Montana, the Warner sucker is found in California and Nevada, the piping plover is found in New Mexico, and that the Canada lynx is threatened in New Mexico but not Alaska. Spelling errors have also been corrected. Seals have been removed from this list, which reflects U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data; it does not include species solely overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Helen Santoro and Jolene Yazzie are editorial interns at High Country News. Email them at helensantoro@hcn.org and joleneyazzie@hcn.org.

    U.S. District Senior Judge Marcia Krieger finds that the @USFWS’s denial of the #RioGrande cutthroat trout on the endangered list was arbitrary and unlawful

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    In a federal lawsuit filed by the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. District Senior Judge Marcia Krieger ruled that the service used one method of counting the fish when it first considered adding it to the endangered list in 2008, but changed that method when it reconsidered its decision in 2014 without explaining why.

    “Because the service had offered no explanation for the different methodologies it used in 2008 and 2014 to calculate the number of healthy trout populations, the court must conclude that the change in methodology was, on the instant record, arbitrary and capricious,” Krieger wrote.

    “It may very well be that new studies, new sampling methods, or other analytical tools developed since 2008 call into question the service’s 2008 determination that 2,500 trout are required before a population can be declared stable,” she added. “But the service has not pointed the court to evidence in the record that establishes the basis for such a change in methodology.”

    As a result, Krieger reversed the service’s 2014 denial of adding the fish to the list, and ordered the federal agency to provide more analysis and explanation for the criteria it used to calculate what constitutes a healthy trout population.

    Officials with the center said this doesn’t mean the trout will be added to the list just yet, but the ruling gets it closer to that goal.

    “We’ve been fighting to save Rio Grande cutthroat trout for more than 20 years,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate for the center. “It’s a relief to have it one step closer to getting the help it so badly needs. The trout is barely hanging on in a small number of tiny, isolated headwater streams.”

    Robinson said the service had found that the trout deserved protection in 2008, but never actually added it to the list. In 2014, it changed its mind about that determination, saying the fish didn’t need protection, but did so after arbitrarily lowering that 2,500-fish population threshold to just 500, he said.

    “The Fish and Wildlife Service moved the goal posts in order to get to a politically driven decision that the trout doesn’t warrant protection,” Robinson said. “The livestock industry and states like Colorado and New Mexico oppose trout protections.”

    The Rio Grande cutthroat normally is found in high-elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, Canadian and Pecos rivers in Colorado and New Mexico, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which says the fish now only occupies about 12% of its historic habitat on about 800 miles of streams…

    Last week, Colorado joined 16 other states in challenging the Interior Department’s changes in how endangered species are put on and taken off the list, including a new rule that allows the financial cost of listing a species to be a determining factor.

    “Our biggest project yet … on america’s most important river” — @COWaterTrust

    The 15-Mile Reach is located near Grand Junction, Colorado

    From the Colorado Water Trust (Andy Schultheiss):

    You’ve been hearing a lot from us lately about a project on the notoriously troubled part of the Colorado River near Grand Junction called the 15-Mile Reach.

    You’ve been hearing about it because we’re so excited about the potential impact, and proud of the diverse collaborations involved.

    If you’ve missed it, here are the cliff notes:

  • The 15-Mile Reach is a stretch of the Colorado River known for flows that fall so low they can fail to support native federally endangered fish species. Flows often fall low twice yearly—in early spring and in late summer through early fall (spring because the snow that feeds rivers has not yet begun to melt, and Fall because it is the driest part of the year).
  • Just upstream of the 15-Mile Reach is the Grand Valley Power Plant (GVPP) – which is operated by our partners, Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA) and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District (OMID). It’s a hydropower plant that was built in the 1930s.
  • GVWUA and OMID have senior irrigation water rights, and they also divert water for use in the power plant that returns to the Colorado River just upstream of the 15-Mile Reach. Which is very good for the river, as well as the local electrical grid.
  • Colorado Water Trust, GVWUA, and OMID recently completed an innovative agreement to allow us to buy water upstream to be delivered to the GVPP. That means our water can be delivered to the plant, used to generate hydropower, and then returned to the Colorado River during times when the 15-Mile Reach is in need. The aim is to keep the river at healthy flows to support native fish passage and spawning habitat.
  • Well here’s what’s new! We just did it! Last week!

    You may be thinking, well, wasn’t this a particular wet year? Why was the river in need?

    We didn’t think it was going to be, either. But as you’re probably aware, Colorado can really throw curveballs with its weather, and those curves are breaking more and more lately.

    Despite a promising water year, with snowpack levels not seen since at least 2011, and a wet early Summer on top of it, the Colorado and many other rivers in the state (including the Yampa, another of our top priorities) suffered severely decreased flow starting around Labor Day, due to a very hot, dry August. Even the GVPP wasn’t getting enough water to operate to its current capacity. We had the legal agreement in place, and we had money from our annual RiverBank celebration and from the generous folks at Coca Cola to buy water in the Colorado, so why not use it now?

    By purchasing water (that is owned by the Colorado River District, so a big shout-out to those folks as well for the very fast turnaround) from a nearby reservoir, we helped to boost flows in the 15-Mile Reach and generated clean electricity for six days. Our releases complemented the water dedicated to the river by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Program and the Historic Users Pool, a group of western Colorado water users that release water from Green Mountain Reservoir. We’re now working on long-term funding for these purchases, from Coca Cola and others, and in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado River District, and of course our two water user partners, we hope to help keep the river healthy for many years to come. Thanks as well to our crucial project partner the Walton Family Foundation, which originally suggested the idea and supported its development.

    Projects like 15-Mile Reach are what drives us here at the Water Trust. The problems we address are complex, politically and technically challenging, and getting more so. The idea that a “wet” year could turn into a semi-emergency because of 45 days or so of dry heat would have been remarkable fifty years ago. These days? Not really that surprising. But this is the challenge we face, and we get excited by finding creative ways to meet them that benefit multiple river users.

    When flows decline, which we all expect in the years to come because of the changing climate and growing population, the need to share our water becomes even more important. And harder to arrange. But that’s the Water Trust’s sweet spot, and we’re happy to be able to do it on that most American of rivers, the Colorado.

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    Secretary Bernhardt Announces Over $100 Million in Public-Private Funding for Wetland Conservation Projects — @USFWS

    Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    Here’s the release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Vanessa Kauffman):

    The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, chaired by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, approved $28 million in funding for various wetland conservation projects.

    Marking its 30th anniversary since enactment, the 2019 North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants will be used to ensure waterfowl and other birds are protected throughout their life cycles. Of the funds issued, $23.9 million was allocated for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to conserve or restore more than 150,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds in 20 states throughout the United States. These grants will be matched by more than $72 million in partner funds.

    “These public-private grants help uphold President Trump’s important promise to America’s sportsmen and women to preserve our nation’s wildlife and provide access to our public lands for future generations,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “Landmark legislation like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has made that possible for all Americans and these treasured natural resources during the past 30 years.”

    Wetlands provide many ecological, economic and social benefits such as habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants. NAWCA grants conserve bird populations and wetland habitat while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, family farming and cattle ranching. This year’s projects include:

  • Missouri River Valley Wetlands – $1 million to acquire, restore and enhance 4,618 acres within major wetland and grassland complexes within the Missouri River Alluvial Plain in western Iowa and northwest Missouri, benefitting northern pintail, lesser scaup and many other species.
  • Upper Snake River – $1 million to protect and enhance 1,691 acres of migrating, breeding and wintering habitat in eastern Idaho. Species that will benefit include trumpeter swan, northern pintail and mallard.
  • Texas Bays, Wetlands and Prairies II – $1 million to enhance 2,885 acres of wetland types and other critical wetland habitats in mid-coast Texas. The project will benefit mottled ducks, black-bellied whistling ducks, fulvous whistling ducks and other species.
  • The commission also received a report on 31 NAWCA small grants, which were approved by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council in March. Small grants are awarded for smaller projects up to $100,000 to encourage new grantees and partners to carry out smaller-scale conservation work. The commission has authorized the council to approve these projects up to a $5 million. This year, $3 million in grants was matched by $11.1 million in partner funds.

    NAWCA is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. Since 1989, funding has advanced the conservation of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico while engaging more than 6,200 partners in nearly 3,000 projects. More information about the grant projects is available here.

    The commission also approved $4.2 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve 2,200 acres in Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. These funds were raised largely through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps.”

    “Buying Duck Stamps is one of the many ways hunters contribute to conservation.” said Bernhardt. “Expanding waterfowl habitat and hunter access through this Duck Stamp-funded acquisition is a great way to kick off hunting season.”

    “NAWCA is a cornerstone funding program for DU’s conservation work across the continent,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam. “Secretary Bernhardt’s announcement of the $28 million in approved funding for the program will ensure DU and our partners are able to continue habitat improvement projects across North America. These funds will be matched dollar for dollar and are often doubled, tripled or more in conjunction with project-specific partners. This allows organizations like DU and our partners to provide critical habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife. We appreciate the Secretary’s foresight and his commitment to conservation.”

    “CSF applauds the Department of the Interior for the issuance of $28 million in funding for grants that are made available through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, said President of Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation Jeff Crane. “Since inception, this highly successful program has completed more than 2,800 projects spanning across nearly 30 million acres in all 50 states, Canada and Mexico. NAWCA requires that for every federal dollar contributed to the program, a non-federal source must equally match the federal contribution. Sportsmen and women are often part of this non-federal match, making this a partnership that benefits habitat conservation and our great outdoors traditions.”

    “The habitat restoration work on the Klamath Marsh Refuge is particularly important for migrating waterfowl given the water shortage and long-term decline of wetlands in the nearby Klamath Basin,” stated Mark Hennelly, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the California Waterfowl Association. “Our Association appreciates the commission and the Department of Interior’s ongoing efforts to address waterfowl habitat needs in southern Oregon and northeastern California.”

    Funds raised from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps go toward the acquisition or lease of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Duck Stamps – while required for waterfowl hunters as an annual license – are also voluntarily purchased by birders, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of national wildlife refuges who understand the value of preserving some of the most diverse and important wildlife habitats in our nation.

    The Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge project will restore and conserve more than 2,200 acres on the upper Williamson River for migratory birds, including several species of waterfowl, such as northern pintail, mallard, American wigeon, Canada geese, white-fronted geese and snow geese. The restoration will improve the area for native fish species, especially redband and rainbow trout, providing for world-class fishing as well as expanding public use opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.

    Since 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp Program and Migratory Bird Conservation Fund have provided more than $1 billion for habitat conservation in the Refuge System.

    The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an unparalleled network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. Refuges offer world-class public recreation, from fishing, hunting and wildlife observation to photography and environmental education. More than 55 million people visit refuges every year, creating economic booms for local communities.

    The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission is chaired by the Secretary of the Interior. Its members include Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas; Reps. Robert J. Wittman of Virginia and Mike Thompson of California; Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture; and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The commission has helped in conserving much of this nation’s most important waterfowl habitat and in establishing or enhancing many of the country’s most popular destinations for waterfowl hunting.

    Additional information about North American wetlands and waterfowl conservation can be found at https://www.fws.gov/birds/, which offers waterfowl enthusiasts, biologists and agency managers with the most up-to-date waterfowl habitat and population information.

    Click here to view the list of approved projects. Included is a project in the San Luis Valley:

    Project Description​ The project will focus on the protection, restoration and enhancement of two major habitat types. First, it will largely use conservation easements to protect seasonally flooded wet meadows, which provide important wildlife habitat as well as hay for local ranching operations. This project will permanently protect 2,800 acres of these wet meadow habitats. Second, it will restore and enhance streams, riparian areas, and wetlands mostly on public lands with a focus on returning historic flood regimes to playa wetlands. This project restores and enhances over 2,400 acres of mostly playa wetlands. As a secondary goal, project activities will protect, restore and enhance well-developed cottonwood and willow riparian areas, which are important to wildlife but extremely rare in the upper San Luis Valley.

    From The Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:

    Two wetland conservation projects in Colorado were among several nationally to be awarded federal grants this week, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.

    The grants for Colorado projects are part of $28 million in funding for wetland conservation approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which is chaired by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

    The grants are awarded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and will affect 150,000 acres of wetland and upland waterfowl habitats on 20 states across the country, the department said this week.

    Additionally, the $28 million in federal grants will be matched by $72 million in funding from partner organizations.

    In Colorado, the North Park Wetland Conservation Partnership and the Arkansas River Wetlands Conservation Partnership each received a $1 million grant. Both projects have proposed match amounts of $2 million.

    The grants for both projects were awarded to Ducks Unlimited, a national waterfowl conservation organization.

    In the Arkansas River project, Ducks Unlimited and partner organizations will “conserve over 17,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent prairie in the Arkansas River Valley of Colorado through restoration activities and conservation easements,” a project description says.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy are among the partners with Ducks Unlimited.

    The North Park will “conserve 6,510 acres of high-quality wildlife habitat,” in conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, among other groups.

    Mike George, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation programs for Colorado, said the projects will also benefit clean water and recharge aquifers in the state.