“Insects are ‘the glue in nature”, says Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, “underpinning the food and water we rely on” — The Guardian #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

Humanity must save insects, if not for their sake, then for ourselves, a leading entomologist has warned.

“Insects are the glue in nature and there is no doubt that both the [numbers] and diversity of insects are declining,” said Prof Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. “At some stage the whole fabric unravels and then we will really see the consequences.”

On Monday, the largest ever assessment of the health of nature was published and warned starkly that the annihilation of wildlife is eroding the foundations of human civilisation. The IPBES report said: “Insect abundance has declined very rapidly in some places … but the global extent of such declines is not known.” It said the available evidence supports a “tentative” estimate that 10% of the 5.5m species of insect thought to exist are threatened with extinction.

The food and water humanity relies upon are underpinned by insects but Sverdrup-Thygeson’s new book, Extraordinary Insects, spends many of its pages on how wonderful and weird insects are. “The first stage is to get people to appreciate these little creatures,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson.

Many appear to defy the normal rules of life. Some fruit flies can be beheaded and live normally for several days more, thanks to mini-brains in each joint. Then there are the carpet beetles that can effectively reverse time, by reverting to younger stages of development when food is scarce.

Others are bizarrely constructed. Some butterflies have ears in their mouths, one has an eye on its penis, while houseflies taste with their feet. Insect reproduction is also exotic. The southern green shield bug can maintain sex for 10 days, while another type of fruit fly produces sperm that are 20 times longer than its own body.

Some aphids, which can reproduce without sex, produce babies that already themselves contain babies, effectively giving birth to their children and grandchildren simultaneously. There are also a lot of insects – more than a billion, billion individuals alive today. “If you shared them out, there would be 200m insects for each human,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson.

But for all their abundance, insects are in trouble. “Global data suggests that while we humans have doubled our population in the past 40 years, the number of insects has been reduced by almost half – these are dramatic figures,” she said.

Some researchers warned in February that falling insect populations threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while recent studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have revealed plunging numbers over the last 25 to 35 years.

“There are lots of details to fill in, but I have read pretty much every study in English and I haven’t seen a single one where entomologists don’t believe the main message that a lot of insect species are definitely declining,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson. The destruction of natural environments to create farmland is the key cause, she said. “When you throw all the pesticides and climate change on top of that, it is not very cool to be an insect today.

#Runoff news: #RioGrande streamflow is above average through Albuquerque

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

This time last year, the riverbed of the Rio Grande south of Socorro was sandy, the edges of its channel strewn with desiccated fish. Even through Albuquerque, the state’s largest river was flowing at just about 400 cubic feet per second, exposing long sandbars and running just inches deep.

This year, the Middle Rio Grande is booming, nearly ten times higher than it was last April—and it’s still rising. Running bank-to-bank, the river’s waters are lapping up over low spots along the bank, nourishing trees and grasses, replenishing groundwater and creating much-needed habitat for young fish and other creatures.

This year’s high flows through the Middle Rio Grande come thanks to a mix of natural conditions, like snowpack, and also manipulation of the river’s flows from dams, diversions and interstate water-sharing agreements.

“These late spring storms are really the icing on the cake heading into the spring runoff,” said Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office. “The snowpack is far above average and we expect a few months of really good flows on the Rio Chama and Rio Grande.”

This month, Reclamation released its 2019 operating plan for the Middle Rio Grande and the stretch of the river below Elephant Butte Dam. In southern New Mexico, the federal agency plans to move water from Elephant Butte Reservoir to Caballo Reservoir beginning on May 3. Then, on May 31, they’ll begin sending water from Caballo downstream to irrigators in southern New Mexico and Texas.

Combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo is about 324,000 acre feet as of Thursday, or roughly 14 percent capacity. Last fall, storage in the two reservoirs dropped below three percent.

Levels in those two reservoirs matter not only to downstream water users, but also those upstream along the Rio Grande.

Since last May, New Mexico has had to abide by Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact of 1938. When combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs drops below 400,000 acre feet, Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any of the upstream reservoirs built after 1929. This includes Heron, El Vado and Heron reservoirs in New Mexico.

Now, water managers expect that New Mexico will be out of Article VII restrictions in mid-May.

Once that happens, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which supplies water to irrigators in the Albuquerque area, can start holding water in upstream reservoirs. They’re expecting to store about 40,000 acre-feet of water before water levels drop again later this year.

And, Reclamation expects that New Mexico will remain out of Article VII until late August or early September.

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

‘Umbrella species’

The river’s spring flows will also give a boost to endangered species, including the Rio Grande silvery minnow.

Biologists are already finding eggs, though spawning will peak later in the spring as the temperature rises.

“The water’s not quite warm enough all day, so it will probably be another three weeks before there’s a huge peak in the number of fish that are spawning,” said Thomas Archdeacon, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. “I’d guess in a year like this, there could be a two-month long spawning period.”

The slow, backwater habitat created by the rising river is good for the fish, allowing eggs and larvae to survive. And what’s good for endangered species is good for the rest of the river’s ecosystem, said Archdeacon.

Later this spring and summer, the river will shift again. Runoff will decline and once the state is out of Article VII, water will be stored in upstream reservoirs instead of passing through the Middle Rio Grande to Elephant Butte. Plus, irrigators will pull more water from the river during the summer months.

And biologists like Archdeacon will keep an eye on what happens to endangered species.

“I like to call it the umbrella species,” Archdeacon said of the silvery minnow. Protecting species like the minnow means protecting all the other species as well, he said, and protecting the cottonwood galley.

‘Purple Rain’ treatment of endangered Boreal toads by CPW biologists produces ‘very positive’ results

A submerged Boreal toad. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife / Melissa Butynski

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Bill Vogrin):

After enduring long days last summer slogging through a Chaffee County wetland capturing tiny, newly metamorphed Boreal toads and bathing them in an experimental antifungal bacterial wash, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists spent anxious winter months awaiting preliminary results of their collaborative efforts with the McKenzie Lab at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Did bathing the endangered toads in the treatment, dubbed “Purple Rain” due to its color, protect them from the skin fungus that is killing amphibians? Or will biologists have to keep looking for new methods to protect the toads, which live 10 to 12 years and once thrived in alpine wetland systems of Colorado?

While biologists can’t say if the treatment is completely effective, early results show it looks very promising.

CPW’s Paul Foutz, native aquatic species biologist based in the Southeast Region in Colorado Springs, led a team of biologists who made trips up the South Cottonwood Creek west of Buena Vista to assist PhD student Tim Korpita, and Dr. Valerie McKenzie and their research team from CU-Boulder in treating the toads.

“We are proud to be partners in this wildlife conservation fieldwork,” Foutz said. “It’s critical we find a cure to this deadly skin fungus that is killing our amphibians.”

Biologists collect and record data at a field laboratory as they bathe 35 Boreal toads captured on South Cottonwood Creek, west of Buena Vista, on Sept. 6, 2018. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

This is the third year of a CPW-funded research project to investigate the use of bacterial treatments, a project Foutz describes as “a potential game-changer for Colorado’s endangered Boreal toad, not to mention having the potential to impact amphibian populations worldwide.”

It’s a critical time in the project. In their laboratory, Korpita and McKenzie increased toad survival by 40 percent after bathing the toads in the native fungus-fighting bacterial wash called a probiotic treatment. CPW’s work on South Cottonwood Creek was the first attempt to see if the lab results can be reproduced in wild populations.

Since wild amphibians can’t easily be given vaccines or antifungal drugs, Korpita and McKenzie turned to the probiotic wash as a solution.

Scientists hope the fungus-fighting bacteria will be absorbed into the amphibian skin and protect the toads. They use bacteria that are native to the local biological community and naturally found on toads, and increase the abundance of these protective bacteria during a vulnerable life stage of the toads.

Korpita is now reporting that the preliminary results from the last summer “look very promising.”

“We are finding that the probiotic is successfully persisting on the toads for longer than expected,” Korpita said. “We are also learning that the specific life stage in which the toads are treated matters a great deal.”

In 2019, the team will re-survey their sites and recapture toads from last year’s experiment to check up on them. Korpita hopes to find lots of surviving yearling toads this summer to lend more swab samples to the team. The CPW and CU-Boulder team also plans to treat captive toads that are slated for 2019 reintroductions into historic habitats in an effort to establish new populations.

“We are very excited to be doing this research, and we are extremely grateful to CPW for their support and collaboration. CPW truly is a forward-thinking group of wildlife biologists,” McKenzie said.

Boreal toads are listed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as an endangered species.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the San Juan National Forest, and Trout Unlimited are partnering to repopulate Wolf Creek with San Juan Cutthroat trout

Courtesy Photo This trout is one of a new pure genetic strain of cutthroat trout (San Juan cutthroat) found recently by Colorado Parks and wildlife biologists. This photo was taken at CPW’s Durango fish hatchery via the South Fork Tines.

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (John Finefrock):

The San Juan cutthroat trout, a fish native to the San Juan Wa- tershed and once thought to be extinct, will be reintroduced to the area in a project administered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW ) and the San Juan National Forest…

In 1874, naturalist Charles E. Aiken collected and preserved samples of the San Juan cutthroat in Pagosa Springs, one of which has been stored in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., since the late 1800s.

The San Juan cutthroat was believed to have gone extinct about 100 years ago.

About 10 years ago, samples of a cutthroat were collected, but scien- tists didn’t, or couldn’t, prove that it was the same genetically pure San Juan cutthroat that originated in the San Juan Watershed and was collected in 1874.

“There were a couple populations identified around 10 years ago,” Hanks said. “People started looking at ‘em and saying, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with these, there might be something special about these. But, the consensus was that they were just some sort of hybrid.”

Last year, modern genetic test- ing was done on the fish samples collected 10 years ago that prove a genetic match between the recent samples and the Smithsonian samples from the late 1800s. “Now we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that those fish we’ve always wondered about are indeed the San Juan lineage cutthroat trout. They are not a hybrid, they are native to the San Juan Basin,” said Hanks.

Now, CPW, the San Juan National Forest and Trout Unlimited are partnering to breed and reintroduce the San Juan cutthroat, in abundance, to the area around Pagosa Springs…

The project, currently under- way, will breed the San Juan cut- throats in the Durango hatchery and ultimately release them into Wolf Creek, near Wolf Creek Pass…

Hanks explained that Wolf Creek was chosen as the site of the proj- ect because “it’s a very productive fishery.”

The San Juan cutthroat bred in Durango will be released into Wolf Creek around the summer of 2022.

Pagosa Springs: Meeting to discuss new San Juan cutthroat trout management, April 16, 2019

Courtesy Photo This trout is one of a new pure genetic strain of cutthroat trout found recently by Colorado Parks and wildlife biologists. This photo was taken at CPW’s Durango fish hatchery via the South Fork Tines.

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The South Fork Tines:

Management plans for a new pure genetic strain of cutthroat trout will be discussed at a meeting, 6:30 p.m., April 16 at the Springs Resort, 165 Hot Springs Blvd. in Pagosa Springs.

The meeting will be led by representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited-Five Rivers chapter and the U.S Forest Service.
The unique San Juan River cutthroat trout was found by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists several years ago; however, the find was only verified last year thanks to advanced genetic testing techniques. Specimens of the fish were found in eight remote and isolated streams in Southwest Colorado on public and private land. Last summer, some trout were spawned on site and the fertilized eggs were taken to CPW’s Durango hatchery to be raised. Some trout were also removed because the streams were in danger of being damaged by the 416 Fire.

“The goal of the meeting is to provide additional information on the San Juan Cutthroat trout lineage discovery, how we plan on conserving the fish, and what that might mean for fishing opportunities in the future,” said Jim White, CPW’s aquatic biologist in Durango.

The focus of the initial conservation efforts will be in the upper reaches of Wolf Creek in Mineral County. A portion of the creek was treated last summer to kill non-native trout in the stream. CPW hopes that some San Juan cutthroats can be stocked there this summer. CPW is also working with the U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, water agencies and private landowners to identify other waters where the fish can be stocked.

Discovery of the fish dates back to 1874 when naturalist Charles E. Aiken removed and preserved two of the fish and placed them in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. The specimen was forgotten until 2012 when researchers from the University of Colorado and CPW were searching for old trout specimens in the nation’s museums. When the researchers tested tissue from those two specimens they found genetic markers unique to the San Juan River Basin. Armed with the knowledge of these genetic “fingerprints”, CPW researchers and biologists set out to test all the cutthroat trout they could find in the basin in search of any relic populations.

John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southwest Region in Durango, said re-establishing the fish will be a long-term process.
“Finding and identifying the fish was a tremendous discovery,” Alves said. “But because the populations we’ve found are so small it will take years of work by CPW’s fish culturists and our biologists to establish self-sustaining populations.”

Cutthroat trout originated in the Pacific Ocean and are one of the most diverse fish species in North America with 14 different subspecies. Three related subspecies are found in Colorado: Colorado River cutthroat trout found west of the Continental Divide; greenback cutthroat trout in the South Platte River Basin; and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the San Luis Valley. Cutthroats from each of these areas have specific and distinctive genetic markers. CPW propagates the three remaining subspecies, and actively manages their conservation and recovery throughout the state.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

A One-of-a-Kind Solution for a River in Critical Need — @CORiverTed #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Walton Family Foundation (Ted Kowalski):

To save endangered fish and support healthy water levels, conservationists get creative on the Colorado River’s 15-Mile Reach

The Colorado River—that ancient and mighty flow that has carved the landscape of the American West over millennia—serves as a primary water source for approximately 40 million people. But there is a stretch in the headwaters that at times runs so low and weak it has trouble sustaining some of its oldest inhabitants.

This stretch, known as the 15-Mile Reach, is home to four federally endangered fish species–the Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, Bonytail and Razorback Sucker. In the springtime, when irrigation diversions begin but snowpack runoff is still nominal, the 15-Mile Reach can drop to dangerously low levels.

Now, a groundbreaking deal between Walton Family Foundation grantee the Colorado Water Trust, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water and power in the West, have secured a legal mechanism to be able to send more water down the river at critical times through a creative arrangement that both enhances environmental and recreational flows and protects existing water rights.

The “braiding” of shallow water and exposed riverbed concerns biologists. Photo © Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The deal provides habitat protection for these embattled fish species by bringing more water into the Reach when it is needed.

This mechanism allows water to be protected from the point of conservation all the way down and through any excess capacity at the Grand Valley Power Plant, then provides instream flow benefits down and through the 15-Mile Reach.

The agreement, like many involving water in the West, required resourceful thinking among all participants. That’s because under current state law, there aren’t many options for upstream water rights owners to send some of their water downstream for the benefit of conservation without going through an often protracted water court process.

And some might question whether using a water right, even for this kind of worthy cause, meets the “beneficial use” standard required by law.

Humpback chub are one of four federally endangered fish species that rely on habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Faced with that hurdle, the partners needed to find another path forward that met that strict legal requirement. They found their solution just north of the Reach in the aging Grand Valley hydro-electric facility.

Built in 1933, the plant is now undergoing a substantial renovation with help from the Colorado Water Trust.

The Trust was able to lease excess capacity in the hydropower plant, and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District used these proceeds from this lease to help pay for some of the renovations. This kind of creative win-win solution is a model for how we manage the river in the future.

By bringing clean power into the equation, the deal operates under the umbrella of existing law to give water rights owners the flexibility and go-ahead to support a healthy and sustainable river ecosystem.

“The agreement sends water to a critical reach of the river without requiring a permanent change to those water rights,” explains Anne Castle, a Colorado water lawyer and former assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Interior Department.

Water travels through a roller dam, generating power, then continues downstream. Roller Dam near Palisade. Photo credit: Hutchinson Water Center

Anne helped broker the groundbreaking deal.

“This arrangement could set a precedent moving forward,” Anne says, “and it also proves that there is a way for those with water supplies to be able to send water downstream in a voluntary, compensated and temporary manner.”

The final agreement is an innovative “three-fer” that provides multiple benefits.

First, the water is protected for instream flow benefits from the original point of use down to the hydropower plant. Then, the water’s momentum is harnessed by the plant and converted to clean energy. Finally, the water continues downstream, augmenting the 15-Mile Reach and helping the river flow at healthier levels, which benefits the fish.

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

Water is scarce in the West. Securing the necessary federal, state and local approvals can require a great deal of coordination—and more than a little ingenuity. This is precisely why this nimble approach is such a landmark achievement.

As the health of the Colorado River Basin reaches a critical inflection point, with demand for water now exceeding supply, more agile, innovative projects like what is being accomplished for the 15-Mile Reach offer a new vision for a water-strapped West.

Complex problems often require innovative solutions. As growing populations continue to rely on the 1,500 miles of the Colorado River, this victory proves that progress is possible—often one mile at a time.

Ted Kowalski: Colorado River Initiative Lead and Senior Program Officer
Ted is a senior program officer, leading the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River initiative.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

The Nature Conservancy is building a system to supply water to the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve for razorback sucker habitat

From KSLTV.com (John Hollenhorst):

The rescue project is on the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve, a property owned by The Nature Conservancy on the fringes of Moab alongside the Colorado River. Over the last few weeks, construction crews have been creating a special side-channel that will carry river-water into the wetlands during periods of higher water. It’s designed to mimic – on a small scale – the natural system of annual spring flooding that’s been disrupted over the last century or so by dams, diversions and other human activity.

“We don’t have the same magnitude of flood events, or the same duration, or even the same timing,” said Zach Ahrens, a fish biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, one of several agencies that have partnered on the project.

In the spring, the suckers spawn and hatch tiny babies in the main current of the river. The plan is to divert the higher spring flows through the new channel into a large pond in the Matheson wetlands. Actually, in recent years it hasn’t really resembled a pond because it contains so little water. The new channel is aimed at refilling it from time to time to give the larvae of razorback suckers an alternative, temporary habitat.

“Away from the main channel allows for a little bit warmer water, which allows the fish to grow more quickly,” Ahrens said. “It also allows them some refuge from the turbulent currents that occur during spring runoff.”

If they stay out in the main channel of the river, the larvae are highly vulnerable to being eaten by non-native fish that have taken over the Colorado. “They’re maybe a half an inch long,” Ahrens said. “They’re tiny little translucent noodle-looking things.”

But if they can spend a few months in an off-stream nursery, they can come out big and strong.

“If we can bring them into a safe harbor, into a nursery and give them the months they need to grow to a sufficient size, and then release them back into the river, then they can compete” Whitham said.

When they re-enter the Colorado River, they’ll have a better chance of stand up to hungry non-native predators that were accidentally or deliberately introduced in the last few decades.

“If we can help bring back these populations of native fish, who have been around for millions of years, and get them to sufficient sizes, then we’ll know that we’re doing something right,” Whitham said.

The project is being built in phases because all the funding hasn’t been lined up yet. The Nature Conservancy hopes to fill the gap with state and federal grants as well as private contributions.