La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps take the fight to Russian Olive trees

Russian Olive
Russian Olive

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Two years ago, a partnership between La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps removed Russian Olive, along with two other invasive species – tamarisk and Siberian elm – from more than 300 acres of the Animas River valley.

However, lands targeted during that project focused only on property owners who had placed their land under a conservation easement. There remained the need to address other landowners in the valley, Mountain Studies Institute’s Amanda M. Kuenzi said.

As a result, MSI applied, and was awarded, a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year project to remove invasive plants from Bakers Bridge to the New Mexico line.

This week, crews from Southwest Conservation Corps embarked on the first leg of the project: a three-week effort on about 15 properties in the Animas Valley, including James Ranch and the Zink farm.

This fall’s removal, Kuenzi said, also serves as a pilot project aimed to garner interest from adjacent landowners.

“We really hope to get property owners who haven’t been involved to get aggressive on this,” Kuenzi said.

Kuenzi said because of diligent past efforts from Animas Valley landowners, as well as the city of Durango, among other entities, the presence of Russian olive and other invasive species isn’t nearly as problematic as in neighboring communities.

“If you go to Farmington, the Russian olive is wall to wall,” she said. “But we’ve worked on the problem here for decades, and that’s why our area isn’t overwhelmed. Still, we need to nip this problem in the bud so future generations don’t have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Cathy Metz, parks and recreation manager with the city of Durango, said the city has strategically fought Russian olive and other non-native plants on its property for years.

“We still have an ongoing monitoring situation, but we really don’t have many remaining on city property,” she said. “But certainly, we really advocate for collaborative effort to remove these species just because they are so invasive.”

Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said Russian olive is not on the list of weeds the county targets, but that the issue may be a topic of conversation later this month.

Russian olives are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage and limit their spread under Colorado state law.

Regardless, work carried out this week by Southwest Conservation Corp’s eight-person crew aims to cut down the plant. They then drop riparian-safe herbicide on the root so the plant doesn’t grow back.

“The hard part is really trying to spot all of them,” crew leader Alyssa Engdahl said while scouring the Zink property Wednesday. “And, of course, the thorns.”

The project next year will be four months, with the aim of extending into the Florida River watershed, a tributary of the Animas. The effort as a whole, Kuenzi said, largely depends on the community’s response.

“We really need all landowners’ participation to make this program a success and to ensure the health of our watershed for years to come,” she said.

Mussel risk at McPhee could limit boat access — The Cortez Journal

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A plan is being considered by local, state and federal agencies to close the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps with locked gates during times when boat inspectors are absent. The new management strategy would go into effect in 2017.

Currently, there are no gates at the boat ramps, and trailered boats can launch after hours when boat inspection stations are unattended.

“It is important to fill the inspection gaps, because the problems and expense of mussel contamination are severe,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages irrigation at McPhee reservoir…

Their presence causes damage and vastly increases maintenance costs long-term. They negatively impact the lake’s sport fishery by filtering the water and competing for food.

McPhee is considered an at-risk lake for the mussels because of its proximity to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both of which are heavily contaminated with the mussel…

Locals know about the problem, and understand the importance of draining and drying their boats, Preston said.

“The worry is a visitor arrives with an infected boat that slips through. It just takes one,” he said.

DWCD, the Bureau of Reclamation, San Juan National Forest, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife signed a memorandum last week to share long-term costs and management for the proposal to improve the McPhee boat inspection program. The program currently costs $85,000 per year to run.

McPhee’s two boat inspection stations typically analyze between 8,000 and 12,000 trailered boats per year since 2009, and the numbers have increased in the past two years.

This year at McPhee, the number of boats needing decontamination went up 40 percent, managers said.

The new plan would limit access for the public such as for boaters wanting to put on early in the morning, or late evening, before and after the boat inspection stations are open. Access during shoulder seasons would also be reduced because inspections stations are open less.

Zebra and Quagga Mussels
Zebra and Quagga Mussels

Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife coordinate Greenback cutthroat trout release

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Specialists with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife carried 269 greenback cutthroat trout in backpacks — protected in small plastic bags filled with water — about 2.5 miles to a section of Sand Creek.

There, they placed the fish in the waters and let them swim free — an effort to reintroduce Colorado’s state fish into its native region, the Platte River Basin, and to study whether they will thrive in a unique stream versus non-native brook trout…

The greenbacks made their way onto the endangered species list until, several decades ago, researchers discovered what they thought were a population of this species. Efforts to revive and reintroduce the species led to the fish being downgraded to a threatened species by 1978.

But genetics, which have improved in the past 15 years, proved experts wrong. These fish were not genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout.

A colony of fish in Bear Creek near Colorado Springs, however, was discovered within the past five years and is believed to be the only one left in the state.

Genetic testing by researchers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, University of Colorado and Colorado State University compared these fish to samples that were collected in the 1860s and preserved at the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard Museum and proved that they were in fact, pure greenback cutthroat trout, Kehmeier explained.

Fish biologists have since been conserving and growing the population of this fish to put them back into their native habitat.

Populations have been introduced into Zimmerman Lake on top of Cameron Pass and Rock Creek in South Park and now into Sand Creek on Larimer County’s Red Mountain Open Space. This fall, more will go into Sand Creek, a small 3-mile stretch that is sustained by spring inputs and rainfall, as well as into Herman Gulch in Clear Creek.

Larimer County had hoped to reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout into Sand Creek and included that as a goal in its plan for the open space.

And recently, the timing was right because there were extra fish available at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery near Salida.

So, together, the county and state agencies put fish into the middle third of Sand Creek.

But first, they delivered an electrical shock to the one-mile middle section of the stream and removed all the nonnative brook trout to create a setting in which to study the fish. (The 875 trout they removed were donated to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Center for lunches and dinners.)

The first release, on July 21, involved putting yearlings that were about 5 inches long into one section of the water.

The second release, in September, will put fish into a section of the river in which brook trout still exist as well as the stretch that was recently stocked. These 1,000 fish will be 1-month old.

Then, biologists will study the population for years to come and see how the greenback cutthroat trout survive. And in about three years, time will reveal whether the fish not only survive but also are able to reproduce and thrive.

Removing Tamarisk on the San Miguel River — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy:

How an ambitious tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River set the precedent for future restoration work.

The free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, to a desert confluence with the Dolores River near the Utah border. The area is marked by Cottonwood forests with understory of willows and skunkbrush sumac and supports an array of wildlife such as great blue heron, American dipper, black swift, river otter, beaver, black bear, and mountain lion.

In 2005, a watershed-scale conservation plan developed by the Conservancy and partners identified the invasion of non-native species specifically tamarisk, Russian olive, and Chinese elm as the highest threat to the riparian vegetation along the San Miguel River.

Tamarisk replaces native vegetation, and accumulates high concentrations of salts in the soil, threatening plant and animal species and local economy dependent on the river and riparian systems. Removing tamarisk and other nonnative woody plants from riparian corridors improves water quantity and quality, and restores the health of native vegetation.

In response to this, the Conservancy designed a restoration plan and set an ambitious goal of making the San Miguel the first tamarisk-free river system in the Western United States, something that had never been tried before. Working with community members, landowners, the Bureau of Land Management and local government officials, the Conservancy educated stakeholders on the benefits of the project for the river ecosystem and garnered support from almost everyone in the watershed.

Starting in 2007, the project took seven years to complete. While not reaching the goal of a fully tamarisk-free river system, the woody invasive species abundance is drastically reduced in all of the areas that were treated. Analysis done in 2014 has shown that the removal work was a success and minimal continued management is needed.

“This comprehensive project was a first of its kind in the western United States and has become a model for large scale riparian restoration,” said Terri Schulz, director of landscape science and management for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

Efforts have expanded to projects on the Dolores River and prompted the establishment and expansion of groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition. By thinking about this work in the context of the whole watershed, the Conservancy was able to reach out to a wide variety of partners to provide leadership and manpower to the project and to grow the capacity for this work moving beyond the San Miguel watershed.

As the Conservancy plans for future restoration efforts, the tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River provides an outline for how to successfully work together with communities, landowners and the government to complete projects and reach largescale conservation goals.

#ColoradoRiver: CPW hopes public can understand its efforts at Elkhead Reservoir — Craig Daily Press #COriver

Elkhead Reservoir
Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Patrick Kelly):

The tournament is hosted by CPW, and it is offering over $6,000 in prizes, but the effort is part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program.

To prevent further federal involvement, the recovery program was formed in 1988 to provide endangered species act compliance and keep water development projects closer to the local level.

Three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — along with a multitude of federal agencies and private organizations formed the recovery program to help improve fish populations of the endangered humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and ponytail.

The program’s actions are dictated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it still provides an important buffer between state and federal government.

If the program fails and is dissolved, an individual who draws water from the Yampa River would have to justify their use and provide evidence that their use does not impact endangered fishes — a task the recovery program currently completes.

Sherman Hebein, CPW’s senior aquatic biologist for the northwest region, said his organization is hosting the tournament at Elkhead and offering serious prizes because it is important to engage the public in the effort to control non-natives.

Elkhead Reservoir is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.

But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir eat the four fish the recovery program is trying to save.

“The objective of this tournament is to suppress these fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike, to reduce the impact of those fish on the Yampa River,” Hebein said.

Hebein said protecting these fish easily approaches philosophical debate but genetic diversity is an important thing to protect.

“A lot of people ask what’s so important about these four fish species… don’t they live somewhere else?” he said. “These fish don’t live anywhere else… These fish are the true natives of the Colorado River Basin… If we don’t recover them here, they won’t be anywhere else.”

Until humans have a better understanding of DNA and what makes us tick, it is crucial to preserve all iterations of life, Hebein said.

“Until we can figure that out, we really need to conserve the DNA of all these living organisms because we don’t know how to make it,” he said.

But some are still opposed to a tournament that would potentially reduce the fishery in Elkhead Reservoir.

Steve Smith, Craig local and longtime Elkhead angler, had a sign posted in protest of the tournament at the turn off to the launch ramp.

“This is one of the closest lakes that we can fish,” he said. “It’s been holding it’s own for crappie or pike or bluegill but now they want to eliminate or lower the number of smallmouth or pike.”

Despite their differences, Smith and CPW officials were able to interact with respect. Smith understands that CPW has objectives to complete and CPW officials understand Smith’s passion for his hometown fishery.

Hebein said CPW is not out to kill the fishery, like many locals believe.

“We’re here to turn this lake into a far better fishery but to do that we have to suppress the numbers of big predators,” he said.

Hebein and CPW spokesman Mike Porras both said that without their efforts, Endangered Species Act compliance would be out the window and federal intrusion into local affairs would be even greater.

“Every water user would be compelled to deal with a Section 7 consultation with the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) on how their use of water would not impact the endangered fish,” he said. “That’s a lot of work and a lot of paperwork and that’s the reason behind why the recovery program has been such a valuable thing.”

Out of all the anglers interviewed by the Craig Daily Press on Saturday, only one was from Craig, and a gentleman from the Denver area joined him

The rest of the fishermen were from Grand Junction, Eagle or Rifle.

The tournament ends on June 19 with daily prizes for smallest, biggest and most fish caught. Catching a fish with a tag enters anglers into a raffle for big prizes, with the top prize being a new boat.

“The sooner that we can recover the endangered fish, the sooner we can have some more freedom,” said Hebein. “I’d like to encourage everyone to think about the recovery program and the value it has presented in everyone’s lives. How can we get together, recover the fish and move on from there?”

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Green Mountain Reservoir prone to invasive species invasion — The Summit Daily News

Zebra and Quagga Mussels
Zebra and Quagga Mussels

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

With boating season poised to kick off on Memorial Day weekend, it’s time to become vigilant over aquatic nuisance species — ANS, for short. These non-native troublemakers often physically change local ecosystems by altering traditional food chains, damage water infrastructure and degrade water quality, as well as limit fishing and recreational opportunities.

In Colorado, the main threat is zebra and quagga mussels, two freshwater species that are closely related and originated in Western Europe and Eastern Asia. These critters seek out dark and discreet crevices and clefts and fasten themselves to the underside of boats for protection.

Last year was a record year in the state for the number of boats found to possess these mussels by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the agency charged with most recreation, fish and wildlife management. By this same time in 2015, inspectors discovered three boats with the nuisance species and pinpointed 24 by the end of the season.

“It’s a real threat,” said Robert Walters, invasive species specialist for CPW. “In 2016, we’ve already intercepted five watercraft coming into the state with confirmed zebra and quagga mussels, so we’re on pace to exceed what we did last year.”

This particular invasive species removes major quantities of plankton, which act as food for juvenile fish, and other nutrients from the water. On top of that, if zebra and quagga mussels then go undetected and a boat encrusted with them launches into a different body of water and unintentionally transfers them, it is practically impossible to remove them permanently once they occupy it.

At many well-attended boating spots throughout the state, CPW relies exclusively on boater education programs through prevention campaigns and instructive signage to offset ANS issues. There are other locations, though, that are considered high-priority or high-risk due to their proximity to the Front Range.

On the White River National Forest, there are just three reservoirs that are considered at heightened risk from these invasive species entering the water from boaters. Those are Dillon Reservoir, Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and the Green Mountain Reservoir on the northern end of Summit County along the Blue River.

Denver Water, which manages Dillon Reservoir, pays for boat inspectors before vessels launch if they’ve been out of state or for residents if they’ve been in local, known infected water. Inspectors at the Ruedi and Green Mountain have in the past been financed by a combination of U.S. Forest Service regional dollars that get split up among the many districts, in addition to CPW funding.

But, as annual Forest Service budgets continue to dwindle — the White River had a general allocation of $31 million five years ago and for 2016 is operating on just $18 million — the local districts have had to make difficult choices and purge maintaining reserves for nonessential programs such as invasive species prevention. The Ruedi still has some funding streams to keep its program running, but Green Mountain has been less fortunate.

“As we’ve declined in our funding, we’ve had to prioritize what we do at the forest level,” said Bill Jackson, Dillon district ranger. “So what do we fund — seasonal employees, people, other programs or (invasive species)? Those are tough decisions to make, and some people think (infestation) is inevitable or don’t think that it’s money well spent.”

The predicament is, however, that without proper prevention measures, the cost of potential mussel contamination can be much, much higher. On some multiuse reservoirs around the country — Green Mountain is also the location of the Green Mountain Dam — maintenance can skyrocket where these problem species land because they can cause water treatment, irrigation and power generation facility snags.

“If there were quagga and zebra mussels in there,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “it would cost millions and millions of dollars annually. There is a huge, very expensive problem with them in Lake Powell, for instance, and a lot of Arizona reservoirs.”


Pueblo Reservoir is the only one in the state known to have the quagga mussel, though those spotted have only been in a developmental larval stage known as a veliger. While not yet pervasive, the goal remains to avert this problem in other favorite, yet susceptible, sites for boating such as Green Mountain.

“It’s just the veligers that have been detected,” Mike Porras, CPW’s public information officer, said of Pueblo Reservoir. “The inspections are critical to help keep our waters from becoming infested.”

Stiegelmeier, along with the Dillon Ranger District and CPW, are optimistic they can locate the necessary dollars to keep up mandatory inspections before boats launch into Green Mountain Reservoir. They are looking to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and manages the dam there, to take on the burden of these costs, while also still searching for other proceeds.

“We are doing our best to find money for these programs,” said Jackson. “If the funding doesn’t come through, then, like other locations, we’ll have to rely on educating boaters, signs and really getting the word out through websites and social media. Otherwise, we’ll just have to close the area to boating, and we don’t want to do that.

“We haven’t given up and we’re still beating the bushes for help,” he added, “and still looking at options here in Summit County. We’re doing what we can.”

Arkansas Valley: Wetter conditions = fewer tumbleweeds

Below is a video from 2013 when they were plowing tumbleweeds in Crowley County:

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It rained so much in 2015, that you would expect another stampede of tumbleweeds by this time.

But that hasn’t happened.

There’s not a whole lot of rolling and tumbling going on.
“We’ve seen less, but we’ve had a lot in the pastures,” said Gary Walker, whose 63,000acre ranches border Fort Carson in northern Pueblo County. “My biggest problems are from Fort Carson and the prairie dog towns.”

Walker thinks a combination of more moisture, the timing of the rains and grazing contributed to a decline in the Russian thistle, the primary tumbleweed culprit.

Typically, the plants can grow up to 5 or 6 feet before breaking off and blowing in the wind. During the drought of 2011-13, they clogged ditches, skirted up against fences and blew into piles across most of Southeastern Colorado. In some areas, there were stacks up to the eaves of houses.
But there has been a lull this year.

“We’ve seen some, but with the winds we’ve had in recent weeks haven’t created the big piles we were seeing,” said Bruce Fickenscher, rangeland specialist for Colorado State University Extension. “In Crowley County, we mowed them and grazed them more. There have been some places where the weeds blow in, but they’re staying put, more than in the past few years.”

Walker said the plants grew with deeper roots, and also credits more cattle with cropping them closer to the ground earlier.

“In the past, when we were moving more cattle, there were fewer tumbleweeds,” Walker said. “When we get back to a more normal deal, we’ll be able to graze more cattle.”

But the natural conditions also play a role.

“By and large, it’s because of the way the rains came and the size of them,” Fickenscher said. “The weeds provided some protection for the native plants underneath. With Russian thistle and kochia, the taproot is deep and brings nutrients up.”

As long as the moisture continues, the tumbleweeds might not be as big a problem.

“We’re sitting better this year than we have been in a while,” Fickenscher said. “After a couple years of rain, we have more moisture in the subsoil.”