New fees will protect Colorado waters from invasive mussels — @COParksWildlife

ANS mitigation Navajo Lake June 6, 2018. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewanowski):

In order to keep destructive quagga and zebra mussels out of lakes and reservoirs in Colorado, boaters will help to provide crucial funding for the state’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Inspection Program starting in 2019.

“Colorado is one of just a few states in the country that doesn’t have an infestation of adult zebra or quagga mussels in any of its waters,” said Elizabeth Brown, invasive species program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “That’s directly attributable to our watercraft inspection and decontamination prevention program that’s been in place since 2008.”

Earlier this year, the Colorado General Assembly approved a bill that requires those who operate motorboats and sailboats on waters of the state to purchase an ANS stamp annually. The cost of the stamp for Colorado residents is $25. For boaters coming to Colorado from other states or provinces the stamp will cost $50. The stamp fee is separate from the annual boat registration permit but will be included in the cost of registration for in-state boats. The stamp and registration is currently available for residents at CPW offices and the agency website. Boaters coming from other states can buy their stamp online, at CPW offices or at any sales location beginning January 1, 2019.

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

Mussel infestations cause a variety of major problems. Because mussels consume plankton they disrupt the food web and out-compete sport fish and native fish. Mussels clog infrastructure, including reservoir dams, outlet structures and distribution systems that carry water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses. Mussels also infest boats and damage engines.

Mussels have caused billions of dollars in damage, especially in the upper Midwest and Lower Colorado River. Nearby states where mussel infestations exist include Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma.

Since the ANS program started in Colorado in 2008, CPW staff and other entities have completed 4.4 million boat inspections, more than 90,000 boats have been subject to decontamination procedures and 195 vessels with confirmed mussel infestations have been intercepted and decontaminated. The threat of boats transporting mussels also appears to be growing: This year 51 boats with adult mussels were found at inspection stations, far more than the previous record of 26 boats in one year.

The new fee will cover half of the cost of the inspection program. The remainder will be paid by CPW and a variety of stakeholders, including federal agencies, local governments, water providers and other partners.

“We appreciate that Colorado boaters have been very cooperative with CPW on the ANS inspection program. And we all need to continue to be vigilant,” Brown said.

Razorback suckers are hanging on in the San Juan River

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists counted 50 yearling razorbacks during a recent survey in the upper Colorado River Basin — the result of water releases in 2016 and 2017 from the Navajo Reservoir aimed at helping the fish, agency officials said this week.

Federal operators of the reservoir let out 5,000 cubic feet of water per second for 50 days, more than doubling regular flows in the San Juan River. This increased flow created nursery pools, the habitat razorbacks and three other endangered native fish need to spawn and survive.

Saving razorbacks and other fish “is going to be totally dependent ” on putting more water into rivers, said Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a 25-year, $360 million government-run rescue effort.

“We’re not going to be able to restore the natural hydrological conditions. We understand that,” Chart said. “But we can recreate conditions that help young fish much more regularly.”

Yet the intensifying climate shift toward heat and aridity in Southwestern states, combined with population growth, constrains biologists’ push to put more water into rivers for environmental purposes. No water could be released this year from the Navajo Reservoir, which straddles Colorado and New Mexico and holds 1.7 million acre-feet, Bureau of Reclamation engineer Susan Behery said. Probably none will be spared next year, either, because water managers are prioritizing storage after a near-record low snow year left the reservoir half full.

Raising, stocking razorbacks

For more than 30 years, federal biologists responsible for emergency rescues of endangered species have relied on raising razorbacks in hatcheries and copiously stocking them into Colorado River tributaries. Razorbacks evolved in wild free-flowing rivers, enduring for millions of years, until widespread dams and diversions reduced and regularized nature’s fluctuating flows. The razorback had nearly blinked out by 1980 with only 100 survivors — weakened by the disruption of flows and attacked by non-native predators such as bass, walleye and pike that state wildlife agencies have introduced for recreational sport fishing…

Federal survey crews counted the 50 yearling razorbacks along the San Juan River downriver from the Navajo Reservoir. That’s the most fish counted since the surveys began two decades ago. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists calculated that this many yearlings could mean there are thousands of razorbacks along a 180-mile stretch of the river before it reaches Lake Powell.

Navajo tribal biologists have embraced the effort to save razorbacks and other imperiled native fish. A Navajo team this year helped move 300 razorbacks over a barrier for spawning while weeding out non-native predators.

“We are trying to preserve the razorback for our future generations,” said Navajo fish biologist Jerrod Bowman. “So that our kids can see razorbacks. … Our numbers are really looking great.”

“Far from the self-sustaining populations”

The problem with officially upgrading the status of fish, Bowman said, is that just the presence of yearlings may not establish that a species has become self-sustaining as required. Razorbacks usually don’t reproduce until they’re at least 2 years old. Adults can live up to 40 years.

Under President Donald Trump, federal wildlife officials have faced pressure to upgrade and de-list endangered species when scientists still aren’t certain about survival, said ecologist Taylor McKinnon, a public lands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.

@USBR selects three submissions to receive prizes for the eradication of invasive mussels in open water prize competition

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced today that Reclamation has selected three submissions for its prize competition seeking ideas to eradicate mussels in open water. Steven Suhr and Marie-Claude Senut will receive a full award of $80,000 for their idea while Wen Chen and Absar Alum with Stephanie Bone will each receive $10,000.

“Providing water managers with new tools to control invasive quagga and zebra mussels is an important part of protecting infrastructure and ecosystems,” Commissioner Burman said. “Reclamation is committed to working with our partners to prevent the spread of quagga and zebra mussels in the West.”

The prize competition was a theoretical challenge and sought innovative solutions to eradicate invasive quagga and zebra mussels from large reservoirs, lakes and rivers in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner. Invasive mussel infestations pose a significant logistical and economic challenge for local communities, recreationists and water managers. There is no practical method available today for the large-scale control of invasive dreissenid mussel population once they become established.

Steven Suhr and Marie-Claude Senut, founders of Biomilab, LLC, proposed using genomic modification to induce a lethal malignant hemic neoplasia in mussels that can be transferred from one mussel to another by proximity. They suggested utilizing the CRISPR/cas9-mediated genome modification to target the function or expression of endogenous dreissenid mussel p53 or telomerase reverse transcriptase genes, or to introduce the viral SV40 Tag gene. This submission for the prize competition received $80,000.

Wen Chen, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School, proposed utilizing single stranded DNA/RNA oligonucleotide-based aptamers to target the modified amino acid 3,4 dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA) or dreissenid specific foot proteins to interrupt attachment, eventually leading to mussel mortality. The use of aptamers to target DOPA and foot proteins to interrupt mussel settlement is a novel idea and received $10,000.

Absar Alum of BioDetek with Stephanie Bone proposed genome modification to develop male mussels that produce sperm containing a light triggered optogenetic switch to drive upregulation or downregulation of cyclin-b expression resulting in death of the fertilized egg. This strategy relies on sunlight penetration into the upper portions of a water body to turn on the optogenetic switch in free-floating, transparent developing eggs and embryos. It was found to be a novel idea and received $10,000.

A total of 238 solvers signed up to solve this challenge and more than 100 solvers submitted solutions. Of those solutions submitted, 67 were deemed viable and were judged. Reclamation collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Molloy & Associates on this prize competition. To learn more about this prize competition please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/mussels.html.

The results of this prize competition will support a broader effort by the federal government, as well as work by the Western Governors’ Association, western states, and tribes to protect western ecosystems, water infrastructure and hydroelectric facilities from invasive mussels. To learn more, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/mussels.

CRISPR-Cas9 is a method of genome editing that exploits a natural DNA-snipping enzyme in bacteria, called Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) to target and edit particular genes. CRISPR stands for Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, which are segments of DNA of a particular structure found widely in bacteria and archaea (prokaryotes). In the wild, the CRISPR-Cas9 system is part of the prokaryotic immune system, which can snip out of the genome DNA acquired from foreign sources such as phages (bacterial viruses). The same molecular machinery is now being used to enable genetic material to be cut from and pasted into the genomes of other organisms, including eukaryotes such as humans. It might offer a tool for curing genetically based diseases. Graphic via Cambridge University

Protecting the River’s Edge from an Invasive Threat

From The Walton Family Foundation (Peter Skidmore):

In the Colorado River Basin, RiversEdge West leads a coordinated effort to restore critical habitat

Doug King’s family has been ranching the lands around the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado since the 1930’s. “It’s beautiful−I call it John Wayne country,” Doug says, proudly. “I’m the third generation on the land, my son will be the fourth generation, and his son will be the fifth.”

Over the decades, Doug experienced firsthand the steady, relentless creep of invasive plant species like tamarisk and Russian olive and its impact on the land he has cared for his whole life. The damage has been extensive, threatening the larger riparian—or river bank—habitat that in the Colorado River Basin ultimately supports more than 40 million lives across two nations.

As the unwelcome vegetation pressed in on essential farmland and fish and wildlife habitat, Doug and many others in the region understood it was time to lock arms and push back.

Originally conceptualized in 1999 to discuss strategies for addressing invasive plant species along rivers in western Colorado, the then-named Tamarisk Coalition was fueled by a desire to shape a landscape-scale solution. The group had observed that conventional site-by-site eradication simply wasn’t able to move quickly enough.

“People were getting grants to do five acres or half a mile” of tamarisk removal, recalls Tim Carlson, the coalition’s first executive director. “That wasn’t going to solve the problem. We started with a bold approach: If we were going to solve this problem, it’s got to be a regional solution.”

The introduction of the tamarisk is a story of unintended consequences. Long thought to prevent erosion along the banks of western rivers, its presence was so valued in earlier days that Boy Scouts would receive badges for planting it. But the persistent shrub with scale-like leaves took to its adopted habitat like a parasite, displacing native vegetation.

Restoring and sustaining the overall health of the Colorado River Basin has been a primary goal of the Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program since its inception nearly a decade ago. And, the program’s first grant to the Tamarisk Coalition in 2009 supported its restoration efforts along the San Miguel and Dolores river systems. Gradually, the foundation expanded its support to also include work along the Escalante, Verde and Gila systems.

“We have a great relationship with the foundation where we present innovative ideas, and they help us scale up these efforts. The investment affects a vast landscape, bolsters our work and has helped us promote best practices to other organizations,” says Cara Kukuraitis, outreach and education coordinator for the organization now known as RiversEdge West.

The organization changed its name in 2018 to reflect its broader work in Western riparian areas and the surrounding communities. But it retains its unique and core operating model—to facilitate collaboration and information-sharing across diverse groups and individuals to accomplish riparian restoration at a larger scale than any one partner can attain on its own. As a result, RiversEdge West now supports 20 ambitious multi-stakeholder partnerships encompassing federal, state, and community organizations throughout the American West, teaching best practices to over 300 local public and private restoration organizations and successfully restoring some 11,500 acres—and counting—of riparian habitat.

The state of Colorado is among the group’s core partners.

“Our relationship with RiversEdge West has allowed Colorado Parks and Wildlife to more effectively meet our mission of improving the wildlife habitat within the state,” explains Peter Firmin, manager of the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park.

“The networking and training opportunities provided by RiversEdge West allow us to leverage intellectual and financial resources to improve habitat along the Colorado River. As a group, we are able to accomplish more than we could as individuals.”

The work of RiversEdge West and its growing network is bolstered by an array of technical tools. For example, a multi-partner geodatabase stores and shares data with land managers, so they can see how their projects connect and positively impact the landscape over time.

“The data helps us establish and measure progress against quantitative goals, so the project can jump from removing tamarisk by just cutting trees to collecting data on the extent of the problem and promoting ways to encourage the ecosystem’s overall health,” says Cara.

It is a testament to the organization’s enduring value that its annual conference attracts upwards of 200 representatives from Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah and Mexico to connect on riparian restoration science.

The organization also is working to convey the broad importance of these efforts through its ongoing “Riverside Stories” web series, which tells the personal stories of people who call this land home and are working to restore this habitat for future generations. Among them is Doug and his family.

“I have a theory that we should leave the land better than how we got it,” Doug notes in sharing his story. “The Colorado River is soon going to be the most important resource in the West. We are just caretakers. You are only going to be here 50-60 years, and then somebody else is going to have this land.

Non-native tamarisk are demonized across the West, but are they really the enemy? — Cronkite News

From Cronkite News (Rae Ellen Bichell):

The tamarisk, which was brought to the U.S. from Eurasia in the late 1800s for erosion control, windbreaks and decoration, is much detested. Since its introduction, tamarisk – also known as salt cedar – has been blamed for choking waterways, hogging water and salting the earth as its range expands, driving out such native trees as cottonwood and willows. In Palisade, Colorado, a state lab is breeding beetles whose sole purpose is to destroy tamarisk. At one point, the University of Nevada published a poster about the plant titled WANTED – Dead, Not Alive!

“There’s been a concerted effort to demonize tamarisk,” said Matt Chew, a historian of invasion biology at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. But he thinks this war is aimed at the wrong enemy.

The tree, he said, is a scapegoat for our struggle with something much bigger and messier than weedy fields: our relationship with water in the West.

The tamarisk has a reputation for hogging water – but is it warranted?

“This is one of the constant counts against tamarisk – that it’s wasting water,” Chew said. “That particular idea got started in the late 1930s and early 1940s for a very particular reason.”

Back then, Chew says, the Phelps Dodge Corp. wanted to expand its copper mine in Arizona, but it didn’t have the water it needed for the additional mining and processing. All the water rights to a nearby creek and river had been allocated.

“What they needed was an excuse to say there was more water in the rivers so that Phelps Dodge could have more water,” Chew said. “So, where are they going to get more water?”

Phelps Dodge inspected nearby water sources and found lots of tamarisk growing along the banks, Chew said. Mine officials rationalized that if they could prove the tamarisk was draining river water, he said, the mine could potentially get the rights to the “extra” water available by killing tamarisk.

“Phelps Dodge did a bunch of experiments which were later picked up by the Agriculture Department,” Chew said, adding that Phelps Dodge ended up getting its water rights through other means, but the tamarisk’s image was destroyed.

As Chew writes in the “Journal of the History of Biology,” “with water shortages, economic development during the Depression and copper mining for national defense during World War Two, federal hydrologists moved quickly to recast tamarisks as water-wasting foreign monsters.”

Since then, researchers have shown that the tree doesn’t use more water than native riparian vegetation, including cottonwoods.

To make matters worse, big changes were occurring in the 1930s and ’40s in the way that water was being moved through the West. Dams and diversions were changing the patterns of flooding, patterns that used to be in sync with the reproductive cycle of more sensitive native plants, such as cottonwoods.

“To some extent, the way we were managing Western rivers actually created a giant tamarisk housing project,” Chew said. If the tamarisk is a monster, he said, it’s because we created it.

“If you want good, old-fashioned 17th-century riparian areas in the western U.S.,” Chew said, “you can’t take all the water out of the river. You can’t have big irrigated fields. You can’t have huge cities.”

Anna Sher, an invasive species biologist at the University of Denver and author of the book “Tamarix: A Case Study of Ecological Change in the American West,” agrees that Tamarix (the species’ genus) isn’t all bad.

Yes, Tamarix can create saltier surface soil that retards other vegetation, and its dense wood can fuel more intense fires. Sher even has heard that a boater drowned in Arizona because rescuers couldn’t get through the dense thickets of tamarisk crowding the shore in time to help him.

But, she says, “I certainly do not hate this plant.”

It provides nesting spots for the Southwestern willow flycatcher, for example, and she says it’s entirely possible for the trees to be a part of the landscape without completely taking over.

“It’s only behaving badly because of the way that we’ve managed our rivers,” Sher said.

Although the way we manage our rivers isn’t going to change anytime soon, Sher sees hope for restoring the landscape. It’s called the Field of Dreams hypothesis.

“The Field of Dreams hypothesis predicts that when you remove the invasive species, there’s an opportunity for the desirable species to come in,” she said.

Initially, Sher and other ecologists suspected the hypothesis was a pipe dream.

“But after doing surveys of hundreds of sites throughout the American Southwest, we can see that, on average, native species will come back and they’ll come back proportionally to how much tamarisk has been removed,” she said. “More tamarisk taken out, more native plants can come in.”

There are two conditions required for successful restoration. First, there has to be enough water in the rivers and streams to supply the new vegetation. Second, the public has to remain open to what native plants might come back. They might not be the cottonwoods and willows people hope for.

“It’s a new game now with Tamarix here and with the water needs that we have now,” Sher said, and humans will have to get used to plants that can handle the landscape as we’ve shaped it.

Those plants might be drought-adapted shrubs and grasses instead of picnic-worthy trees. And they will most certainly have a tamarisk or two as neighbors.

@USBR allocates more than $4 million to combat quagga and zebra mussels in the West

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has allocated more than $4 million for federal, state, and tribal projects to prevent, contain, control, and monitor invasive quagga and zebra mussels in the West. This funding advances actions announced by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in June 2017 as part of the initiative called “Safeguarding the West: Actions to Strengthen Federal, State, and Tribal Coordination to Address Invasive Mussels.” This funding builds on $1 million in 2017 to support initiatives by the federal government, as well as work by the Western Governors’ Association, western states, and tribes to protect western ecosystems, water infrastructure, and hydroelectric facilities from invasive mussels.

“For more than a century, Reclamation and its partners in the West have invested in water infrastructure that is today at risk from invasive quagga and zebra mussels,” Commissioner Brenda Burman said. “The funding we are announcing today will be used on efforts to prevent their spread while improving ways to manage facilities when the first sign of these invasive mussels is detected.”

“The fight against invasive mussels in the West requires collaboration and partnership at all levels of government, including, importantly, those between Reclamation and Western states,” said the Western Governors’ Association. “With this new funding, western states will be able to enhance invasive mussel management at many levels, including research, monitoring, prevention, and enforcement.”

Highlights of the funded projects include these actions:

  • Purchasing inspection and decontamination stations to inspect and decontaminate boats leaving the lower Colorado River in California and Nevada, including supporting the National Park Service at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
  • Supporting the Salish Kootenai Tribe at Flathead Lake Aquatic Invasive Species program.
  • Developing vulnerability assessments for facilities and infrastructure at risk of mussel infestation in the Columbia River Basin.
  • Assisting the State of Arizona in providing law enforcement support at inspection stations.
  • Funding research for the State of Montana and Reclamation on viability of veligers in residual water in boats.
  • Supporting watercraft inspection stations at Reclamation reservoirs in Nebraska and Kansas.
  • Implementing the state Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan at water bodies owned by Reclamation in Utah.
  • Analyzing water quality to determine which water bodies should be prioritized for invasive mussel monitoring and prevention in California.
  • Continuing and enhancing water quality and quagga mussel monitoring program at high-priority programs in the Pacific Northwest and various reservoirs in the upper Colorado River Basin.
  • Conducting watercraft inspections at Navajo and Elephant Butte reservoirs in New Mexico.
  • Invasive mussels pose challenges for Reclamation and others who manage water. Invasive mussels are prolific breeders and settle on or within water facility infrastructure such as water intakes, gates, diversion screens, hydropower equipment, pumps, pipelines and boats. Infested water and hydropower infrastructure can fail or choke off water transmissions. The mussels also negatively impact the natural ecology, which can be detrimental to native and endangered species, including native fisheries. To learn more about invasive mussel management and research at Reclamation, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/mussels.

    Tamarisk Program Begins Restoration Phase — The Prowers Journal

    From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

    A tamarisk eradication spray program begun almost ten years ago along a portion of the Arkansas River has transitioned into a restoration project this year by the Colorado Division of Natural Resources and Parks and Wildlife. Travis Black, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager, said a restoration program has begun which will re-seed the areas between Granada and the Kansas State Line. “The area will be re-vegetated with natural grass species along with willow shrubs and we’re planting cottonwood poles as well,” he explained, adding that the eradication program took some hops and skips between the towns along the river to the Kansas border.

    Tamarisk, similar to Russian Thistle, is an invasive plant introduced into southeast Colorado decades ago. Unfortunately, it consumes hundreds of gallons of water per plant and is very hard to kill. Its growth along the Arkansas River allowed it to spread, siphoning off thousands of gallons of water and added to the salinity of the river. Another drawback was in flood mitigation as the plant, growing along the banks of the river, restricted the water flow along the channel which created backups and flooding. The trick to effectively killing off tamarisk is patience. Even after a comprehensive spraying program, it takes a minimum of three years to be sure the limbs, seed and especially roots are dead.

    A collaboration of a number of groups including the NRCS and Prowers County sought grant funding to finance the aerial spraying of approximately 400 acres to begin with in 2009, but because of increased funding and a lower cost of service, the area was increased to 1,500 acres. Contributing groups included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Land Board, Holly Flood District, Tri-State G & T and the Northeast Prowers Conservation District among others and some private landowners.

    Black said, some of the spraying was more effective than anticipated as a lot of the undergrowth was killed off along with the tamarisk and that eliminated the cover for local wildlife species. The revegetation program will help restore the riparian areas to their natural state and habitat. Not all of the funding is complete for the entire stretch of river into Kansas, but the acreage has been cleared along the Arkansas River, especially visible as you cross the bridge along Highway 50 just a few miles west of Holly. He said there’s no end date to the restoration program, but it will continue when new funding streams become available. The dead tamarisk plants were excavated and ground up on the spot, using specialized equipment that is loaned out to projects around the state.