Pitkin County launches project to restore ancient wetland at North Star Preserve near Aspen — @AspenJournalism

Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, shows off the recent work on a restoration project at a fen on North Star Nature Preserve, on Aug. 26. This fiber mat is plugging an old ditch that drained water from the wetland to the Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Natalie Keltner-McNeil):

On a recent morning, Liza Mitchell of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails rolled out fiber mats over a soil-filled portion of a ditch in the North Star Nature Preserve, adding a final layer to a wetland plug that the natural resource planner and ecologist and her team had been working on for the three weeks prior.

The plug is the central component of the program’s fen-restoration project, which aims to enhance the wetland’s ability to provide habitat, store and filter groundwater, and sequester carbon.

While North Star is known as an idyllic paddleboarding and beach destination, 77% of the preserve is closed to public access. This includes the property west of the Roaring Fork River, where the fen sits.

The preserve’s 245 acres function primarily to protect native species and ecosystems. The first 175 acres of the preserve were bought by the Nature Conservancy in 1977. In 2001, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the city of Aspen jointly purchased the 70 acres below the initial property, creating the current North Star Nature Preserve, according to the 2020 North Star management plan.

“It’s for wildlife,” Mitchell said of North Star.

Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, stands near the wetlands on the North Star Nature Preserve on Aug. 26. A restoration project aims to keep water in the fen, which is habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including ducks, plovers and moose. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

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Critical to the nature preserve

Aligning with the goal of conservation, Open Space and Trails staff identified the North Star fen as a site for ecological restoration. Situated in the northwest corner of the property, the 14-acre fen, which is a peat-filled wetland, is populated with sedges, reeds and grasses.

The wetland is critical to the entire preserve, providing wildlife habitat, water filtration and flood mitigation. In dry months, groundwater stored in the fen percolates into the Roaring Fork River, benefiting the watershed and its thirsty users, Mitchell said.

Yet, due to human alterations to the watershed and North Star, the fen is drying out. In 1936, two tunnels, multiple canals, and the Grizzly and Lost Man reservoirs were completed as part of the Independence Pass Trans-Mountain Diversion System. The system moves water from the upper Roaring Fork River basin to the east side of the Continental Divide, satisfying the water needs of Colorado’s largest cities, according to the 2020 management plan.

This system diverts as much as 40% of the Roaring Fork’s headwaters upstream of the preserve, reducing the volume of river water that flows into the property and saturates the fen, Mitchell said.

The fen underwent further drying in the 1950s, when the preserve was a private ranch owned by James Smith. Smith dug ditches through the fen for pasture and hay cultivation, and those ditches continue to drain standing water into the Roaring Fork, according to Mitchell.

The wetland plug combats the drying by slowing the outflow of water from the fen into the Roaring Fork River. Mitchell, two staffers from Basalt-based Diggin It Riverworks and two ecological consultants began the plug construction Aug. 10. The first week, the team filled 130 feet of the main ditch with a mixture of locally sourced and imported soil. In the second and third weeks, the team added a layer of local soil, scattered native plant seeds and sealed it all with hay, mulch and matting, Mitchell said.

“It’s been a pretty quick project,” she said. “We’ve really tried to get in, get out and minimize disturbance as much as possible.”

The wetland plug is 130 feet long, and composed of a mixture of local and imported soil, hydromulch, straw, native seeds and erosion mats. The restoration team later added wattles across the plug, and they hope to engage the community in planting native sedges and rushes across the top of the plug this spring. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

6,700 years of carbon sequestration

The wetland plug increases saturated conditions in the fen, or the presence of standing water, enhancing the fen’s ability to provide ecological services to the preserve. For instance, saturated conditions allow fens to function as carbon sequesters by storing peat, or carbon-rich plant material.

Peat accumulates at a rate of 8 inches per 1,000 years, according to David Cooper, wetland ecologist and professor at Colorado State University. With 53 inches of peat soil, the North Star fen is estimated to be 6,700 years old, according to a Pitkin County news release.

“Peatlands make up about 5% of the land surface of the world,” Cooper said, “but almost 45% to 50% of all the soil carbon on Earth is in peatlands.” When fens dry up, the carbon stored as peat is released as carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming, he said.

Saturated conditions also support wildlife. Standing water creates the ideal habitat for native plants, such as beaked and blister sedge, as well as native amphibians and waterfowl. Saturated conditions suffocate canary grass, an invasive species that spread increasingly through the fen as it dries up, Mitchell said.

Wet by standing water, fens filter groundwater. The peat body removes excess nitrogen as well as heavy metals that would otherwise accumulate in watershed fish populations, Cooper said.

The project’s final phase, completed this past week, involves adding wattles and straw bales to two smaller ditches in the fen to retain groundwater storage and promote standing water conditions. Photo credit: Liza Mitchell/Pitkin County OST via Aspen Journalism

A positive for North Star neighbors

Mitchell anticipated finishing the construction phase of the restoration project this past week. She plans to place wattles, or cylinders of hay, across the wetland plug to prevent soil and seed erosion. She also will add hay bales and cylinders to the fen’s two smaller ditches to retain water and provide a surface for native plants.

After this construction phase, a hydrologist and botanist hired by Open Space and Trails will monitor the fen for three years. The consultants will conduct studies and submit reports to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued the initial permit for the project in 2018, according to Mitchell.

In the spring of 2021, Open Space and Trails staffers hope to get the local community involved with the project by having volunteers plant native sedges and rushes over the plug.

Already, community response to the restoration project has been very positive. Even without physical access to the fen, neighbors are excited about the prospect of improving habitat for wildlife, such as blue heron and elk, which they enjoy watching from their windows, Mitchell said.

“North Star can get a lot of negative attention surrounding the paddleboarding and recreation use, so it’s really nice to have another project that there seems to be widespread agreement on,” Mitchell said. “Everyone can get behind that it’s a pretty light touch for a pretty big benefit.”

This story ran in the Sept. 5 edition of The Aspen Times.

Stocking greenback cutthroat trout into the Poudre River tributary system — @COParksWildlife

Covid-Mask-wearing Black Bear. Credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

From Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay)

A multi-agency effort to restore the federally threatened greenback cutthroat trout into its native river basin took a giant hike upwards last week when an army of Colorado Trout Unlimited volunteers led by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service staff stocked the Colorado state fish into a new body of water.

Around 10 staffers and 40 volunteers from Colorado Trout Unlimited each hiked between 12-15 greenback cutthroat trout in backpacks into a Poudre River tributary stream. This introduction marks just the fifth body of water in the state the greenbacks now can call home, with four of those five within the South Platte River basin that the greenbacks are native to.

“Today is one of those exciting instances of getting a new population established,” said Kyle Battige, Aquatic Biologist with CPW. “We are trying to replicate and perpetuate this resource across the landscape, by getting greenbacks into more water bodies within the South Platte River basin.”

A total of 711 greenbacks were stocked on Tuesday, July 28. They came from the Mt. Shavano Hatchery out of Salida. It took the hatchery one year to take the fertilized eggs, hatch and raise the fish to five inches in length, primed for release into the wild.

“Colorado Trout Unlimited is a proud partner in the campaign to protect and restore our native trout,” said Dan Omasta, Grassroots Coordinator for Colorado Trout Unlimited. “This stocking project is another great example of how anglers and local communities can work together to save a threatened species. We had over 40 volunteers that traveled from as far as Eagle, Colo., and Wyoming to carry fish over nine miles into the backcountry on a rainy afternoon. The passion and dedication of our community is what drives an optimistic future for the greenback cutthroat trout.”

U.S. Forest Service personnel located the fishless stream in the Poudre River basin a couple years ago and the agencies did their due diligence to make Tuesday’s stocking become a reality. Aquatic biologists conducted stream sampling with backpack electrofishing units and took eDNA samples to confirm it was indeed a fishless location. Habitat suitability work also took place to ensure the fish would survive once stocked. Everything checked out and the greenbacks were stocked into a fifth body of water in Colorado.

“We’re excited and proud to be partnering with CPW on this important effort reintroducing greenback cutthroat trout and restoring part of Colorado’s natural heritage,” said Christopher Carrol, Fisheries Biologist and Watershed Crew Lead with the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland. “We especially want to thank Colorado Trout Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Flycasters Chapter of Trout Unlimited for organizing so many passionate volunteers and helping collect data that informed our decision for making the reintroduction. Shared stewardship and working together pays dividends for native species.

An important characteristic when looking to identify a reintroduction site is that the stream must be fishless. It must also have protection from invasion of non-native trout that will outcompete and overrun the greenbacks.

“This location is protected by a series of natural waterfall barriers, upwards of 20-feet, that ensures the reach we stocked will not be invaded by non-native fish downstream,” Battige said.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

The greenbacks have previously been stocked into Herman Gulch, Dry Gulch, and Zimmerman Lake – all within the South Platte River drainage. These rare fish, twice believed to be extinct, are descendants of the last wild population of native greenback cutthroat trout found in Bear Creek outside of Colorado Springs in 2012. Bear Creek is the fifth body of water in Colorado where the fish currently reside.

“This project could not have been completed without the hard work and dedication of today’s volunteers. The hikes that they did range from four miles roundtrip up to nine miles and covered 1,200 to 2,400 vertical feet of elevation, so it was a pretty substantial undertaking,” Battige said.

The fish were loaded onto the hatchery truck at 3:30 a.m. and driven roughly 240 miles to the trailhead where they got loaded into bags with 1-2 gallons of water and pumped full of oxygen. The fish were put in ice water before leaving the hatchery, so they can handle the conditions better during their long journey.

“Lowering the temperature helps the fish travel well, ensures that their metabolism slows down and decreases the overall stress on the fish,” Battige said.

The water temperature in the stream was 51 degrees, so before getting stocked the volunteers tempered their fish, meaning they took time to slowly acclimate the fish to the temperature in the creek over a 10-15 minute time period.

Crews will stock additional greenbacks into the same location each summer for the next two years as they look to establish the population. They will follow up with surveys to see how the fish are doing and aquatic biologists will look for signs of natural reproduction and new greenbacks hatching in the stream in 3-4 years.

@CWCB_DNR Appropriates Himes Creek Water Right to Protect Rediscovered Cutthroat Trout Population

Himes Creek. Photo credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) received a water court decree for an instream flow water right on Himes Creek, located in San Juan National Forest, to protect a rare population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. This lineage of trout is native to the San Juan River Basin and was previously thought to be extinct.

“This instream flow water right on Himes Creek is one of the most significant that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has appropriated in the program’s history,” said CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “CWCB staff, along with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, consulted with leading researchers and scientists for the past two years to develop a strategy to best protect this extremely rare and at-risk species.”

When this instream flow recommendation was initially brought to CWCB in 2017, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was interested in protecting flows on Himes Creek to support a genetically pure population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. During data collection, genetic testing confirmed that the fish in Himes Creek have the same genetic markers as the San Juan lineage once thought to be extinct. Researchers estimate that the total number of San Juan lineage trout in all known populations is estimated to be as few as 1,000.

The CWCB approved the Himes Creek instream flow recommendation in March 2019, and the water court issued a decree for the Himes Creek instream flow water right on July 27, 2020.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Invasive plants pulled from Palisade park — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dan West):

The sound of revving chain saws and crackling tree limbs filled Palisade’s Riverbend Park on Monday morning as Western Colorado Conservation Corps crews sawed through invasive Russian olive trees and ripped up tamarisk…

The work to restore the native habitat along the Colorado River in the park is thanks to a partnership between the Town of Palisade and RiversEdge West, which is working to remove the invasive species.

RiversEdge West is using a grant to fund the Conservation Corps work, which will continue for four days this week, moving east of the boat ramp. Costigan explained how the non-native plants harm the river ecosystem.

“They out-compete with the native plants, and they don’t let the native willows and cottonwoods grow how they’re supposed to,” Costigan said. “They also grow in so thick, it blocks wildlife from accessing the water. So there are a lot of reasons that we want to remove these invasive plants.”

Troy Ward, Palisade director of Parks, Recreation and Events, said the collaboration with RiversEdge began last year and is expected to continue for some time to fully restore the riverbank in Riverbend Park…

As part of its grant, Rivers- Edge West will also help Palisade plant native vegetation in the area.

It has already planted several cottonwood trees in the bank it had previously cleared. In addition to cottonwoods, Ward said it will plant willows and native grasses…

The town also has a new wood chipper it was able to purchase with grant funds, which will allow it to reuse the wood chips elsewhere in its parks. This will keep the town from having to dispose of the plant material in a less useful way, Ward said.

“Instead of us having to send this to the landfill or burn it, we can now chip it and then we can create mulch that we can use to augment some of our soils on the badlands, if you will, out in the disc golf area,” Ward said. “If citizens want some of this mulch, we can make it available to them as well.”

Long criticized for inaction at #SaltonSea, #California says it’s all-in on effort to preserve state’s largest lake — Water Education Foundation #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map of the Salton Sea drainage area. By Shannon – Background and river course data from http://www2.demis.nl/mapserver/mapper.asp and some topography from http://seamless.usgs.gov/website/seamless/viewer.htm, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9707481

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western Water Notebook: Dust suppression, habitat are key elements in long-term plan to aid sea, whose ills have been a sore point in Colorado River management

The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

Out of sight and out of mind to most people, the Salton Sea in California’s far southeast corner has challenged policymakers and local agencies alike to save the desert lake from becoming a fetid, hyper-saline water body inhospitable to wildlife and surrounded by clouds of choking dust.

The sea’s problems stretch beyond its boundaries in Imperial and Riverside counties and threaten to undermine multistate management of the Colorado River. A 2019 Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Colorado River Basin was briefly stalled when the Imperial Irrigation District, holding the river’s largest water allocation, balked at participating in the plan because, the district said, it ignored the problems of the Salton Sea.

“The Salton Sea has to be acknowledged for what it is — a serious public health and environmental crisis that can and will have long-term, devastating consequences across the region,” said Norma Galindo, president of the irrigation district’s board of directors. “It is an indispensable part of the Colorado River system, not an invisible one. Its decline simply must be addressed.”

The state of California, long derided for its failure to act in the past, says it is now moving full-bore to address the sea’s problems, with ambitious plans for wildlife habitat expansion and dust suppression.

“We are moving as fast as we can and are fully committed to doing the really good things that we need to be doing at the Salton Sea to address the real issues down there,” said Arturo Delgado, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency.

Agencies with a stake in the Salton Sea are racing to cope with twin problems: suppressing dust from the sea’s receding shoreline to protect the small communities that ring the lake while enhancing areas that are essential to fish and birds. In a state where more than 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost, the Salton Sea is a vital stop for birds along the migratory route of the Pacific Flyway. All told, more than 400 bird species make regular use of the Salton Sea.

A Question of Urgency

Rising salinity levels have had a detrimental impact on wildlife at the Salton Sea. (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

As California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea is unique. More than 230 feet below sea level, it has no natural outlet and is twice as salty as ocean water. For about 20 years, the sea’s water level has steadily declined, further concentrating the salinity.

Protecting and restoring the sea’s ecological values has been a longtime aspiration, but progress has been achingly slow. State plans, some of them ambitious in scope, have come and gone while the sea deteriorates.

“There is no sense of urgency,” said Frank Ruiz, Salton Sea program director with Audubon California. “The Salton Sea has never been a priority for the state or any other entity outside the area.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has pledged to make progress. Getting there includes the laborious tasks of siting, designing and building dust suppression and habitat projects and convincing skeptical locals that inroads will be made where other efforts have fallen short. The state has set the lofty goal of creating 30,000 acres of habitat and dust suppression by 2028.

Delgado said he and his colleagues are up to the challenge.

“When I came in eight months ago, we took stock of our current situation and started developing a realistic timeline based on when we could possibly complete this work,” he said. “It’s a very aggressive timeline but it’s doable.”

The action plan includes working with local partners such as the Imperial Irrigation District, which has long chafed at the pace of progress at the sea. Earlier this year, the state and Imperial Irrigation District completed the Bruchard Road Dust Suppression Project on about 125 acres of exposed playa at the sea’s southern edge.

Imperial Irrigation District opposed participating in a Colorado River Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan last year because it did not adequately address the sea’s plight. The federal government’s lack of financial commitment to the sea “has been the single biggest impediment to a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan that could do what Imperial and all other Colorado River contractors need it to do, which is reduce the risk of reaching critical elevations at Lake Mead,” said Galindo, the district’s board president. Earlier this month, in its legal challenge to the Drought Contingency Plan, the district reaffirmed its view that the drought plan should be suspended until the sea’s environmental needs are assessed.

Making Something Bad Better

Deep furrows are carved into the playa to help suppress blowing dust along the receding shoreline of the Salton Sea. (Source: Imperial Irrigation District)

Imperial Irrigation District signed on to a landmark 2003 water transfer between the district and San Diego, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), to help California reduce its overuse of Colorado River water. One effect of that was a significant curtailment of the Salton Sea’s inflow from farm irrigation. As part of the agreement, the state committed to pursuing a restoration plan for the sea while the district contributed mitigation water through 2017. However, a long-term, comprehensive Salton Sea management program has never fully emerged, due in part to the expense.

The transition from the Gov. Jerry Brown administration to the Newsom administration in 2019 brought renewed focus to the sea. However, tangible results remain elusive, said Tina Shields, Imperial’s water manager.

“When you are 15 years behind, you are not just going to wave a magic wand and suddenly have all of these projects completed,” she said.

Identifying and remedying problem areas can be a checkered process, Shields said. Potential projects often face extensive hurdles. “You’d think it would be easy to permit a mitigation project, something that’s going to make something bad better,” Shields said. “But it’s just as complicated as building a Walmart in Temecula because you have to bring in all of those wetlands permits.”

The state’s plan hinges on near-term and long-term actions that improve all elements of the sea, including evaluation of a possible “whole sea” solution that would import ocean water from the Sea of Cortez to stabilize the Salton Sea. Adding water from a source as reliable as the Pacific Ocean would seem to be an obvious solution, but it’s not that easy.

“It’s all about the salt,” said Phil Rosentrater, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, the joint powers authority of local leaders that works with the state to revitalize the sea. “Water is certainly a critical part of the equation for a more sustainable sea, but salt management is the difference between life and death for the ecosystem.”

Teed up for work this year are plans by the state to launch 3,800 acres of habitat for the fish-eating birds that are most affected by a crashing sea. Rosentrater said his agency is poised to leverage state investments with federal dollars to work on habitat and dust suppression projects.

Air quality is a significant issue. At times the rotten egg smell caused by the sea’s hydrogen sulfide emissions has spurred complaints from people in Simi Valley, 200 miles away.

Dust suppression is paramount. The sea’s inflow from farm runoff has fallen substantially since 2003, accelerating the sea’s retreat, increasing salinity and exposing more shoreline, especially in the shallower areas. What’s left is a chalky playa that stirs into blinding clouds when the wind blows. The dust is laden with toxic elements, posing further harm to local communities, many of them disadvantaged and already struggling with high asthma rates.

The situation does not sit well with Imperial County, which last year declared a local state of emergency at the sea to address the dust suppression issue. Last month, on June 23, the county’s Air Pollution Control District slapped notices of violation on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Imperial Irrigation District for failing to address ongoing dust problems at the sea’s southeastern edge.

Projects to address the problems take time and resources and must navigate the regulatory permitting process. Furthermore, because the state is not a major landowner or water rights holder in the region, it must secure easements and needed water, said Delgado, the Resources Agency official.

The Imperiled Sea

Situated in an ancient lakebed that naturally filled with Colorado River water on occasion through the centuries, the Salton Sea of today came to life in the early 1900s when river water blew through an irrigation ditch. By the time the flow stopped, it filled a basin 45 miles long, 17 miles wide, and 83 feet deep.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was touted as a Riviera-like destination for sun lovers and water enthusiasts, but that destiny was short-lived. Since then, the Salton Sea has assumed an other-worldly aura with occasional spikes of foul odor and dead fish.

The Salton Sea’s role as one of the few remaining refuges for migratory waterfowl raises its profile substantially.

“Everybody in the Western Hemisphere needs to care at one level because it’s an integral and critical part of the Pacific Flyway,” Celeste Cantú, former executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, said in an interview. “If we lose the Salton Sea, we lose one of the last wetlands for migrating birds.”

A native of Calexico in the Imperial Valley, Cantú moderated a panel on the state’s response at the October 2019 Salton Sea Summit.

The state has outlined short-term and long-term actions for the sea, targeting habitat creation and more than 8,000 acres of dust suppression projects by the end of 2022.

Shields, with Imperial Irrigation District, sees both sides of the equation – the state’s efforts and the frustration of local residents tired of inaction.

“I think the state’s making progress,” she said. “The problem is for all the effort they are putting into it now; the general public isn’t going to see that progress for two or three years. Until you get the contractors out there, the trucks moving dirt, they [the general public] don’t get the process behind designing and going out to bid and staffing up.”

The Big Picture

Since the signing of the QSA, the clock has been ticking at the Salton Sea, which will keep demanding the attention of everyone concerned about and responsible for public health and ecological preservation.

Forging a sustainable path for the Salton Sea is “a must-have,” according to Norma Galindo, president of the Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors. (Source: Imperial Irrigation District)

Then there is how the sea will be accounted for in the grander vision of Colorado River management. Imperial Irrigation District hopes the sea “will have a much higher profile and receive the attention it needs in relation to the region’s collective management of the Colorado River,” said Galindo, the district’s board president.

Forging a sustainable path for the Salton Sea is “a must-have” for Imperial, Galindo said. She added that the district’s twin goals of being a good citizen on the Colorado River and seeing a sustainable Salton Sea are compatible and “linked together, hydrologically and morally.”

Rosentrater acknowledged the inertia of the past and the difficulties with finding the right solutions. There was a time when people believed the sea’s problems were insurmountable and not worth the investment of time or resources. That’s changed.

“When you get down to it, doing nothing turns out to be the most costly and reckless of all options,” he said. “That was the conversation of a decade ago, let the thing die and stop trying to prop it up. We have come a long way from there to realizing if we let it go, it’s catastrophic.”

Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @GaryPitzer.

As wildfires flare up across West, new research highlights risk of long-term ecological change — @ColoradoStateU

The West Fork fire complex of 2013 was composed of three fires that burned more than 109,000 acres on mostly public lands managed by the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests. Photo: Jonathan Coop, Western Colorado University via Colorado State University

From Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

One of Jonathan Coop’s first vivid memories as a child was watching the flames of the 1977 La Mesa Fire in north-central New Mexico. The human-caused fire burned more than 15,000 acres of pine forests in the Bandelier National Monument and areas surrounding the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Now a forest ecologist and professor at Western Colorado University, Coop studies the ecological effects of fire on forests in the Southwest United States. He’s also the lead author of a new scientific synthesis about how wildfires drive changes in forest vegetation across the United States. Sean Parks — research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station — and Camille Stevens-Rumann, assistant professor in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship at Colorado State University, are co-authors of the synthesis.

Wildfire-driven forest conversion in Western North American landscapes,” was published July 1 in BioScience.

The new paper, with contributions from more than 20 researchers, uncovers common themes that scientists are reporting, including increasing impacts of wildfires amid climate change from the borderlands of Mexico and Arizona to the boreal forests of Canada.

Following high-severity fire, scientists have found forest recovery may increasingly be compromised by lack of tree seed sources, warmer and drier post-fire climate and more frequent reburning. [ed. my emphasis]

“In an era of climate change and increasing wildfire activity, we really can’t count on forests to come back the way they were before the fire,” said Coop. “Under normal circumstances, forest systems have built-in resilience to disturbance – they can take a hit and bounce back. But circumstances aren’t normal anymore.”

The loss of resilience means that fire can catalyze major, lasting changes. As examples, boreal conifer forests can be converted to deciduous species, and ponderosa pine forests in the southwest may give way to oak scrub. These changes, in turn, lead to consequences for wildlife, watersheds and local economies.
‘Assisted migration’ an option in some cases, places

Researchers said that in places where the most apparent vegetation changes are occurring, such as the Southwest U.S. and in Colorado, land managers are already exploring ways to help forests adapt by planting tree species that are better suited to the emerging climatic conditions following severe fire.

A forest after the Las Conchas fire in northern New Mexico. Photo: Jonathan Coop, Western Colorado University via Colorado State University

“In places where changes are not quite so visible, including Montana and Idaho, those conversations are still happening,” said Stevens-Rumann. “In these large landscapes where trees are not coming back, you have to start getting creative.”

Parks, who often uses data collected in protected areas to study wildfire patterns, causes and consequences, said some fires can be good, creating openings for wildlife, helping forests rejuvenate and reducing fuel loads.

“However, some fires can result in major changes to the types of vegetation,” he said, adding that this is particularly true for high-severity wildfires when combined with the changing climate. “Giving managers information about where and how climate change and wildfires are most likely to affect forest resilience will help them develop adaptation strategies to maintain healthy ecosystems.”

Stevens-Rumann said that land managers have largely continued to operate in the way they’ve done in the past, replacing fire-killed trees with the same species. “Given the effects of climate change, we need to start being much more creative,” she said. “Let’s try something different and come up with solutions that allow natural processes to happen and interact with landscapes in different ways.”

Coop said that ecologists and managers are beginning to develop a suite of approaches to increase forest resilience in an era of accelerating change.

One approach that he said he’s partial to is allowing fires to burn under benign or moderate fire weather conditions – similar to what happens in a prescribed burn – which results in forests that are less prone to high-severity fire because of reduced fuel loads and patchy landscapes. This is also known as managing wildfire for resource objectives, an approach that researchers said is cost-efficient, allowing managers to treat more acres.

“Increasingly, we’re realizing you either have the fires you want and can influence or you’re stuck with these giant fires where, like hurricanes, there’s no shaping their path,” said Coop.

Loss of forests is personal
For many of the researchers involved in this synthesis, the issues being analyzed are personal.

Before becoming a scientist, Stevens-Rumann spent three years on a USDA Forest Service “Hotshot” crew, specializing in fighting fires in hard-to-access and dangerous terrain. Parks grew up in Colorado and California and acknowledges seeing changes in the forests and landscapes he grew up with.

Coop said he’s seen an incredible amount of forest lost in the Jemez Mountains where he grew up. The La Mesa fire was only the first in a series of increasingly large and severe fires, culminating with the 140,000-acre Las Conchas fire in 2011. Within the footprint of Las Conchas, less than a quarter of the landscape is still forested.

“Seeing these things unfold over my lifetime, I don’t know if I ever really could have imagined it,” he said. “I’ve borne witness to these very dramatic changes unfolding in the one place that I really know best on Earth.”

Economic Benefits of Protecting 30% of Planet’s Land and Ocean Outweigh the Costs at Least 5-to-1 — Campaign for Nature

Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Campaign for Nature:

First-of-its-kind report shows the global economy is better off with more nature protected

In the most comprehensive report to date on the economic implications of protecting nature, over 100 economists and scientists find that the global economy would benefit from the establishment of far more protected areas on land and at sea than exist today. The report considers various scenarios of protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean to find that the benefits outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 5-to-1. The report offers new evidence that the nature conservation sector drives economic growth, delivers key non-monetary benefits and is a net contributor to a resilient global economy.

The findings follow growing scientific evidence that at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean must be protected to address the alarming collapse of the natural world, which now threatens up to one million species with extinction. With such clear economic and scientific data, momentum continues to build for a landmark global agreement that would include the 30% protection target. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has included this 30% protected area goal in its draft 10-year strategy, which is expected to be finalized and approved by the Convention’s 196 parties next year in Kunming, China.

This new independent report, “Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications,” is the first ever analysis of protected area impacts across multiple economic sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in addition to the nature conservation sector. The report measures the financial impacts of protected areas on the global economy and non-monetary benefits like ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation, flood protection, clean water provision and soil conservation. Across all measures, the experts find that the benefits are greater when more nature is protected as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

The nature conservation sector has been one of the fastest growing sectors in recent years and, according to the report, is projected to grow 4-6% per year compared to less than 1% for agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, after the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting natural areas also provides significant mental and physical health benefits and reduces the risk of new zoonotic disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, a value that has not yet been quantified despite the extraordinarily high economic costs of the pandemic. A recent study estimated the economic value of protected areas based on the improved mental health of visitors to be $6 trillion annually.

“Our report shows that protection in today’s economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry, while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease. Increasing nature protection is sound policy for governments juggling multiple interests. You cannot put a price tag on nature — but the economic numbers point to its protection,” said Anthony Waldron, the lead author of the report and researcher focused on conservation finance, global species loss and sustainable agriculture.

The report’s authors find that obtaining the substantial benefits of protecting 30% of the planet’s land and ocean, requires an average annual investment of roughly $140 billion by 2030. The world currently invests just over $24 billion per year in protected areas.

“This investment pales in comparison to the economic benefits that additional protected areas would deliver and to the far larger financial support currently given to other sectors,” said Enric Sala, co-author of this report, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the author of the forthcoming book The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild (August 2020). “Investing to protect nature would represent less than one-third of the amount that governments spend on subsidies to activities that destroy nature. It would represent 0.16% of global GDP and require less investment than the world spends on video games every year.”

The Campaign for Nature (CFN), which commissioned this report, is working with a growing coalition of over 100 conservation organizations, and scientists around the world in support of the 30%+ target, and increased financial support for conservation. CFN is also working with Indigenous leaders to ensure full respect for Indigenous rights and free, prior, and informed consent. CFN recommends that funding comes from all sources, including official development assistance, governments’ domestic budgets, climate financing directed to nature-based solutions, philanthropies, corporations, and new sources of revenue or savings through regulatory and subsidy changes. As 70-90% of the cost would be focused on low and middle income countries because of the location of the world’s most threatened biodiversity, these countries will require financial assistance from multiple sources.

@COParksWildlife: The Spawn Must Go On

Collecting Greenbacks from trap nets in Zimmerman Lake June 30, 2020. Courtesy of Jerry Neal/CPW

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife:

On June 30, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials were met with a blizzard and 34-degree temperatures at Zimmerman Lake while conducting its greenback cutthroat trout spawning operation. This video from Senior Video Producer Jerry Neal highlights the dedication of CPW’s aquatics staff working in these winter-like conditions, even if it says summer on the calendar.

While teamed up with CPW Cutthroat Trout Research Scientist Kevin Rogers, the Northeast Aquatics team collected spawn and mark recapture data from the greenback cutthroat trout “broodstock” population at Zimmerman Lake. Aquatic Biologists are always prepared for variable weather when working at 10,000 feet, but they certainly were not expecting blizzard conditions when they arrived at the lake early in the morning on June 30.

The team captured the fish using live “trap” nets that were deployed the previous afternoon (when it was sunny and warm). Eggs were collected from females and mixed with milt (sperm) from males. The fertilized eggs were driven in small one-gallon coolers to CPW’s Salida Isolation Unit, operated by the Mt. Shavano Fish Hatchery, where they are either reared to fry to be stocked back out into the wild at other reintroduction sites, or raised to one year of age to be stocked back into the wild and replenish the broodstocks at Zimmerman Lake and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

All of the fish that are stocked into Zimmerman Lake are given a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag, each with a unique alphanumeric code, and a color coded Visual Implant Elastomer (VIE) tag, with each color representing a different year class and family group. During the spawn operation at Zimmerman Lake, each fish was scanned for its PIT tag and visually checked for its VIE tag. Additionally, aquatic biologists measured length and weight and identified sex of each fish. All of this information enables biologists to assess individual fish growth rates and estimate survival of the different year classes and family groups, and thus evaluate CPWs efforts to maximize genetic diversity in the broodstock.

The broodstocks at Zimmerman Lake and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, and associated hatchery operations, represent the backbone of efforts to recover the Federally Threatened State Fish of Colorado, the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.

“It is fun and rewarding work for the biologists, even though the weather isn’t always ideal,” said Boyd Wright, CPW Native Aquatic Species Biologist.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

GOCO awards $1.6 to conserve local ranches — The Mountain Mail

Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Mountain Mail:

The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant this month to Central Colorado Conservancy in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

The grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

Those projects help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

“This GOCO grant will help match the conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” Adam Beh, conservancy executive director, said.

“Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

The three organizations will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. The cattlemen’s trust will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from the Fish and Wildlife Service also indicates the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 Colorado counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Make way for beavers

Thanks to a collaborative partnership between the Clark Fork Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife, expert assistance is now available to public and private landowners seeking non-lethal approaches to manage beaver activity.

River restoration project underway — The Telluride Daily Planet

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Suzanne Cheavens):

Valley Floor tailings to be capped

A river rechanneling and tailings recap project on the west end of the Valley Floor has been put in motion this week after a year’s delay.

Originally green-lighted by Telluride Town Council last year, the project was put on hold when abundant winter snowpack made for what town project manager Lance McDonald called “abnormally high flows in June and July.” But this year, conditions are ideal and the project’s first phase — the creation of an access road off the Spur west of Eider Creek — kicked off Tuesday. The ambitious plan includes capping the tailings on the northwest end of the Valley Floor and rerouting the river where it runs near those tailings.

The tailings pile (the Society Turn Tailings Pile No. 1) spans 23 acres and sits south of the abandoned railroad grade on either side of the river. It is subject to a cleanup agreement between Idarado Mining Company and the State of Colorado that calls for capping and revegetating the contaminated area in place. The Remedial Action Plan allows the landowner — the town — to offer an alternative plan, which the town has done….

“It’s very large, on a landscape scale,” [Lance] McDonald said. “It’s not like building a building. It’s working across an entire landscape.”

Remediating the tailings area has long been in the town’s sights, McDonald said.

“It’s been in the works for 25 years,” he said. “It’s great to see it happening now.”

Mushrooms are healing the earth, starting with Colorado’s forests — The Vail Daily #zerowaste

Sasata – Own work
Sampling of fungi collected from summer, 2008 foray in Northern Saskatchewan mixed woods, near LaRonge In this photo, there are a few leaf lichens, probably Icelandmoss (Cetraria Icelandia), a couple of mosses or liverworts… (Bryophytes), peatland moss, (Sphagnum) as well as mushrooms. Online references in regards to lichens… CalPhotos: Cetraria islandica; Iceland Moss Cetraria (Iceland Moss) GETTING TO KNOW YOUR PRAIRIE LICHENS GETTING TO KNOW YOUR BOREAL LICHENS Medicinal Lichens”, by Robert Rogers Identifying North American Lichens–A Guide to the Literature

From The Vail Daily (Sarah Kuta):

[Jeff] Ravage is a big fan of mushrooms. He’s also the North Fork watershed coordinator for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, an organization that has been working to protect the ecological health and water quality of the 1.6 million-acre watershed southwest of Denver since 1998.

In early June, Ravage and a team of volunteers inoculated a massive pile of wood chips at Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms with mushroom spawn. The goal? To highlight how quickly and efficiently fungi can convert a pile of waste and debris into beneficial compost, using completely natural processes.

Ravage’s team has spent the last six years experimenting with and proving out this concept. Now, they want to demonstrate that this fungal degradation process works on an industrial scale in the hopes that foresters and land managers across the country — and even private companies — begin to replicate it.

“The goal is to create enough information to allow people to do this with their local mushrooms where they’re at,” Ravage said. “It could be done by people who run sawmills who have to deal with waste. It could be done by municipal waste management, who end up with a lot of tree trimmings from residents. It can definitely be done by forest managers.”

Roberto Salmón, Mexican Commissioner, Steps Down From Mexican Section Of The International Boundary Waters Commision #ColoradoRiver #COriver #RioGrande #aridification

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:

After 11 years of service on the Mexico-United States International Boundary and Water Commission, Roberto Salmón Castelo has stepped down from his position as Mexican Commissioner.

A graduate of the University of Arizona with a master of science degree in agricultural economics, Salmón was appointed to the position of Mexico IBWC Commissioner on April 15, 2009.

In his time with the Commission, which has the responsibility for applying the boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico, the two nations have taken huge steps forward in assuring that commitments to the primary binational water agreement in the Southwest – the 1944 Mexico-U.S. Water Treaty – were faithfully upheld.

“It was pleasure working with Commissioner Salmon,” said Jayne Harkins, Commissioner, United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission.

“He was visionary and worked to find benefits to both countries on international projects. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Thanks to a minute to the Treaty backed by Salmón in 2010, Arizona and the other Basin States were able to participate in binational discussions on Colorado River matters. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke observed that the personal relationships that developed from those discussions helped pave the way for future binational agreement.

“Commissioner Salmón recognized the value of personal relationships and worked to develop trust among colleagues on both sides of the border,” recalled Buschatzke.

“That work was a key component in successfully negotiating the minutes and managing the Colorado River.”

Commisioner Salmon with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, at a November 2012 in San Diego (Tami A. Heilemann — Office of Communication, U.S. Department of Interior)

In November 2012, Salmón joined in San Diego with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other representatives of both countries at an official signing ceremony of Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty. The ceremony capped three years of work to reach an agreement on a set of cooperative measures for management of the Colorado River system lasting through 2017.

Commissioner Salmón observed at the time that the agreement paved the way for cooperation that can “guarantee sustainability” in the border region, particularly on future water supply for Mexican border communities.

Salmón again was on hand at the U.S. “entry into force” event in September 2017 in Santa Fe, which constituted the final flourish of the intense binational negotiations over Minute 323, the successor update to Minute 319.

Minute 323 established a program of joint cooperative actions to improve Colorado River water management through 2026.

Like Minute 319, the new Minute 323 provides for the U.S. and Mexico to share proportionately in Lower Basin shortage and surplus, and allows Mexico to create water savings in the Colorado River system in the U.S.

The updated agreement also opened up opportunities for U.S. water users to fund conservation programs in Mexico, which in turn create “Intentionally Created Surplus,” or ICS, in Lake Mead. ICS is playing an important role in helping to keep the reservoir from descending to dangerously unstable surface levels.

Salmón’s work on the Commission extended to developments that directly impacted Arizona’s capacity to express its interests in Colorado River matters.

In 2010, he participated in treaty negotiations that produced Minute 317, known as the “Conceptual Framework for U.S. Mexico Discussions on Colorado River Cooperative Actions.” It established a binational process for coordination on Colorado River matters and expressly called for Basin State participation.

Also in 2010, Salmón negotiated with his U.S. counterparts on the enactment of Minute 318, which called for the creation of deferred water deliveries to Mexico after infrastructure damage caused by the 2010 Mexicali earthquake.

Minute 318 allowed Mexico to implement a form of its own ICS, then called “deferred deliveries.” Because Mexico could not beneficially use water as a result of extensive earthquake damage, the water was saved in Lake Mead for Mexico to use in future years.

In an interview with the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center published shortly after his appointment to the Commission in 2009, Salmón hailed the level of cooperation on water issues between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly through the IBWC.

“Although there have been rough times in the relationship, the IBWC has been able to succeed, to the benefit of both countries,” he said.

“(T)here is an accumulated knowledge and methodologies developed for dealing with delicate issues that have worked in the past, and still work in the present.”

Salmón replaced Arturo Herrera who died in a plane crash in late 2008 along with his U.S. counterpart, Carlos Marin, while flying over flooded areas near Ojinaga, Mexico.

Salmón’s experience in water and agriculture is extensive.

Prior to assuming his position with the Commission, he served as Northwest Regional Manager of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua), known as CONAGUA, and covering the state of Sonora and part of the state of Chihuahua where the Yaqui and Mayo river basins originate.

His duties with CONAGUA were sweeping. The federal institution deals with all aspects of water in Mexico. Among its many missions, CONAGUA administers water rights, and constructs, manages, operates and maintains reservoirs throughout the country. CONAGUA also manages irrigation districts and units.

The organization also is involved in the extensive negotiations occurring among the many stakeholders and interest groups in Mexico concerned with water issues – tasks that, in later years, would provide great preparation for Salmón’s duties with the Commission.

@ColoradoStateU unveils educational resources on potential #restoration of wolves in #Colorado

Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

Colorado residents will vote in November on a ballot initiative that calls for the proposed reintroduction of gray wolves to the state. Proposition 107, a citizen-initiated measure, would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop and oversee a science-based plan to restore wolves to the western part of the state.

To help ensure the public is informed on this topic, Colorado State University scientists have teamed up with Extension staff to produce and publish educational materials on the possible wolf restoration.

The resources include 12 information sheets on topics including wolf biology, wolves and livestock, disease, human and pet safety, big game and hunting, ecological effects and economics, and a robust list of frequently asked questions with answers.

“As Colorado’s only land-grant institution, CSU is uniquely positioned to provide science-based information on the subject,” said Kevin Crooks, professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and director of the new Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence. “The educational materials have undergone extensive review by scientists within and outside CSU, including world experts on wolves.”

Crooks helped lead the development of these educational materials. The center he leads is focused on integrating science, education and outreach to minimize conflict and facilitate coexistence between people and predators.

The center’s team has developed projects in a variety of systems where human-carnivore coexistence is proving difficult. In addition to wolves, they are tracking growing conflicts with urban black bears and coyotes, polar bears in energy fields in Alaska, lions and cattle keepers in East Africa, and ranchers in systems with predators in the United States.

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Wolves already spotted in Colorado

In early 2020, after the initiative was approved to be placed on the ballot, a pack of wolves was confirmed to be living in Moffat County in the northwestern part of the state. Another lone wolf was confirmed in North Park in summer 2019. These wolves likely migrated from a nearby state, perhaps Wyoming, where they were reintroduced 25 years ago.

“Science-based information provided from this team is critical to aid in policy development around wildlife and public lands,” said Ashley Stokes, associate vice president for Engagement and Extension at CSU.

Stokes said that these resources are also important for people who vote, so that they may better understand the issues surrounding potential reintroduction of wolves and the impacts on ecological systems, agricultural producers and local communities.

CSU researchers analyzing public response, media coverage

Rebecca Niemiec, assistant professor in the Department of Human Dimension of Natural Resources at CSU, recently led research studies on public perspectives and media coverage of the wolf restoration issue in Colorado.

“One thing we have found from our social science research is that the public has a diversity of beliefs about the potential positive and negative impacts of wolves,” explained Niemiec. “Some of these beliefs are supported by ecological and social science research, while some of them are not. Our hope is that with these educational materials, we can facilitate more productive, science-based discussions about wolf reintroduction and management.”

John Sanderson, who directs the Center for Collaborative Conservation at CSU, helped direct the scientific review process and worked with partners to produce the educational materials.

“The topic of wolves is uniquely contentious,” Sanderson said. “If wolves are part of Colorado’s future, we need an inclusive process of creating policy and making decisions that builds trust and identifies mutually acceptable solutions among people with different perspectives.”

Public surveys over the last few decades suggest support for wolf reintroduction from the majority of Colorado residents. Despite those survey results, restoring wolves in the state is a contentious topic that taps into diverse emotions and passions across various groups. And misinformation about wolves is widespread, on all sides of the issue.

CSU Extension has a goal to empower Coloradans and to address important and emerging community issues using science-based educational resources. The information sheets are also available to the public through Extension’s website.

Learn more about the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence.

The Center for Collaborative Conservation and the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence are part of the Warner College of Natural Resources.

#Colorado Departments Express Concern over Federal Executive Orders to Lift Environmental Reviews

Click here to read the release from the State of Colorado (Chris Arend, Heatheryn Higgins, Jessica Bralish, Matt Inzeo):

The Colorado Departments of Natural Resources, Public Health and Environment, Transportation and the Colorado Energy Office joined together in a statement expressing concern about President Donald Trump’s Executive order to lift reviews of environmentally impactful activities.
“The June 4, 2020, Executive Order from President Donald Trump directs federal agencies to bypass requirements for a number of bedrock federal environmental laws, including:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Federal Policy and Land Management Act
  • It leaves to the federal agencies what projects or decisions they may move forward without complying with the protections of these and other laws, and removes the public’s ability to know about and comment on how such agency decisions will affect them and their communities.

    Our Departments have successfully worked with local governments, businesses, stakeholders and citizens on numerous high profile projects where public engagement and additional environmental review enabled better projects, greater community buy-in, and increased protections for wildlife and natural resources. Specific examples include the Central I-70 Development in Denver, I-70 Mountain Corridor near Glenwood Springs, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project.

    The attempt to avoid public engagement, environmental analysis and mitigation will damage Coloradans’ health, environment and economy. It will affect all parts of the state, from our prized public lands to urban development. It will threaten protections and careful balancing for water projects, as well as progress towards environmental justice including in building transportation infrastructure — which has had a legacy of significantly impacting urban downtowns and minority communities in the 1950s and 1960s, before these environmental protections were put in place. At a time when the risks of respiratory illnesses are especially worrisome, we should be doing more to account for communities’ health, not less.

    The state of Colorado prioritizes efficient government processes with respect to project approvals, but emphasizes that public input and participation is a critical step in that efficient process, ensuring we’re not allowing public resources to be spent or used for publicly harmful practices.

    While emergency exceptions do occur for some federal environmental rules, they are intended for true physical emergencies such as washed out roads from the 2013 floods, replacement of critical facilities after wildfires or failing dams.

    Neither the COVID-19 emergency nor current economic conditions fall into that category that would justify shortcutting engaged, smart and thoughtful projects and decisions. Indeed, now more than ever, we need to ensure that projects protect our communities and safeguard Coloradans’ health, land, air, water, and wildlife.

    Unilateral Executive Orders will only serve to delay needed highway improvements, critical energy infrastructure or efforts to protect our endangered wildlife and their habitat through litigation and administrative appeals.

    We urge the Trump Administration to work with the State of Colorado on mutual beneficial projects which are collaborative, thorough, and protective of our environment and communities while providing long term benefits for all Coloradans.”

    Will Toor, Executive Director, Colorado Energy Office
    Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Department of Natural Resources
    Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director, Department of Public Health and Environment
    Shoshana Lew, Executive Director, Department of Transportation

    North face of Pike’s Peak as seen in profile from Conifer mountain. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    From The Revelator:

    The administration has brazenly axed another long list of environmental protections — when it should have been healing a nation wounded by the pandemic and racist violence.

    Under cover of tear gas, the Trump administration last week intensified its ongoing demolition of the country’s bedrock environmental protections — a series of calculated moves made while the nation remained gripped by the twin viruses of COVID-19 and institutional racism.

    It started on Thursday, June 4, when President Trump used the pandemic as an “emergency” excuse to issue an executive order allowing federal agencies to set aside key protections in the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in order to speed up the construction of oil and gas pipelines, highways and other projects.

    Trump’s long-threatened NEPA rollback, which will limit citizens’ ability to voice objections to destructive projects, poses a direct threat to minority communities already facing greater levels of illness and death under the COVID-19 pandemic following decades of environmental racism.

    “Here we are in the midst of an epidemic that affects your respiratory system and communities that are concerned about respiratory health are losing a voice to stop projects that exacerbate serious health issues,” David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at New York University’s School of Law, told The Hill.

    The executive order came three days after Trump used police and teargas to clear away peaceful crowds protesting racially biased police violence to make room for his now-notorious photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

    And it came the same day the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that world atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had reached a new record high of 417.1 parts per million, putting the planet further on the path toward runaway climate change. “Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the CO2 record,” NOAA senior scientist Pieter Tans said in the announcement. “We continue to commit our planet — for centuries or longer — to more global heating, sea level rise and extreme weather events every year.”

    The text of the press release continued: “If humans were to suddenly stop emitting CO2, it would take thousands of years for our CO2 emissions so far to be absorbed into the deep ocean and atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels.”

    The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measurements in 1958 at the NOAA weather station. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. Credit: NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    Which made it all the more perplexing when the EPA, following Trump’s order for additional “emergency” deregulation, announced it would ease the rules that require factories and power plants to report — or even monitor — their pollution emissions, although it did state that these industries should continue to obey existing pollution limits.

    In another giveaway to industry, the new policy has been made retroactive to March 13, 2020.

    As if those two changes weren’t enough, the slash and burn of environmental protections continued Friday, June 5, when Trump opened Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing. The 4,913-square-mile reserve, located 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, was established by President Obama in 2016 under the Antiquities Act and is home to “fragile and largely pristine deep marine ecosystems and rich biodiversity,” according to NOAA.

    The move came exactly one week after Trump declared June to be “National Ocean Month” in a bizarre proclamation that focused more on offshore oil and gas development and seafood production than conservation.

    The changes were, of course, immediate criticized.

    “This rollback essentially sells off the future of the ocean and the future of the ecosystem for almost no present economic benefit,” Miriam Goldstein, ocean policy director at the Center for American Progress, told The Guardian. She added that it’s “puzzling that the president is doing it now, in the middle of the pandemic and with police riots going on around the country.”

    Much like Trump’s similar moves to shrink or eliminate other national monuments established by Obama under the Antiquities Act, the change to Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is probably illegal. As we’ve written before, presidents have the legal authority to establish monuments but not to rescind or downsize them. Lawsuits over Trump’s previous monument reductions continue to work their way through the courts, and new suits over this rollback are already expected to follow.

    Still more rollbacks are on the way.

    Also on Friday June 5, the Trump administration moved forward with plans to reduce the protections offered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, another giveaway to the oil and gas industries — a particularly tone-deaf move during the middle of Black Birders Week, a nationwide event celebrating diversity in nature that coincided with the protests over racial police violence.

    The changes to the 1918 international treaty law, which has helped hundreds of species over the past century, would decriminalize “incidental” (non-intentional) bird deaths caused by industrial projects such as oil pits, mines, telecommunications towers, wind turbines and other threats.

    The changes aren’t final and are subject to a public-comments period, although citizens have already submitted approximately 200,000 public comments in favor of keeping the law as-is. But as National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold pointed out, comment periods under the Trump administration “have become a cruel joke. The administration continues to ignore scientists, experts and … bird-lovers in favor of a few bad corporate actors who can’t be bothered with common sense environmental protections.”

    Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) also criticized the changes, saying they would “lead to the deaths of thousands and thousands of birds protected under the MBTA. The administration’s radical action needlessly ties the hands of the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service], while at the same time undermining our international treaty obligations.”

    What does all of this really mean in the long run? Legal experts have already pointed out that Trump’s executive order doesn’t have many teeth. “The Order is legally shaky and unlikely to accomplish much,” Dan Farber of UC Berkeley School of Law wrote this week.

    Even corporate interests expressed some doubt, especially since the executive order will undoubtedly face court challenges. One engineer tweeted, as quoted by the Washington Post, that “there is *NO WAY* I would turn a shovelful of dirt based on this Order.”

    But industry groups actively celebrated the changes and expressed hope they would extend beyond the “emergency” period.

    “We value the importance of these reforms now and underscore the need for finalizing rules across regulatory agencies that will implement permanent reforms,” American Exploration and Production Council chief executive Anne Bradbury told the Post.

    It’s the last two words of Bradbury’s quote — “permanent reforms” — that say the most. We can expect industry to continue to ask for — and the Trump administration to grant — expanded, permanent deregulatory favors beyond this “emergency” period, changes that will continue to worsen our environment for people, wildlife and entire ecosystems.

    And as with so much the Trump administration has done over the past three and a half years, these slash-and-burn changes will come as quietly as they can manage, with regressive actions continuing to take place under cover of darkness or tear gas.

    Of course none of them will address the many other real crises this nation faces — and as we’ve seen this past week, all of them will likely only serve to make things worse.

    Big Thompson Parks all open for the first time since 2013 floods — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.

    “This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.

    The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…

    The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.

    The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.

    Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.

    Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.

    Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…

    The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.

    It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.

    Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

    We are rivers podcast: We can make a lot happen when we have a plan — @AmericanRivers #COWaterPlan

    From American Rivers (Page Buono):

    Join us for a two-part miniseries of our podcast series We Are Rivers. We’ll learn more about Stream Management Plans, an innovative planning tool prioritized in Colorado’s Water Plan, from people working with stakeholder groups and communities across Colorado to put them in place.

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    Water has always been the architect of life in Colorado. Communities have worked within the availability, demands, and constraints of water to engineer lives and livelihoods. Water designs our lives as much by its availability as it does by scarcity—perhaps even more. In 2013, the State of Colorado recognized the impending impacts of rising populations, increasing demand across the state and the West, and a changing climate, then-Governor John Hickenlooper called for a plan to address these issues. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board—the government entity tasked with conserving, developing, protecting and managing the state’s water—to work with diverse stakeholders and develop Colorado’s first water plan. You can learn more about the Plan from Episode 6 in our podcast series.

    Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

    In some ways, Colorado’s Water Plan articulated and formalized ways to meet the needs of agriculture, land use, and storage that were already in place. But it also did something else: for the first time, the Colorado Water Plan called for the consideration and integration of environmental and recreational flow needs. This decision came from growing recognition of the critical role rivers play in local economies, and the immense ecosystem services that healthy, functioning rivers and streams provide for all values—human and environmental. With this in mind, the Water Plan outlined a goal of inspiring community-driven development of Stream Management Plans for 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers and streams.

    In the first episode of this miniseries, we hear from Nicole Seltzer, Science and Policy Manager of River Network, who talks us through the fundamentals of the stream management planning process. Holly Loff, Executive Director of Eagle River Watershed Council, shares on-the-ground experiences of a community planning effort along the Eagle River, and Chelsea Congdon-Brundige, a watershed consultant in the Roaring Fork Valley, shares her highlights from a similar but unique effort for the Crystal River.

    As you’ll hear in the podcast, a critical component of Stream Management Planning is the diversity of stakeholders and interests at the table; the important and foundational role of science; and the way each Plan is unique to the community that builds it. SMP’s (as they’re often referred to) are really more about process than a final product, and the greatest win is the long-lasting trust inspired through tough but important conversations across values. SMPs aren’t designed to prioritize any one interest, but instead to bring agriculture, the environment, municipal needs, and recreation alongside one another for the best possible solutions for all.

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    If you’re inspired by this first Episode, and we suspect you will be, make sure to tune in for part 2 (coming 6/1/20) . We’ll hear from some of the same voices and from new ones from the Rio Grande Basin – including Heather Dutton with the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Emma Reesor with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project – about the groundbreaking and inspiring ways communities are working together to plan for the future of the rivers and streams that bind them, and all of us, together. Join us – and listen in today!

    Flood Mitigation is Messy: An Argument for High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams — Mile High Flood District

    Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)

    Five Ditches project wraps up — #RioGrande Headwaters Restoration Project

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    From The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project via The Valley Courier:

    Over the past several years, the Restoration Project has worked with five ditch companies and diverse stakeholders to improve irrigation infrastructure on the Rio Grande between Alamosa and Del Norte, while also benefiting the river as a whole. The project’s founding document, the 2001 Study, found that changes in hydrology and aging, failing diversion structures were causing sediment deposition, erosion, loss of riparian habitat, and inefficient diversion of water.

    The Five Ditches Project addressed these issues by replacing diversion dams and head-gates for five ditches and restoring surrounding streambanks. These efforts have resulted in a multitude of benefits, including improved diversion efficiency and irrigation operations, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, reduced erosion and increased community safety. As the Five Ditches Project wraps up, those involved wanted to once again acknowledge the incredible collaboration that made this project possible and give an overview of everything that has been accomplished together.

    If you haven’t seen it already, check out the film made by Moxiecran Media about the Five Ditches Project…

    Rio Grande #2

    Ditch The Rio Grande #2 Ditch irrigates 250 acres northeast of Del Norte. It suffered from an inefficient diversion dam and high maintenance due to trash and sediment. In Winter 2017, the diversion dam and headgate were removed and replaced with a fish-passable stacked rock cross vain diversion structure and a steel headgate. The surrounding channel and streambanks were also reshaped and stabilized, and aquatic and riparian habitat improvements and a rock deflector were added.

    Consolidated and Pace Ditches

    The Consolidated Ditch irrigates 6,849 acres, and had a crumbling, century-old concrete headgate with a difficult to maintain push-up diversion dam. To remedy these issues, the headgate was replaced with a new concrete structure with trash rack and automation, and a new concrete diversion dam was constructed featuring a fish ladder and two Obermeyer gates for fine control and sediment flushing. The adjacent banks have also been reshaped and revegetated, improving habitat for wildlife and channel stability. The Pace Ditch is a smaller diversion irrigating 107 acres, and is located directly adjacent to the Consolidated Ditch. Both ditches share the new diversion dam, and the Pace headgate was replaced at the same time as the Consolidated headgate, with a manual slide gate and pipe to convey water to the ditch. San Luis Valley Canal The San Luis Valley Canal provides water for 20,200 irrigated acres. Its headgate was redesigned to replace the existing hundred-year-old structure. Over time the river had moved away from the headgate structure, resulting in a static pool in front of the headgate that caused sediment deposition. The new concrete headgate is situated closer to the river and features automated gates. The banks were reshaped around the new structure, and a severely eroding bend in the vicinity of the diversion was reshaped, stabilized, and revegetated. The project also includes a trash deflector and rock weir check structure.

    Centennial Ditch

    Supplying water to 8,500 acres, the Centennial Ditch had a degraded concrete diversion that was dangerous to maintain. In order to divert water at certain flows, the ditch rider would have to wade into the river to put boards across the dam and raise the water level. In Winter 2017, the old diversion structure was removed and replaced with a grouted rock dam. The new structure also includes an Obermeyer gate in the low flow channel for fine control and sediment flushing. By request from CPW, the dam is a fish barrier to prevent the passage of nonnative species. Nearby streambanks were also stabilized.

    Location map for the Five Ditches Project. Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    Thanks again to each of the five ditch partners!

    Centennial Irrigating Ditch Company

    Consolidated Ditch and Headgate Company

    Cooley & Sons Excavating

    Pace Ditch

    Rio Grande #2 Ditch Shareholders

    Riverbend Engineering

    Robins Construction

    San Luis Valley Canal Company National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)

    Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)

    The Five Ditches Project made great strides toward meeting agricultural, environmental, and recreational needs on the Rio Grande, however aging infrastructure and bank erosion is still a significant challenge across the Rio Grande headwaters. Your support will allow them to continue working with irrigators, landowners, and partners on the Rio Grande and Conejos River to complete infrastructure improvement and river restoration projects!

    Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

    On this #EarthDay, let’s think about agriculture — “When ranchers, farmers and environmentalists choose to bury the hatchet…it is a game-changer” — @HighCountryNews #EarthDay2020

    From The High Country News [April 22, 2020] (Gary Paul Nabhan):

    Farmers and ranchers hold the key to carbon storage.

    As we celebrate Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, the environmental movement finds itself at a critical point in time to reflect upon its record. When have we, as environmentalists, fostered collaboration with the food and farming sectors, and when have we pushed those potential partners away and generated conflict in our rural communities?

    When I worked at the headquarters of the very first Earth Day in 1970, it operated as a network of grassroots environmental organizers, and there was little focus on the overall environmental benefits or consequences of farming and ranching.

    Micha Ide of Bright Ide Acres farm, Washington, practices rotational grazing on her farm. Animals are moved frequently around the pasture to increase soil fertility and enhance the sustainability of the farm.
    Photo credit: Audra Mulkern

    Our little newsletter, Environmental Action, covered how toxins were appearing on the lands and in our food, even though terms like “environmental justice” and “food justice” had yet to be coined. Nevertheless, very little of our “environmental action” was directed to ensuring the health of the soil, the diversity of the crops planted on it, the preservation of food-producing or the viability of livelihoods for farmers and ranchers.

    Francis Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet had recently hit the stands, and all the talk was about abandoning meat to eat low on the food chain. For a while, many of us tried to boil up soybeans or pintos to plop down on a heap of brown rice or corn mush. To my amusement, the results did not always sit well with our GI tracts or our taste buds.

    As Wendell Berry — farmer, poet and natural historian — has pointed out in his many books, including The Unsettling of America, few environmentalists had any notion of how important it might be to support small-scale, diversified farming, with or without livestock. There was little dialogue about how to help reduce the kinds of collateral damage that food production caused to the environment and to the farm workforce. Berry wrote: “At the time of the first Earth Day, conservation was dealing with wilderness preservation and environmental emergencies,” not regenerative agriculture.

    In some ways, Berry believes, not much has changed: “Now it is dealing with wilderness preservation, environmental emergencies, saving the world by replacing too much fossil fuel energy with too much wind and solar energy, and by eating fake meat!”

    In retrospect, it is almost hard to imagine how little we recognized that solving the challenges faced by farmers and ranchers had everything to do with solving the challenges faced by the planet and its inhabitants at large.

    Today, food-producing activities extend to nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface, not counting the aqua-cultural production that spans a large swath of the world’s estuaries, lagoons and wetlands as well.

    While agriculture (including livestock production) may generate 9% to 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions, it also sequesters a large portion of the carbon that humans produce. The ways we source, process and waste our food generate roughly one-fifth to one-third of global “anthropogenic” greenhouse gas emissions.

    So why are farmers and ranchers increasingly seen as adversaries — not allies — to environmentalists? Perhaps it is because of the powerful influence that industrial food production, processing and distribution have on accelerating climate change, creating hypoxic dead zones in the oceans, and diminishing the diversity of microbes, plants and wildlife in our landscapes.

    But what has escaped the logic chain of many environmental activists is this: More than any other human activity, small- and medium-scale food production has the capacity to shift from being a major emitter of carbon to becoming a major absorber and storehouse of it.

    At least a half-dozen global surveys — and hundreds of on-farm projects — demonstrate that the widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture can reverse food production’s contribution to global warming. It can do so by 2050, according to a University of Virginia study released this last year in Nature Climate Change.

    But even climate-friendly farming will not bear fruit unless environmentalists become allies to the farmers and ranchers who are trying to produce food in ways that heal both the land and the rural communities that depend upon it. As Mary Berry — Berry’s daughter and the executive director of the Berry Center — recently warned, “Since the first Earth Day, we haven’t made any progress in linking the threats to environmental health with the health of working landscapes. How can farmers afford to farm well, and how do we become a culture that will support good farming?”

    When ranchers, farmers and environmentalists choose to bury the hatchet and work on the collaborative conservation of working landscapes in Western states, it is a game-changer.

    Just seven such collaborative efforts have brought more than 3.8 million acres into co-management and restoration. When the Diablo Trust ranching collaborative invited the Arizona Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit focused on conservation, to see the work they were doing for pronghorn habitat enhancement, conflicts between the two groups subsided, and they began working together.

    Collaborations like these have built bridges between more than 250 federal, state, county, local, nonprofit and for-profit entities in counties where divisiveness and litigation once reigned. Would you rather feed the bank accounts of litigious lawyers, or feed the soil, our rural communities and the landscapes that nurture us all?

    As Berry prophesized several decades ago, “The most tragic conflict in the history of conservation is that between the conservationists and the farmers and ranchers.

    “It is tragic because it is unnecessary.”

    Gary Paul Nabhan — the sleepy-headed dropout who dozed on mailbags at Earth Day headquarters in 1970 — now works as an agro-ecologist, orchard-keeper, nature writer and Ecumenical Franciscan brother. His latest book is Food from the Radical Center: Healing Our Lands and Communities from Island Press. Follow him on http://www.garynabhan.com and http://www.healingtheborderdisorder.org.

    Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

    @TomUdall: It’s past time we confront the #climate and nature crises — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

    A cottonwood forest in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Matthew Schmader/Open Space Division

    From The High Country News [January 31, 2020] (Tom Udall):

    In his 1963 book The Quiet Crisis, my father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, sounded the alarm about the creeping destruction of nature. “Each generation has its own rendezvous with the land, for despite our fee titles and claims of ownership, we are all brief tenants on this planet,” he wrote. “By choice, or by default, we will carve out a land legacy for our heirs.”

    Stewart Udall stands at Rainbow bridge, one of the world’s largest known natural bridges, in Utah.
    Courtesy of the Udall family

    [January 31, 2020] would have been Stewart Udall’s 100th birthday. And 57 years after he wrote the The Quiet Crisis, it is more urgent than ever that we heed his words — and follow his example — in order to save the natural world.

    As Interior secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, my father was the visionary leader of a burgeoning conservation and environmental movement. During his first year as secretary, then-Bureau of Reclamation Chief Floyd Dominy took him on a flight over southern Utah to show him the “next” big dam. My dad took one look at the red-rock spires below and saw not a dam, but the next national park. He carried this vision back to Washington, D.C., and worked to establish what is today Canyonlands National Park.

    The confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, in September 2018. Most of the water that flows into Lake Powell each year flows past this remote spot in Canyonlands National Park.

    Canyonlands is one of four national parks, six national monuments, nine recreation areas, 20 historic sites and 56 wildlife refuges that Stewart Udall helped create as secretary of the Interior. In the face of environmental damage and species loss, he worked with Congress and the president to enact some of our country’s most successful conservation programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Clean Air Act, and the national wilderness system. In the process, he protected millions of acres of public lands.

    In the span of a few years, Stewart Udall and other conservation leaders significantly deepened our national commitment to the lands and waters that sustain us. In addition to providing our generation and future ones with cleaner air and water, the lands they preserved and the protections they put in place created the bedrock of a strong economy today.

    But now, the quiet crises that my father warned us about have risen to a crescendo that is impossible to ignore. Climate change is widely acknowledged as an existential threat to our planet. Meanwhile, the nature crisis has accelerated close to the point of no return. We lose a football-field’s-worth of nature every 30 seconds. And according to a United Nations report, 1 million species are at risk of extinction because of human activity.

    The Trump administration has helped inflame these crises, eviscerating landmark protections like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Power Plan. President Donald Trump has already created the worst environmental record of any president in history as his administration hacks away at the nation’s proud conservation tradition.

    But merely reversing Trump’s environmental attacks would be like putting a Band-Aid on a life-threatening wound. These crises were already worsening before he took office, and the trajectory will continue after he leaves unless we drastically rethink our approach to conservation.

    If we fail to enact the kind of bold conservation framework my father envisioned, we will forever lose millions of plant and animal species — the biodiversity critical to our rich natural inheritance and fundamental to our own survival. We will lose not just our way of life, but the planet as we know it.

    Today, just as we did 50 years ago under Stewart Udall’s leadership, we must write an aggressive new playbook to confront the climate and nature crises head-on. And we need to act fast.

    That’s why I’ve introduced the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature — a resolution to set a national goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030, with half protected by mid-century. The resolution reflects the will of the scientific community, including and scientists like E.O. Wilson, who say that we need to protect half the planet to save the whole.

    We must also face down climate change with the urgency it requires. To do so, we should make our public lands pollution-free. Emissions from fossil fuels extracted on public lands account for nearly one-quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. Instead of being a source of pollution, public lands can and should be part of the solution. Knowing that we must transition away from fossil fuels, we need an inclusive approach that gets us to net zero carbon pollution.

    And as we transition, we must support and protect the communities, tribes and states that have long relied on fossil fuels. No one should be left behind in our transition to a clean energy economy.

    Indeed, equity, inclusion and environmental justice must be our guiding lights — our true North Star — just like they were for my father. After a long career in public office — during which he fought segregation and discrimination at every turn — my dad spent his final chapter fighting alongside the widows of Navajo uranium miners. His mission was to ensure that families hurt by the federal government’s nuclear weapons activities were justly compensated, because he understood that low-income communities, communities of color and Native communities often bear the worst consequences of the environmental desecration and destruction too often caused by the rich and powerful.

    Our conservation work must provide equitable access to nature and a just distribution of its benefits. We must ensure environmental justice for all. The future of our planet — and of humanity itself — depends on it.

    Today, on what would be my father’s 100th birthday, let us remember a man who saw a national park where others saw a gigantic dam — a man who clearly saw the peril in mortgaging the land for short-term economic incentives.

    Just a few years before his passing, my father and my mother, Lee, published a letter to their grandchildren in High Country News. This was their call: “Go well, do well, my children. Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”

    Now, with the wonder and beauty of the earth under threat, we must listen to Stewart Udall’s plea: that we do well — by the planet, and by future generations.

    Tom Udall is a United States Senator representing New Mexico. A member of the Democratic party, he has also served as a U.S. Representative and New Mexico’s State Attorney General. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

    How a trickle of water is breathing life into the parched #ColoradoRiver Delta — #Arizona Central #COriver #aridification

    Here’s an in-depth look at restoration efforts in the Colorado River Delta from Ian James writing for ArizonaCentral.com. Click through and read the whole article and to enjoy the beautiful photography. Here’s an excerpt:

    In the long-dry Colorado River Delta in Mexico, environmental groups are using small amounts of water to restore wetlands and forests one area at a time

    The Colorado River once flowed with so much water that steamboats sailed on its wide, meandering stretches near the U.S.-Mexico border. When the environmentalist Aldo Leopold paddled the river’s delta in Mexico nearly a century ago, he was filled with awe at the sight of “a hundred green lagoons.”

    Now, what’s left of the river crosses the border and pushes up against the gates of Morelos Dam. Nearly all the remaining water is shunted aside into Mexico’s Reforma Canal, which runs toward fields of cotton, wheat, hay and vegetables in the Mexicali Valley.

    Downstream from the dam sits a rectangular lagoon that resembles a pond in a city park. Swallows swarm over the water, diving and skimming across its glassy surface. From here, a narrow stream the width of a one-lane road continues into a thicket, flanked by tall grasses.

    Morelos Dam. Photo credit American Rivers.

    About a dozen miles farther south, the Colorado River disappears in the desert. Beside fields of alfalfa and green onions, the dry riverbed spreads out in a dusty plain where only gray desert shrubs survive…

    [Jennifer] Pitt is director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program. She visited the delta with Gaby Caloca of the Mexican environmental group Pronatura Noroeste. The two co-chair a cross-border environmental work group that includes government officials and experts from both countries, and they’re working together on plans to restore wetlands in parts of the Colorado River Delta.

    These efforts to resurrect pieces of the delta’s desiccated ecosystems face major challenges, including limited funds, scarce water supplies, and the hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change.

    But in the past decade, environmental groups have had success bringing back patches of life in parts of the river delta. In these green islands surrounded by the desert, water delivered by canals and pumps is helping to nourish wetlands and forests. Cottonwoods and willows have been growing rapidly. Birds have been coming back and are singing in the trees.

    Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

    Pitt, Caloca and other environmentalists say they’ve found that even though there isn’t nearly enough water available to restore a flowing river from the border to the sea, these modest projects planting trees and creating wetlands are showing promise. Even relatively small amounts of water are helping breathe life into parts of the delta.

    And during the next several years, more water is set to flow to the restoration sites under a 2017 agreement between Mexico and the U.S…

    Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

    In the spring of 2014, a surge of water poured through the gates of Morelos Dam on the border. That “pulse flow” of 105,000 acre-feet of water brought back a flowing river in areas that had been dry since floods in the late 1990s.

    Crowds of jubilant revelers gathered by the resurrected river. They dipped their feet into the water and waded in.

    Some danced on the banks and drank beer. Others tossed nets into the water and pulled out flapping fish…

    …the pulse flow gave Mexican and U.S. officials a visual demonstration of the potential of restoration efforts — an example that nudged them toward budgeting water for the environment as they negotiated a new Colorado River agreement.

    “I think having that river flowing piqued people’s interest,” Pitt said. “It opened people’s imagination to the idea. It gave them a vision of the Colorado River here that has energized these restoration efforts.”

    When representatives of the governments signed the next deal in 2017, it cleared the way for smaller but substantial flows to expand several habitat restoration sites.

    The agreement, called Minute 323, acknowledged that the work group led by representatives from both countries had recommended goals including expanding the habitat areas from 1,076 acres to 4,300 acres, and setting aside an annual average of $40 million and 45,000 acre-feet of water for environmental restoration in the delta…

    The deal included pledges for about half that much water, a total of 210,000 acre-feet through 2026 — enough water that if spread across Phoenix would cover two-thirds of the city a foot deep. This water — averaging 23,000 acre-feet a year — represents a small fraction of the 1.5 million acre-feet that Mexico is entitled to each year under a 1944 treaty, and an even smaller fraction of the larger allotments that California and Arizona take from the river upstream.

    Mexico and the U.S. each agreed to provide a third of the water, while a coalition of environmental nonprofits pledged to secure the remainder. Each government agreed to contribute $9 million for restoration projects and $9 million for research and monitoring work.

    So far, environmental groups have been buying water in Mexico through a trust and pumping it from agricultural canals into three restoration areas. More water is scheduled to be delivered by the two governments over the next several years, including water the U.S. plans to obtain by paying for conservation projects in Mexico.

    When the infusion comes, the wetlands and newly planted forests will get a bigger drink.

    “We are scaling up,” Pitt said from the backseat, while Caloca drove through farmlands toward one of the restoration sites.

    Vail looks to pass a tougher stream protection ordinance — The Vail Daily

    Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

    From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

    Town officials say private property owners are needed to see more improvements in Gore Creek water quality

    The Vail Town Council on Tuesday told staff to draft a stream protection ordinance that would apply to private property in town. The creek in 2013 landed on a state list of “impaired waterways,” along with many other mountain towns. The town, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and other organizations have been working since then to improve water quality in the creek.

    Much of that work starts with cleaning up what runs into the creek, including runoff from paved areas, pesticides and other pollutants.

    In an April 7 presentation, town watershed education coordinator Pete Wadden reminded council members that after a few years of improvement, the creek’s scores regarding macroinvertebrate populations — the bottom of the creek’s food chain — dipped in 2018. Most of that was due to a change in the way those populations are counted, but those are the figures used by state officials.

    Wadden noted that the town has made “huge progress” on its own property along the stream, but not as much on private property.

    Wadden said the ordinance the staff is recommending includes a two-tiered setback, with more stringent rules closer to the stream.

    Wadden added that the ordinance could restrict pesticide use in town, but the Colorado Legislature will have to pass a law that allows towns to pass those regulations.

    Dam It: Why Beavers Matter

    While away your quarantine by learning about nature’s most ingenious engineers with Ben Goldfarb, author of “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.”

    A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    #Colorado throws wolves to the vote — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Ethan Linck) [March 1, 2020]:

    The last wolf resident in Colorado in the 20th century died in 1945 at the edge of the San Juan Mountains, where a high green country falls into dark timber near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. It was caught by its leg in the ragged jaws of a steel trap, set by federal authorities following reports that it had killed 10 sheep.

    If the wolf was mourned, it wasn’t mourned by many. Contemporary newspaper articles reflected widespread support for ridding the West of wolves. “Wolves are like people in that they must have their choice morsel of meat,” wrote Colorado’s The Steamboat Pilot in an April 1935 story on the retirement of William Caywood, a government contract hunter with over 2,000 wolf skulls to his credit. “(Some would eat) nothing but the choice parts of an animal unless they were very hungry. Wolves are killers from the time they are a year old.”

    Seventy-five years later, public perception has changed, and otherwise clear-eyed Westerners regularly wax poetic over Canis lupus. “Colorado will not truly be wild until we can hear the call of the wolf,” opined one writer in a recent editorial for Colorado Politics. “That mournful sound rekindles primordial memories of our ancestors, and to most of us, brings a state of calmness that nothing else can approach.”

    Wolves, it turns out, may be a part of the world we want to live in after all.

    This about-face is more than conjecture. According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wolves in Colorado,” echoing similar polls over the past 25 years. Yet state wildlife officials have been reluctant to comply, wary of the toxic politics surrounding reintroduction in the Northern Rockies.

    In response, activists seized an unprecedented strategy. A coalition of nonprofit groups in Colorado, led by the recently formed Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, spent 2019 tirelessly gathering support to pose the question to voters directly through a 2020 ballot initiative. They succeeded, delivering more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of State. Initiative 107 was officially ratified in January and will be voted on this November. (Meanwhile, neither politicians nor wolves have stayed still. In January, a state senator introduced a controversial bill to regain legislative control of the issue; in the same week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed that a pack of at least six wolves was now resident in northwest Colorado, though it’s far from clear they represent the start of a comeback. For the moment, the future of wolves here still likely rests on the initiative.)

    A new transplant to Colorado from the Pacific Northwest, I learned about the campaign from a canvasser outside Whole Foods in north Boulder on a sunny June day last year. In a parking lot filled with Teslas and Subarus, the tattooed volunteer stood opposite a wall-sized advertisement for the store, featuring the smiling faces of ranchers and farmers on the Western Slope.

    It was a scene that would have done little to assuage fears that urban liberal voters were forcing reintroduction on rural residents. The canvasser caught my eye as I left the store. “Can I talk to you about reintroducing wolves to Colorado?” he asked, waving a pamphlet. I demurred and walked back to my bike. But the initiative and its backers — happy to use scientific justifications for their cause, paired curiously with populist rhetoric about its overwhelming public support — lingered in my head.

    Darlene Kobobel. Photo credit: Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

    The initiative fascinated me, beyond its potential to transform the landscape of my adopted home. As an academic biologist, I tended to think science should be both privileged in debate and somehow above the fray. But my own environmental ethic operated on an independent track — drawing on the scientific literature when it supported my opinions, and claiming it was beside the point when it didn’t. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project reminded me uncomfortably of this contradiction.

    If voters decide to reintroduce wolves to an increasingly crowded state from which they were effectively absent for over 70 years, Colorado’s ecosystems and rural communities may change rapidly, in unexpected ways. Yet unlike nearly all other major wildlife management decisions, the choice would rest not with a handful of experts, but with the public.

    The case poses a thorny set of questions. What will happen if wolves return to Colorado? When, if ever, can science tell us what to do? And, in the face of empirical uncertainty, could direct democracy be the best solution?

    I wondered: If I knew my own research could dramatically affect ecosystems and livelihoods, would I want it to play more of a role in public life — or less?

    CONSERVATIONISTS OFTEN HESITATE to frame arguments in moral terms, leaning on the perceived authority of empiricism to buttress their positions. At the same time, many conservation debates are complicated by the collision of disparate worldviews, where evidence is almost beside the point. Large carnivores — intensively studied and politically controversial — fall squarely in the center of this push-and-pull between data and belief.

    In 1995, federal biologists released eight gray wolves from Alberta, Canada, in Yellowstone National Park, seeding a population that eventually grew to as many 109 wolves in 11 packs. With the wolves came the unique opportunity to test the theory that their influence on elk numbers and behavior reduced grazing pressure on riparian vegetation, with consequences for the very structure of rivers themselves.

    Preliminary data suggested that this process — known as a trophic cascade — was indeed in effect. Elk numbers were down, grazing patterns were different, tree growth was up, and at least some river channels appeared to recover. A tidy encapsulation of the idea that nature had balance, it had broad appeal: In a viral YouTube video from 2014, British environmentalist George Monbiot breathlessly described these changes over soaring New Age synthesizers and stock footage of an elysian-seeming Yellowstone, calling it “one of the most exciting scientific findings of the past half century.”

    Yet ecology is rarely simple, and as the mythology surrounding the return of wolves grew, so, too, did skepticism in the literature. Over the past 15 years, a cascade of papers has called into question most of the findings taken for granted in the popular account of Yellowstone’s transformation. Elk browsing might not be reduced in areas with wolves; streams and riparian communities had not returned to their original state; maybe beavers were more fundamentally important to these processes than wolves were. In sum, a 2014 review paper suggested that there are no “simple, precise, or definitive answers” to the question of whether wolves caused a trophic cascade in the park; another evocatively concluded that “(the wolf) is neither saint nor sinner except to those who want to make it so.”

    Yellowstone represented a single experiment — one possible outcome among many. In a different corner of the West with more people, or different habitats, or more or fewer elk — in Colorado, for example — would wolves have had the same effect? Last June, a paper in the journal Biological Conservation attempted to answer this question indirectly by aggregating data on species reintroductions and introductions around the world and asking whether their removal or addition caused a reversion to historic conditions. Unsurprisingly, the answer was “it depends”: Restoring predators has unpredictable, complex consequences.

    That paper’s lead author, Jesse Alston, was a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Wyoming. I met him on a bright fall day in Laramie, at a coffee shop in a strip mall on the east side of town. Driving up from Boulder the same morning, I marveled at the abrupt transition in landscape at the border between Colorado and Wyoming: In the span of only a few miles north of Fort Collins, the sprawl of the Front Range fades away, and the High Plains begin rolling up into a sepia-colored saucer from the flatter, hotter agricultural land of eastern Larimer County.

    Alston spoke quietly and slowly, in the cautious manner of someone who anticipated a long future working with wildlife and wildlife-related controversies. Though he thought the evidence favored trophic cascades in Yellowstone, he was circumspect about predicting whether wolf reintroduction in Colorado would have the same effect. “(It) really hinges on the idea of there not being adequate predation currently. And there are a lot of hunters in Colorado.” But hunters are a minority of trail users, he added, and recreation of all kinds can influence elk behavior much the way fear of wolves does.

    Jesse Alston. Photo credit: jmalston.com

    I asked him to elaborate on the role of science in justifying carnivore restoration and whether he thought it might backfire. He paused, thinking, then said: “I think the people who would be most turned off if you don’t see large-scale ecosystem effects are the people who are least inclined to listen to science anyway, so I don’t see that being that big of a deal. But I do think that — as scientists, particularly as good scientists — that we should be sure that our ideas are buttressed by empirical findings.”

    Of course, there are empirical findings, and then there are the caveats that always accompany them — the reasons we can’t say for sure what will happen when wolves return. “I think really where the science-policy nexus is most problematic has been when there’s misunderstanding of uncertainty,” Alston continued. “I think it’s good to advocate for causes that we believe in, but we should be pretty straightforward about discussing the uncertainty that comes along with that.”

    IF WOLVES ARE NOT an ecological magic bullet, it is not readily apparent in the literature of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which nonetheless aims to “disseminate science-based information” as part of its mission. On its website, a blog post suggests that since wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, “the ecosystem has balanced.” This isn’t wrong, necessarily. But it isn’t correct, either, and the simplification belied a willingness to use science as a political battering ram. I was on board with the group’s mission as a voter, a Coloradan. As a scientist, though, it made me uneasy.

    Though the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is itself young — founded at the end of 2018 — its roots go back nearly to the release of wolves in Yellowstone, through its Boulder-based predecessor, Sinapu. In 2008, Sinapu — whose name was taken from the Ute word for wolves — was folded into Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, which also sought to restore large carnivore populations to the Southern Rockies. On an October evening at a brewery in South Boulder, I asked Rob Edward — founder and president of the board of the wolf fund, longtime Sinapu employee and the public face of wolf reintroduction in Colorado for decades — why the group had chosen to emphasize what might be described as the spiritual resonance of the effects of carnivore reintroduction on ecosystems and landscapes.

    Edward was eloquent but blunt, a middle-aged man who dressed in a way that suggested he was as comfortable in the rural parts of the state as in Boulder. His wife, Anne Edward, also a longtime wolf advocate, joined us; she was quieter, with gray hair and eyes that lit up whenever wolves were mentioned. They had chosen their language based on polling data, Rob Edward said. “They use that term — ‘restoring the balance of nature.’ Now, is it an oversimplification of a tremendously complicated system? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really.” At the same time, he said, the connection to research and its perceived authority was important. “The public as a whole places a tremendous amount of stock in scientists.”

    While it was clear the couple would support reintroduction even if they were the only two people on earth in favor of it, they nonetheless viewed public opinion as validating. A ballot initiative was a necessary last resort, a way to force the state and its slow-moving wildlife officials to comply with the will of the people of Colorado. “We’re not excluding experts, we’re simply telling them, get it done!” Rob Edward said, pounding the table in a gesture that passed unnoticed against the backdrop of his general animation. “Figure it out! Don’t keep machinating about it for another five decades. Get it done!”

    As I listened to him, I again found myself deeply conflicted at the prospect of the ballot initiative, and at putting major wildlife management decisions up to a simple vote. On the one hand, I appreciated that it was a creative solution to an intractable political problem, on behalf of a natural system divorced from the political ebb and flow of Denver. On the other, it seemed to set a dangerous precedent. As the history of our complicated relationship with wolves shows, popular opinion can be capricious. Was it really right to pose complex questions — questions at the limit of expert understanding — to a largely naive public?

    Laws that translate science to policy can give a voice to a nonhuman world that cannot advocate for itself. Yet in our society, democracy is haunted by the question of whose voices matter. Edward was clear that polling showed clear majorities of Coloradans support wolf reintroduction across the state, including groups that you might expect to oppose it: Rural residents on the Western Slope, hunters and Republicans all support it by a substantial majority. But Colorado is changing, becoming less white, and he was unable to refer me to data broken down along racial and ethnic lines — particularly among historically disadvantaged groups that remain underrepresented at the ballot box.

    Nor have the views of Indigenous people — who have the longest history of cultural connection to wolves, and whose lands in Colorado will likely be among the first impacted by a rebounding wolf population — been highlighted in the debate. I was unable to reach wildlife officials with the Southern Ute Tribe by press time, but they are clearly watching the issue closely. In a statement on the initiative, the tribe clarified that it does not have an official position on wolf reintroduction and is “simply evaluating whether (to) support, oppose, or remain neutral on the subject.”

    Carbondale, Colorado-based muralist Valerie Rose works on one of four murals she’s done for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project since early 2018. This one is at Green Spaces in Denver. Photo credit: Cheney Gardner

    SCIENCE IS VERY GOOD at addressing the how, but often fails when confronted with the should — the biggest questions, which veer into the realm of values. There is no experiment we can conduct to say whether we should proceed with wolf introduction, no data that can tell us if it is the right thing to do. It comes down to how evidence is filtered through our worldview: whether we think of humans as a part of nature or separate from it, and whether we think changes in grazing habits and water channels — and the presence of wolves themselves — add up to a fundamental good worth fighting for.

    But, like conservationists, scientists often shy away from such moral judgments, and for valid reasons: the fear of being perceived as not impartial, thereby undercutting the authority of their research; a sense of obligation to the politically diverse taxpayers who fund their work; an acute awareness of the limitations of their data, statistics and the scientific method itself. In the public sphere, however, this feigned objectivity can have the negative consequence of suggesting there are scientific solutions to philosophical questions.

    That wolf reintroduction advocates lean on science rather than those weightier themes is understandable. Yet arguing that having wolves in Colorado is an intrinsic good — because they represent what we want Colorado to become, not because they will have a net benefit on aspen growth or stream hydrology — would be more honest, and might win people over in unexpected ways.

    Back at the brewery in suburban Boulder, Rob Edward vacillated between polished language justifying reintroduction in scientific terms and moments of raw emotion: “They have wolves on the Gaza Strip. They have wolves in Italy. They have wolves in Northern-freaking-California. Why can’t we have wolves here?”

    IF THE BALLOT INITIATIVE passes this November, a three-year planning process begins, followed by what Anne Edward described as “paws on the ground” — the release of the first few wolves — in 2023, almost certainly in the San Juan Mountains. Advocates anticipate that this process will be difficult, and they are prepared for a fight.

    A successful reintroduction would be a remarkable accomplishment, given the fraught history of wolves in Colorado, as well as a landmark event in the gradual return of large carnivores to the 21st century West. It would also be a remarkable reflection of the blurring lines between science, belief and politics in the 21st century. As political gridlock becomes a feature of daily life, and environmental degradation — the cancerous rot of the Anthropocene — metastasizes, the impulse to circumvent collapsing institutions in response to crises is likely to become more common. In these circumstances, what role should scientists and science play? How much should uncertainty prevent action, and how much should empiricism determine our value system?

    There are no easy answers here. If the basic question of whether or not to reintroduce wolves to Colorado is largely beyond the purview of science, then perhaps putting it to a vote is the most responsible option. The messiness of democracy can be terrifying. Still, there may not be a better way. After all, the language of values has been a part of the modern conservation movement since its birth — the Endangered Species Act of 1973, for example, states that endangered species provide “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation.”

    Toward the end of my conversation with the Edwards, thinking of their many years of advocacy and of the curious arc of history, I asked them what it was like to see an end in sight. “Do you allow yourselves to get a little carried with the fantasy of it?” I asked. “Things are in your favor — have you started imagining ‘paws on the ground’?”

    Both were quiet for a moment, and the noise of the bar washed over us. “I’ve been working on this for 25 years,” Rob said, his voice breaking into a sob as Anne reached out and gripped his arm. “I certainly do.”

    Ethan Linck has previously written about recreation and conservation for High Country News, and about science and nature for Los Angeles Review of Books, Undark and Slate. He is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico, where he studies evolution and genetics in birds. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

    Study Finds Staggering Economic Benefit From Protecting Wetlands — The Revelator

    Florida mangroves ecoregion — in the coastal swamps of Florida. Aerial photograph of Florida wetlands. Credits Image from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/wetlands-and-swamps-public-domain-images-pictures/mangrove-plants-swamp-in-florida.jpg.html

    From The Revalator (Kimberly M. S. Cartier):

    For example, in Florida, the loss of just 3% of wetland coverage resulted in $480 million in property damage during just one hurricane.

    Mangrove forests, marshes, and seagrass beds protect inland areas from storm surges and strong winds. Over long periods, coastal wetlands like these build up sediment that mitigates sea level rise and local land subsidence.

    A new analysis of property damage from Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal storms has shown that counties with larger wetlands suffered lower property damage costs than did counties with smaller wetlands.

    “Starting in 1996, the U.S. government started to produce damage estimates for each tropical cyclone in a consistent manner,” explained coauthor Richard Carson, an economist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in La Jolla. Before that, the data were collected only for hurricanes, which hindered past attempts to put a price on the marginal value, or price per unit, of wetlands, he said.

    With the complete data set, the researchers examined all 88 tropical cyclones and hurricanes that affected the United States starting in 1996. That time period includes Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

    A Protective and Economic Boon

    In addition to property damage data for tropical cyclones of all strengths, “our data set has considerably more spatial resolution,” Carson said, “which is a result of large amounts of information on storm tracks, property location, and wetland location all being digitized for use in a geographical information system basis.”

    First author Fanglin Sun, formerly at UCSD and now an economist at Amazon.com, added that “areas subject to flood risk in a county are more accurately estimated, based on local elevation data and detailed information on individual storm trajectories” and wind speeds throughout affected areas.

    The finer level of detail for the storm data let the researchers finally begin connecting wetland coverage and storm damage on a county-by-county basis, Carson said. “A storm track moving a couple of kilometers one direction or the other allows the amount of wetland protection to vary within the same county.”

    In terms of property damage, Sun and Carson found that a square kilometer of wetlands saved an average of $1.8 million per year. Over the next 30 years, an average unit of wetlands could save $36 million in storm damage.

    Some wetlands were valued at less than $800 per year per square kilometer and some at nearly $100 million. That marginal value depended on many factors, including a county’s property values, existing wetland coverage, coastline shape, elevation, building codes, and chance of actually experiencing damaging winds. And each of those variables fluctuated over the 20 years the team studied.

    Overall, the highest-valued wetlands were in urban counties with large populations and the lowest-valued were in rural areas with small populations. However, wetlands provided a greater relative savings against weaker cyclones and in counties with less stringent building codes — areas that might not expect or plan for a tropical storm.

    The team found no significant difference in the marginal value of saltwater versus freshwater wetlands or mangroves versus marshes. “Forested wetlands tend to be better at reducing wind speed and marshes tend to be better at absorbing water,” Carson said, “so the specific nature of the storm when it hits an area is likely to matter. [But] our results suggest that, on average, there is no difference.”

    The team published these results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on March 3.

    Wetlands at Risk

    Most areas that have experienced storm-related property damage in the past 20 years have also lost wetland coverage, the researchers found. They calculated that Floridians would have been spared $480 million in property damage from Hurricane Irma alone had the state’s wetland coverage not shrunk by 2.8% in the decade prior.

    Moreover, recent changes to the Clean Water Act have made the remaining coastal wetlands more vulnerable.

    “The federal government, with respect to the U.S. Clean Water Act, took the position that the previous wetland studies were not reliable enough for use in assessing the benefits and cost of protecting wetlands,” Carson said.

    “The value coastal wetlands provide for storm protection is substantial and should be taken into account as policy makers debate the Clean Water Act,” Sun said. “It’s also worth noting,” she added, “that storm protection for property is just one of many ecological services that wetlands provide. We hope our study will spur future research quantifying these other services as well.”

    With tropical storms and hurricanes expected to happen more often because of climate change, the team wrote, wetlands will be more economically valuable than ever.

    This story first appeared on Eos.

    Western Water Webinars: Saline Lakes Series Part 1 – #SaltonSea, February 20, 2020 — @Audubon

    Just above the horizon here, a haboob (dust storm) can be seen heading north.
    This was shot at what remains of the Salton Sea Naval Test Station. Photo credit: slworking2/Flickr

    Click here to register:

    Audubon’s Western Water Initiative advocates for healthy rivers and lakes in the arid West, as well as the people and birds who depend on them.

    Audubon’s priority saline lake ecosystems—Great Salt Lake, Lahontan Valley, Salton Sea, Owens Lake, Mono Lake, and Lake Abert—are at risk due to changes in water quality, quantity, and timing of water delivery. These changes are brought on by drought, diversions, and climate change.

    This series of webinars will focus on efforts by Audubon and others to protect some of these unique systems. In this first webinar we will focus on a unique ecosystem that lies at the intersection of Western Water priority landscapes: The Salton Sea.

    Two members of Audubon California’s Salton Sea team, Andrea Jones (Director of Bird Conservation) and Frank Ruiz (Salton Sea Program Director) will discuss the history and current status of the Salton Sea, its relationship to the Colorado River and Delta, the status of birds, policy initiatives, and community engagement and education programs. Learn how you can contribute to our efforts at the Salton Sea, both locally and remotely.

    Time
    Feb 20, 2020 04:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

    Stoneflies and mayflies, canaries of our streams — @ColoradoStateU

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Boris Kondratieff):

    Editor’s note: Boris Kondratieff, professor of entomology and curator of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity at Colorado State University, wrote this piece for The Conversation in January 2020. Colorado State is a contributing institution to The Conversation, an independent collaboration between editors and academics that provides informed news analysis and commentary to the general public. See the entire list of contributing faculty and their articles here.

    The presence of mayflies and stone flies indicates clean water is nearby. Andrew/flickr, CC BY-NC via CSU.

    Experienced anglers recognize that for a trout, the ultimate “steak dinner” is a stonefly or mayfly. That’s why fly fishing enthusiasts will go to extreme lengths to imitate these graceful, elegant and fragile insects.

    I share their passion, but for different reasons. As a an entomologist who has studied stoneflies and mayflies for over 40 years, I’ve discovered these insects have value far beyond luring trout – they are indicators of water quality in streams and are a crucial piece of the larger food web. And they are in trouble.

    Collecting bugs

    I have served as director of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity since 1986. The greatest thrill of my career has been collecting and adding mayflies and stoneflies to our collection.

    Boris Kondratieff collecting aquatic insects in Oregon with former student Chris Verdone via CSU.

    To find specimens, I have traveled to pristine streams in every U.S. state, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Ecuador, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. My collecting trips have yielded more than 100 new species of mayflies and stoneflies.

    One of my favorites literally fell into my lap as I was beating lush foliage along a pristine stream in southern Oregon during May 2014. The beating sheet is an efficient means of sampling dense, streamside vegetation, where adult insects hide. The sheet itself is made of sturdy canvas stretched over two wooden cross members. A stick is used to knock the insects from the vegetation onto the canvas, where they are collected.

    When I saw a large yellow and black insect drop onto my sheet, I knew immediately it was a new stonefly species, previously unknown to science. I was ecstatic. My colleagues and I subsequently described it as Kathroperla siskiyou, after the Siskiyou mountains of southern Oregon.

    Mayflies and stoneflies thrive in unpolluted water – a fact my colleagues and I have witnessed firsthand on our numerous expeditions. Not only do we see greater overall abundance of these insects in clean streams, but more diversity of species, as well. In polluted areas, we observe the exact opposite. Without a doubt, the presence or absence of mayflies and stoneflies in a stream is a reliable indicator of the quality of its water.

    The role of mayflies and stoneflies in the food chain is fundamental, as well. Immature mayflies and stoneflies consume algae, living plants, dead leaves, wood and each other. In this nymph phase, when they have gills and live exclusively underwater, they are an important food source for many animals further up the food chain, including fish and wading birds. When the mayflies and stoneflies emerge from the water as adults, they are essential food for spiders, other insects such as dragonflies and damselflies, and many kinds of birds and bats.

    Mayflies are on the menu for this hungry fledgling. Keith Williams/flickr, CC BY-NC

    Currently, scientists estimate that 33% of all aquatic insects are threatened with extinction worldwide. Many of these species are mayflies and stoneflies. The mayfly species Ephemera compar has already gone extinct in Colorado, and several other species of aquatic insects are threatened in my home state.

    Life drains into a stream

    Less than 1% of Earth’s water is potable and available for human use. Maintaining water quality has become an ever increasing challenge because of the large number of chemicals people use in everyday life and in commerce. Common contaminants such as sediment, organic enrichment including fertilizers and animal waste and heavy metals are constantly making their way into the waters, as well. Declining water quality is like a police siren alerting humanity to current, ongoing and emerging pollution problems.

    Native plantings along a waterway can reduce storm water runoff. Sheryl Watson/Shutterstock.com

    One of my great passions is to enlighten others on how to protect the most valuable natural resource of the planet: streams and rivers. Individually, citizens can make a difference. Storm water is the number one water quality problem nationally. Enhancing and planting riparian buffers – that is, planted areas near streams – can help to prevent precipitation and sprinkler runoff. People can also prioritize using only native plants; decreasing mowing areas; recycling or composting yard waste; using less or no fertilizer; avoiding the use of pesticides; and bagging pet waste. Insisting that environmental laws be enforced and strengthened will also help reduce water pollution.

    Without clean water, life on Earth will become difficult or impossible for mayflies and stoneflies, not to mention people.

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Del Norte Riverfront Project update

    Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.

    From the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (Emma Reesor) via The Alamosa News:

    The reach of the Rio Grande running through North Park has seen a lot of change in the last two months. Workers and machinery from Robins Construction have braved the elements as part of a plan to improve access to one of Del Norte’s most valuable natural resources.

    North Park is one of the few public parks in Del Norte, situated on the Rio Grande just west of Highway 112. While featuring a fishing dock and riverside trail, the community thought more could be done to better connect residents to the river.

    From this need arose the Del Norte Riverfront Project a community-led effort to improve access, create recreation infrastructure, and enhance wildlife habitat on the Rio Grande adjacent to North Park. Project partners, including the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project,

    Town of Del Norte, Del Norte Trails Organization, Riverbend Engineering and Trout Unlimited have worked with the public over the past five years to plan and fundraise for the DNRFP.

    Phase 1 of the DNRFP was completed during the winter of 2018 and included a new boat ramp and parking area located on the north side of the river.

    In March of 2019, the DNRFP was selected to receive funding from Great Outdoors Colorado’s Local Parks and Outdoor Recreation grant program.

    It was one of 22 projects chosen to receive funding in a highly competitive pool of projects.

    This grant, along with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Gates Family Foundation, SLV Conservation and Connection Initiative, Del Norte Bank, Rio Grande County, and community donors, helped realize Phase 2 of the project, which includes the in-stream construction of a boating Play Wave, fish habitat improvements and passage, and river access points.

    Work on these structures began in November 2019 and will be complete in early 2020.

    Still yet to come this spring is an ADA accessible picnic area, as well as other park amenities. All these improvements will help promote a deeper connection to the river for residents and visitors alike.

    Emma Reesor, Executive Director of the RGHRP, has been integral in the planning and fundraising for the project, and is excited to see construction in full swing. “It’s been a joy to work with the community of Del Norte to make this vision a reality” Reesor said, “Improving connectivity between people and rivers will have a positive effect on the community as a whole”.

    Marty Asplin with the Del Norte Trails Organization has been a part of the DNRFP from the very beginning and worked hard to bring partners together to benefit Del Norte. “The addition of access to the Rio Grande was part of the Del Norte Trails Master Plan which was adopted by the Town of Del Norte and Rio Grande County in 2007,” said Marty Asplin, “accomplishing this is a large piece of the plan.”

    If you’d like to check out the progress of the project, the fishing dock is a great place to view the construction.

    To learn more about the DNRFP, contact Reesor at info@riograndeheadwaters.org or visit http://www.riograndeheadwaters.org.

    Report courtesy of Emma Reesor, Executive Director, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

    As the #SaltonSea shrinks, it leaves behind a toxic reminder of the cost of making a desert bloom — Food & Environment Reporting Network

    Aerial view of the Salton Sea from the north-northeast (from over Joshua Tree National Park), looking into the early afternoon sun. Photo credit: Dicklyon via Wikimedia Commons

    Here’s an in-depth report from Lindsay Fendt that’s running on the Food & Environment Reporting Network website. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Now the Salton Sea has another problem: Climate change is making this dry region even drier. And a growing demand for water in the booming cities and suburbs of Southern California has reduced the amount of Colorado River water diverted to nearby farms. In the coming years these two factors are expected to dramatically increase the pace at which the lake shrinks, exposing more lake bed and the agricultural toxins trapped in the mud.

    The desert winds lift dust from the lakebed, and scientists fear that eventually the toxic residue of more than a century of agricultural runoff will be blown into the air — and into the lungs of residents. The area surrounding the Salton Sea already has some of the worst air quality in the country, caused by particulate matter swept up from farms and the desert. Local residents have some of the highest rates of asthma and other respiratory problems in the state, and public health officials say the heavy metals and chemicals in the lake bed pose an even greater threat…

    It seems unnatural, the shimmering water surrounded by chalky sand and cactus. But water has found its way into this desert basin repeatedly throughout history. Before dams and other diversion structures fixed the Colorado River on its current path, the river used to periodically migrate across the floodplain, changing course to circumvent sediment that had built up in previous seasons. Sometimes it emptied here in the Salton Sink. During one such period, the river sustained an even larger lake, Lake Cahuilla, that stretched from the Coachella Valley, up by Palm Springs, all the way to northern Mexico.

    We fly near the Chocolate Mountains that rise up south of the Salton Sea, and Ruiz points to a discolored line high on one of the ridges where a thousand years ago lake water once reached.

    “If you talk to anyone from the Cahuilla tribe, the people who have been in this basin forever, they say water has always been here,” Ruiz said. “So this isn’t just about saving some artificial lake.”

    Lake Cahuilla dried up sometime in the 16th century after the river again shifted course, this time to the Gulf of California. Dams have tamed the river’s meandering, and it’s unlikely the Colorado will ever find its way into the Salton Sink again. Yet the river’s water is still coming, diverted into the desert via the 80-mile-long All-American Canal.

    Changes coming to Bear Creek Greenbelt — The Lakewood Sentinel

    Bear Creek Lake Park. Photo credit: GoHikeColorado.com

    From The Lakewood Sentinel (Joseph Rios):

    In the city of Lakewood, the Bear Creek Greenbelt is the place to be for residents who love the outdoors. Each year, the park, located at 2800 S. Estes St., attracts thousands of cyclists, hikers and others who get the opportunity to enjoy a scenic route to Denver, Bear Creek Lake Park or other places.

    With a grant secured from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board, the Colorado Youth Corps Association, a statewide coalition of eight corps that train children, young adults and veterans to work on conservation projects, will work with Lakewood to make the Bear Creek Greenbelt an even better place.

    At the beginning of last month, the GOCO Board awarded the city of Lakewood a $34,000 grant to help remove Russian olive trees. The removal will be done through a partnership with Lakewood and Mile High Youth Corps, one of the corps that is part of the Colorado Youth Corps Association.

    Russian Olive

    Russian olive trees usually reach 12 to 45 feet tall, according to Utah State University Extension. They’re typically found along floodplains, riverbanks, stream courses, marshes and irrigation ditches in the western area of the country and can displace native riparian vegetation, according to the university. The tree can also choke irrigation ditches and damage tires.

    “Really, the big benefit is to protect and restore wildlife habitat. It’s part of a larger restoration effort that is going to have an impact on people and the landscape,” said Madison Brannigan, program officer at GOCO. The organization uses proceeds from the Colorado Lottery to preserve, protect and enhance the state’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open spaces.

    The other part of the restoration effort at the Bear Creek Greenbelt will involve planting native trees and shrubs, removing weeds, seeding native grass, installing fencing, planting wetland vegetation and improving water quality, according to a release…

    Outside of training, members of the Colorado Youth Corps Association earn a payment and education award to use toward college or payment for student loans…

    In total, the GOCO Board awarded $61,000 worth of grants in Jefferson County to fund Colorado Youth Corps Association projects. Outside of Lakewood, the Foothills Park and Recreation District received a $27,000 grant to remove invasive species and to support habitat restoration.

    Challenges ahead for aspen forests — @AspenJournalism

    Aspen’s namesake trees, the quaking aspen, acts as a keystone species that sustains hundreds of other plants and animals. Aspens are also under stress from drier conditions, increased temperatures and over-browsing by large herbivores. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    Just as new research shows that aspen forests are a fountain of biodiversity, Aspen’s namesake trees in the Roaring Fork River watershed are battling warming temperatures, drier conditions, climate disruption, and unchecked herds of deer and elk. Although local aspen forests are currently faring OK, they face serious challenges.

    There are a few small aspen groves in Pitkin County’s Sky Mountain Park, tucked in valleys where there’s more moisture than what the surrounding oak brush needs— and Elise Osenga, a researcher at the Aspen Global Change Institute, keeps a close eye on these groves. Osenga leads a program that monitors soil moisture as part of efforts to better understand climate conditions in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Two of the monitoring stations — one at Sky Mountain and the other at North Star Nature Preserve — are in aspen groves.

    “We are interested in seeing,” Osenga said, “if soils are consistently drier over time, are the aspen able to survive?”

    There is not yet a long history of local soil conditions, but Osenga recently completed an assessment of the health of aspens near the two research stations.

    “The good news of what we found is we didn’t actually find many dead trees at this point,” she said. But Osenga noted that aspens can die off in sustained droughts or even after just one or two really dry years. Additionally, as temperatures rise with a changing climate, the rain that does fall evaporates more quickly, further drying out soils.

    Elise Osenga, a researcher with the Aspen Global Change Institute, walks among the aspens on the Airline Trail in Pitkin County’s Sky Mountain Park. She heads up a program to monitor soil moisture and climate conditions. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Aspens thrive on disruption

    Other local experts have found that there are local aspen groves that are struggling.

    “It’s really those south-facing, dry slopes where the aspen decline is pretty evident,” said Adam McCurdy, forest programs director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

    He pointed to groves near the radio tower on the Sunnyside Trail and up Castle Creek near the Toklat Gallery. Throughout the West and particularly in southwest Colorado, aspen trees on south- and southwest-facing slopes at low elevations are declining.

    But overall, the local forests are faring pretty well, McCurdy said. In fact, aspens thrive on disruptions.

    Dry conditions can mean increased risk of wildfire and bark-beetle infestations in evergreens, which thin forests and create openings for aspens to reproduce.

    In the mountains around Aspen, avalanches have cleared paths for aspen trees to peek through evergreen forests, creating landscape-level diversity that benefits the local ecosystem.

    “This really serves to break up the large stretches of what would otherwise be just spruce-fir forests and makes our forests more resilient to beetles and fire and all sorts of other disturbance,” McCurdy said.

    Young aspen trees with massive leaves poke up through avalanche wreckage in Maroon Creek Valley in the summer of 2019. Aspens take advantage of sunlight to grow after disruptions like avalanches, wildfire or beetle outbreaks. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Sunlight and moisture bring diverse life

    Young aspens are already taking root in the paths cleared by last spring’s historic avalanche cycle — and creating space for all kinds of forest life.

    Quaking aspen leaves let sunlight through the canopy, and the deep, rich soils under aspen communities hold more moisture than those in conifer forests. Such a combination of moisture and sunlight is the magic ticket for diverse life.

    “Under aspen communities, there might be up to a hundred different plant species, and then some people have made tabulations of 50, 60 or more animals using aspen on a daily basis,” said Paul Rogers, director of Western Aspen Alliance, which coordinates research and management of aspen ecosystems across western North America.

    A bear walks through an aspen grove in Snowmass Village this past fall. Bears are among dozens of animal species who use aspen communities. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Research shows biodiversity benefits of aspen forests

    Rogers co-authored a recent review of aspen research that contends that conservation of aspen ecosystems can benefit global biodiversity. Rogers and more than a dozen fellow researchers argue for a “mega-conservation” strategy: By sustaining the keystone aspen forests, a wide range of species would also be protected.

    But, in addition to drier soils, aspen forests across the world are under stress from human activities such as mining, logging and urban development — as well as from some of the very wildlife they help support. Young trees are particularly nutritious and attractive to elk and deer, and herds sometimes stay in one spot for days, eating all the new shoots.

    This results in an aging forest, and when the old trees start to die off, “you have a real problem,” Rogers said. “And so, if you combine that with drought, which is happening throughout Colorado, throughout the Western states, that is the biggest threat to aspen ecosystems.”

    Reintroducing predators, such as wolves, could help — especially because when predators are in the area, herbivores can’t stay in one place long enough to overeat young trees, Rogers said. The reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is a contentious issue that is likely to be on the ballot in the fall of 2020.

    Rogers also noted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers have increased the targeted size of elk herds over decades. The population goal for the Avalanche Creek elk herd, for example, increased from 3,300 in 1988 to a range of 3,600-5,400 in 2013.

    “We’ve taken away predators, for the most part, that are going to keep those populations in check, but we’ve also managed those big herbivore populations for economics, quite frankly,” Rogers said. “Every state sells hunting licenses, and so to keep those revenues up, they keep those populations high. And those high populations have an impact on ecosystems.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with Aspen Public Radio and The Aspen Times on coverage of the environment. A version of this story aired on APR on Dec. 27 and this story ran in the Dec. 29 edition of The Aspen Times.

    @COParksWildlife celebrates 30 years of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act

    Photo of wetlands at Eliott State Wildlife Area courtesy of Ducks Unlimited via Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Travis Duncan):

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife is celebrating 30 years of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act this month. NAWCA, signed in December 1989, provides financial support for waterfowl habitat that also supports a multitude of other wetland-related wildlife species. NAWCA provides matching grants to wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Over the past three decades, the acquisition and restoration of wetland habitat have provided healthy wetlands where:

  • waterfowl populations have grown,
  • waterways and water sources are cleaner,
  • and recreation opportunities (birding, hunting, hiking and boating) have all increased.
  • NAWCA grants increase bird populations and wetland habitat, while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, family farming, and cattle ranching. Wetlands protected by NAWCA provide valuable benefits such as flood control, reducing coastal erosion, improving water and air quality, and recharging groundwater.

    In the past two decades alone, NAWCA has funded over 2,950 projects totaling $1.73 billion in grants. More than 6,200 partners have contributed another $3.57 billion in matching funds to affect 30 million acres of habitat.

    Since it began 30 years ago, NAWCA funds have contributed $25 million to Colorado’s wetlands.

    “Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado Wetlands for Wildlife Program has been able to leverage annual grant funding from Great Outdoors Colorado to expand the scope of projects in Colorado that are eligible for matching grant funding under NAWCA,” said CPW Wetlands Program Coordinator Brian Sullivan. “These funds are critical to our ability to conserve wetlands in Colorado.”

    “Funding from the North American Wetland Conservation Act was critical to the success of our Rio Grande Initiative to protect 25,000 acres of private ranchland along the Rio Grande and its tributaries,” said Allen Law, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. “Conservation easements on these ranches helped our agricultural community while permanently protecting thousands of acres of Colorado’s most resilient and important wetlands.”

    Below are some examples of NAWCA-funded projects in Colorado

    Elliott State Wildlife Area Shallow Water Wetlands – Completed September 2018
    Elliott State Wildlife Area (SWA), adjacent to the South Platte River near Brush, Colorado is a complex of numerous shallow wetlands that are flooded in the spring and fall utilizing Union Ditch water rights for migratory bird habitat and fall public recreation. Unfortunately, many of the basins contained deep, scoured areas that tended to pool deep water, which then limited the capacity of the entire flow-thru complex and greatly hampered bird and hunter use.

    Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DU) utilized their professional expertise to engineer and regrade 15 of the existing basins, amounting to roughly 200 acres of wetlands. For this project, DU developed a professional engineering plan set that established ideal grading across 15 of the basins, amounting to roughly 200 acres of wetlands. DU then bid, contracted, and managed heavy equipment operators to fill and redistribute soil in the basins in order to disperse water better and provide additional flooded habitat.

    CPW staff also worked to refurbish the water delivery ditch and diversion structures, and improve the water management structures between basins. NAWCA funds of more than $150,000 secured by DU were matched by CPW and Great Outdoors Colorado contributions of nearly $75,000 to enable this project.

    The benefits of this partnership project are widespread, including increased habitat acres, higher quality recreation opportunities, more efficient water use and improved management capacity.

    Cross Arrow Ranch Conservation Easement – Completed September 2009
    Lying at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Conejos River, the Cross Arrow Ranch conservation easement held by the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) protected 3,238 acres of productive ranchlands along with senior water rights. Over 2,000 acres of this property are wetlands, which provide habitat for a wide variety of migratory birds like waterfowl, sandhill cranes, and the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

    Conservation easements are important to wetland conservation in the San Luis Valley because over 90% of wetlands regionally are on private lands. Similarly, the most resilient wetlands are on private lands because senior water rights and flood irrigation boost wetland function, especially during drought years. Conservation easements protect these critical habitats from fragmentation, water export, and residential development.

    To preserve the wetlands on this spectacular ranch forever, NAWCA funding secured by RiGHT was matched by generous contributions from the landowners, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the Nature Conservancy.

    Learn more about the 30th anniversary of the North America Wetlands Conservation Act by visiting http://nawmp.org/nawca30.

    The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awards >$500,000 to help threatened #RioGrande #Cutthroat survival #Colorado #NewMexico

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    Every year in late spring, 200 volunteers hike into Rio Grande Gorge north of Taos. Their backpacks are each filled with a few gallons of water – and 100 young Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

    The state fish of New Mexico thrives in clear, cold, high-altitude streams, which means its habitat is threatened by wildfires, warming waters and invasive trout species. Now, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded more than half a million dollars as part of a new recovery program.

    Toner Mitchell, Trout Unlimited’s New Mexico Water and Habitat and Public Lands Coordinator, said the money will fund stream improvements and fish restoration. Trout Unlimited will receive $96,059 for New Mexico projects and $152,416 for Colorado projects…

    Agencies and tribes in New Mexico and Colorado renewed a conservation agreement in 2013 with a strategy to protect the fish. The groups have restored trout habitat on Comanche Creek, a main tributary of the Rio Costilla and just a few miles from the Colorado state line.

    “We want to bring these new fish populations into the best available habitat,” said Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited Rio Grande Basin Project Manager. “We have spent decades reconnecting stream miles, removing non-native trout and stocking streams with Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Then the agencies check in on those fish to make sure they’re healthy and reproducing.”

    On Comanche Creek, the groups have reduced bank erosion and raised the riparian water table by at least a foot, which improves stream flow and habitat for the sensitive fish…

    The new funding will help assess habitat restoration work for tributary streams of the Rio San Antonio.

    The Center for Biological Diversity wants Rio Grande cutthroat trout to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. But many conservationists believe they can save the fish without federal protection.

    The restoration projects are already working, said Mitchell, who added that restrictions on grazing, fishing and land use that usually accompany an endangered status could turn the Rio Grande cutthroat trout into “public enemy No. 1.”

    […]

    The Rio Puerco Alliance will also receive $151,684 as part of this program to minimize bank erosion on Encinado Creek in Rio Arriba County and create a barrier to keep out invasive trout species.

    Wild rainbow trout population growing in the Gunnison Gorge — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    A tiny rainbow trout fry is giving CPW biologists hope that wild fish are reproducing naturally in the Gunnison River Gorge and that will eventually help to restore wild rainbows to rivers throughout the state. Photo credit: CPW

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    Work to restore wild rainbow trout in the Gunnison Gorge is starting to pay off as the population of the species is slowly increasing, according to surveys conducted recently by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. CPW biologists are hopeful that the success on the Gunnison will eventually help bring wild rainbows back to all Colorado’s rivers and streams.

    Rainbow trout once dominated the renowned Gunnison River; but in 1994 CPW biologists found fish there infected with whirling disease and their population drifted toward zero. Brown trout, which are much more resistant to whirling disease, quickly took over and now are the dominant fish in the gorge and many other Colorado streams. Whirling disease infected streams and rivers throughout the state and imperiled rainbow trout populations.

    The most significant observation from the Gunnison survey completed in October showed an abundance of “young of the year” fish that hatched in mid-summer and that showed no symptoms of whirling disease.

    “We found the highest number of rainbow fry we’ve ever seen since the 1990s and they were spread over multiple sites in the canyon,” said Eric Gardunio, aquatic biologist for CPW in Montrose. “We’re seeing natural reproduction throughout the canyon and survival of wild fish in the life stage where they can be affected by whirling disease. It’s very encouraging.”

    Rainbow Trout

    For adult fish, the survey found 630 rainbow trout per mile in the survey sections. That’s significantly fewer than the 1,500-2,000 rainbows found per mile in the days before whirling disease; but improvement from the last few years is evident. In 2014, surveys found just 173 fish per mile; 489 fish per mile in 2016; and 522 fish per mile in 2017.

    By comparison, brown trout now number about 5,000 fish per mile.

    “It’s a very healthy river, but for rainbows we have a long way to go before we’ll be comfortable saying they are fully recovered,” Gardunio said.

    CPW continues to stock whirling-disease resistant rainbows in that section of the Gunnison and at other rivers throughout the state.

    The recovery plan for the fish started tentatively in 2003 when CPW obtained a whirling-disease resistant strain of rainbows from a hatchery in Germany. The fish, however, had been hatchery-raised for decades and were “domesticated”, meaning they had no experience in the wild. CPW researchers crossed the spawn of these fish, known as Hofers, with several other strains of rainbow trout. The crosses showed significant resistance to whirling disease and exhibited a “flight response” when placed in reservoirs.

    In the spring of 2007, biologists started stocking the Hofer-cross fry in rivers and reservoirs statewide. Results were mixed throughout the state, but biologists found that the new strains did best in the East Portal section of the Gunnison River where CPW had, for many years, spawned wild trout to supply state hatcheries. That spot continues to be a productive area and rainbows are spawned there every year. They’ve even been given their own name – Gunnison River Rainbows.

    Finding the young wild fish downstream in the Gunnison Gorge provides another encouraging sign that the 20-year journey to recover rainbow trout has been worth the effort. The abundance of brown trout, predators that feast on small fish, are perhaps the biggest challenge in the Gunnison and other rivers.

    “The wild fry are the best thing for us to see down there,” Gardunio said. “As those fish grow into adults we’ll have more and more fish and hopefully, a self-sustaining population. We hope to see a continuing gradual increase.”

    And if they thrive in the Gunnison, biologists are confident they’ll eventually take hold in big rivers throughout the state.

    Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

    Great Outdoors Colorado board awards $15.2m for Fishers Peak, land conservation, youth corps projects

    Fishers Peak. By Michelle Goodall from Trinidad, USA – Fishers peakUploaded by xnatedawgx, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14915627

    Here’s the release from Great Outdoors Colorado:

    oday, The GOCO Board awarded $15.2 million in funding to 24 projects across the state, which includes open space grants, youth corps grants, and an additional $9.75 million investment in Fishers Peak Ranch in Las Animas County.

    The Fishers Peak funding will support Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the agency’s acquisition of the property, which will become Colorado’s 42nd state park. This brings GOCO’s investment to date in the acquisition to $17.25 million. Given the size and scale of the property, visitors can expect multiple phases of development, with the first stage of public access slated for 2021 if not sooner.

    GOCO awarded $5 million as part of its open space grant program, which funds private and public land conservation projects that give outdoor recreationists a place to play (or simply enjoy the view), protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds, and sustain local agriculture.

    GOCO also awarded $500,000 in Youth Corps funding through the Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA), which represents a statewide coalition of eight accredited corps that train youth, young adults, and veterans to work on land and water conservation projects. Corpsmembers earn a stipend for their service and an AmeriCorps education award to use toward college or reducing existing student loans.

    In total, the open space and youth corps projects awarded grants this round will:

  • Invest in 23 projects in 18 counties
  • Conserve 16,852 acres of land, including wildlife habitat for 39 rare and imperiled species
  • Protect nearly 40 miles of riverway, creeks, and streams
  • Leverage $11.2 million in local matching funds
  • Reduce wildfire risk on 50 acres of open space
  • Restore and rebuild 6 miles of trail
  • Clear more than 350 acres of invasive plant and weed species
  • Funded projects are as follows:

    OPEN SPACE – $5,000,000 AWARDED

    Conejos Ranchland Initiative– Preserving Working Wet Meadows, $925,986 to Colorado Open Lands

    COL will work with the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to conserve the 500-acre Rancho la Luz, the 433-acre Jackson Ranch, the 160-acre Crowther Meadows Ranch, and the 587-acre Caldon Cattle Company property, all located in the Conejos River floodplain near Manassa and some of the oldest ranches in Colorado.

    In addition to helping maintain the region’s agricultural heritage, as the ranches will stay in operation, conserving the properties will protect 3.48 miles of active channels of the Conejos and San Antonio rivers. The riparian areas create a rich nesting and foraging environment for a wide array of waterfowl and migratory birds, such as bald eagle and greater sandhill crane. Large and small mammals call the ranches home, including a resident elk herd and river otter.

    E Bar Ranch Conservation Legacy, $245,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust

    CCALT will conserve four parcels of E Bar Ranch, comprising 5,250 acres of native grasslands and riparian corridors in Elbert County. This project builds on a growing effort toward landscape-level conservation in the area, protecting its unique agricultural heritage, wildlife habitat, and ecological features forever. Several miles of Middle Bijou Creek, Wilson Creek, and Cattle Gulch run through the property, which serve as tributaries to the South Platte River and are essential to the overall watershed. The riparian areas provide important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, while also sustaining the livestock raised on the property.

    Native short-grass prairie covers most of the property. Colorado has lost approximately 50 percent of its native prairie grasslands due to development, and it is a priority for many conservation groups to protect what remains of this landscape.

    Heartland Ranch Preserve Expansion– Jagers Phase 1, $1,000,000 grant to Southern Plains Land Trust

    SPLT will use its GOCO funding to expand Heartland Ranch Nature Preserve by purchasing a 6,614-acre parcel of the adjacent Jagers Ranch. The Jagers parcel will protect 7.4 miles of Arkansas River tributaries. The property is highly biodiverse, with critical habitat for leopard frog, swift fox, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, burrowing owl, horned lizard, and the potential reintroduction of black-footed ferret.

    The property contains short grass prairie, dramatic rock-covered mesas, lush canyons and bottomlands, perennial springs, and juniper woodlands that serve as feeding and breeding grounds for bison, pronghorn, and elk herds. Conservation of this property advances Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s conservation plan for grassland species in the area that the Colorado Natural Heritage Program considers of high biodiversity significance.

    Homestead Ranch Preserve, $854,014 grant to Pitkin County

    With the help of the GOCO grant, Pitkin County will acquire an inholding located in Thompson Divide from a private landowner. The property, which lies within a Colorado Natural Heritage Area of high biodiversity significance, is comprised primarily of aspen meadows and ponds and offers unique ecological features such as cottonwood, blue spruce, and alder trees. The project will protect one mile of pristine riparian habitat, which contributes to the outstanding wildlife habitat in the area. Elk and mule deer use the property as calving and fawning grounds, and it also provides habitat for bear, moose, mountain lion, lynx, and rare plants.

    Morimitsu Farm/Historic Splendid Valley, $750,000 grant to The Conservation Fund

    Morimitsu Farm is a 79-acre property located south of Downtown Brighton in the recently branded Historic Splendid Valley. The City of Brighton and Adams County have identified the area as prime for growing, processing, and distributing local food crops. The Conservation Fund will acquire the property with the help of GOCO funds and convey a conservation easement to Adams County, allowing for continued agricultural production on the land and protecting it from development forever. The farm’s soil is some of the most fertile in the state, and the property’s access to water from Fulton Ditch, a diversion of the South Platte River, makes it valuable for agriculture. Several migratory bird species rely on the land for habitat, and deer, fox, coyote, raccoon, and other wildlife are also found on the property.

    Ridgway Inholding, $700,000 grant to Eagle Valley Land Trust

    In 2017, with the help of GOCO funding, Eagle County purchased a 1,540-acre property formerly known as Hardscrabble Ranch and developed Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space (BCVROS). With its new grant, in partnership with Eagle County Open Space, EVLT will purchase and conserve a 129-acre private inholding to BCVROS that will connect hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands and conserved riparian habitats. Conserving this property will forever protect the land’s scenic views along the well-traveled road to Sylvan Lake State Park, as well as one mile of Brush Creek, resulting in seven contiguous conserved miles of the creek. The riparian corridor serves as high-quality habitat for fish, waterfowl, migratory birds, raptors, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and big game. It also contains vital winter habitat and migration corridors for elk and mule deer.

    The stretch of creek will complete the missing piece in the three miles of creek running through BCVROS, creating new opportunities for public fishing, education, and recreation. A trailhead is planned for the northern border of the inholding; future trails will provide connectivity to thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management land.

    Taylor-Oswald Ranch Conservation, $525,000 grant to San Isabel Land Protection Trust

    San Isabel, in partnership with The Trust for Public Land, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will conserve the 2,687-acre Taylor-Oswald Ranch, a working ranch adjacent to the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness in Fremont County. Conserving the property will permanently protect its significant wildlife corridors, water resources, and scenic vistas from U.S. Highway 50. The conserved property also provides connection between other protected lands.

    The ranch encompasses 122 acres of productive irrigated meadows and native wetlands, 26 miles of Arkansas River tributaries, and habitat for bird species of concern such as bald eagle, ferruginous hawk, willow flycatcher, prairie falcon, and others. Elk, mule deer, pronghorn, wild turkey, mountain lion, black bear, and bobcat also call the property home. Providing a crucial wildlife corridor that links the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the Arkansas River, the ranch is directly adjacent to other conserved ranches and thousands of acres of public lands.

    Russian Olive

    YOUTH CORPS – $500,000 AWARDED

    Alamosa Riparian Park, Alamosa City Ranch, Malm Trail, $16,600 grant to the City of Alamosa

    The City of Alamosa will use its GOCO funding to hire Southwest Conservation Corps crews to construct new trails and improve existing trails at Alamosa Riparian Park, at Alamosa City Ranch, and on the city’s south side. Alamosa has expanded its trail network in recent years, creating additional, ongoing need for care and maintenance.

    Box Cañon Falls Park Trail Repair and Beautification Project, $14,600 grant to the City of Ouray
    With its GOCO grant, the City of Ouray will hire Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) crews to restore trails, remove old fences, thin limbs and brush, add check dams to assist with drainage, and repair a retaining wall at Box Cañon Falls. Crew members will also identify areas in need of updated interpretive signage to enhance visitors’ learning experience. Efforts by the City and SCC will help ensure visitors continue to enjoy a safe, enjoyable recreation experience at the park.

    Brush Creek Valley Ranch Fence Removal and Trail Reroute, $15,200 grant to Eagle County

    Eagle County will hire crews from Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) to make updates to Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space. Based on recommendations from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, RMYC corps members will remove outdated, barbed wire fences and replace them with wildlife-friendly, high-tensile fencing. In addition, crews will construct a trail to connect users to nearby BLM lands.

    City of Thornton Big Dry Creek Russian Olive Removal, $25,000 grant to the City of Thornton

    With the help of GOCO funding, the City of Thornton will employ chainsaw crews from Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) to continue Russian olive removal at Big Dry Creek open space. Thornton and Adams County previously received funding for four weeks of work to remove invasive species from 293 acres of open space. Phase two will allow crews to remove the invasives from an additional 250 acres. MHYC will eradicate all remaining Russian olive from the open space corridor to improve the overall health and stability of Big Dry Creek. It will also promote the biodiversity of native vegetation, which is critical for wildlife habitat.

    Crested Butte Open Space Fencing and Noxious Weed Stewardship Project, $25,600 grant to Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT)
    With this GOCO grant, CBLT will hire Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) crews to treat areas overrun with noxious weeds across 20 miles of trail and more than 100 acres of remote terrain on conserved lands. The work will support the land trust’s larger effort to create a long-term, noxious weed management plan and help restore the natural landscape of Crested Butte’s trails and open spaces. In addition, WCCC crews will help rebuild CBLT-maintained cattle exclusion fences, repairing wire breaks and broken posts, which have been damaged by heavy snowfall in recent years.

    East Plum Creek Restoration, $37,000 grant to Douglas County Conservation District

    Douglas County Conservation District will use its GOCO funding to hire Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) crews to restore eroded sections of once-healthy areas of East Plum Creek. Overgrazing of cattle accelerated erosion and diminished the quality of the wildlife habitat on the property. In addition, road construction near the creek inhibited the soil’s ability to retain moisture needed to support native plants and hold the banks together. To restore soil quality and help restore the ecosystem, crews will remove invasive species, such as Russian olive trees, and revegetate the 42-acre area with native plant species.
    Elkhorn Creek Forest Health Initiative, $51,200 grant to Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS)

    CSFS will partner with the Elkhorn Creek Forest Health Initiative and Larimer County Conservation Corps to reduce fire hazards through thinning, pile burning, and prescribed fire treatments at Ben Delatour Scout Ranch. CSFS aims to outline a plan to help build capacity within neighboring communities to assist with future forest health maintenance and wildfire mitigation efforts.

    East Big Thompson River Invasive Species Removal and Mitigation Project, $18,000 grant to the City of Loveland

    The City of Loveland will use its grant to treat and remove invasive species such as Russian olive, Siberian elm, and tamarisk in the 140-acre East Big Thompson River corridor. Larimer County Conservation Corps chainsaw crews will cut invasive trees to ground level and treat the area with herbicide to prevent re-growth. The work will improve wetland habitat along the river corridor and provide optimal conditions for native trees, shrubs, and underlying vegetation to recover.

    Garden of the Gods & Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, $27,000 grant to the City of Colorado Springs

    With the help of GOCO funding, the City of Colorado Springs will hire crews from Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) to treat a 17.5-acre area of Garden of the Gods Park for noxious weed species and distribute seed mix to encourage the growth of native grasses. MHYC’s work will help restore the natural resources in and around the park, support the city’s long-term noxious weed prevention plan, and promote the importance of conservation efforts in the region’s most visited park.

    GGP Seasonal Garden for Community Education, $15,200 grant to the Town of Pagosa Springs

    The Town of Pagosa Springs will use its GOCO funding to hire a camping crew from Southwest Conservation Corps to work on the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) public education facilities in Centennial Park for two weeks. Work will include building 140 feet of wildlife fencing, planting native species to promote pollinator and bird habitat, and planting seedlings of the federally-endangered Pagosa skyrocket.

    Restoration Plan for the Monument Corridor, $36,000 grant to Colorado West Land Trust (CWLT)

    With the help of the GOCO grant, CWLT will hire Western Colorado Conservation Corps for restoration work in Monument Corridor open space. Corps members will treat and remove invasive vegetation along the trail corridor, plant and seed native species, clear debris, and help plant a demonstration garden at Lunch Loop Trailhead. Construction of the nearby Lunch Loop Connector Trail recently disturbed the invasive species, presenting an opportunity to restore the area with native species. Treating and removing the invasive vegetation will ensure a better experience for trail users, protect nearby wetlands, and reduce wildfire risk.

    Riverside Park Open Space Restoration, $47,400 grant to the City of Evans

    With the help of GOCO funding, the City of Evans will hire crews from Weld County Youth Conservation Corps to restore areas of Riverside Park Open Space that were damaged during the 2013 floods. The entire park was closed for five years but reopened to the public in 2018 after significant restoration work. An eight-acre area at the west end of the park was not restored and is now significantly overgrown. Crews will work for eight weeks to cut and chip excess vegetation and prepare the area for public access.

    Russian Olive Removal Project, $34,000 grant to the City of Lakewood

    The City of Lakewood will employ Mile High Youth Corps to plant native trees and shrubs, remove invasive weeds, and seed native grass along the Bear Creek Greenbelt. The work marks a new phase of restoration efforts by the partners, which have worked to remove 100 percent of the invasive Russian olive tree species in the area since 2013. Additionally, crews will install fencing in restored areas and plant wetland vegetation to support species diversity and improve water quality.

    Russian Olive Tree Removal, $27,000 grant to Foothills Park and Recreation District (FHPRD)

    Over the last four years, FHPRD has hired Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) to assist with the large-scale removal of Russian olive trees on various properties within the district. With its GOCO grant, FHPRD will partner again with MYHC to build on these eradication efforts and remove more than 1,000 Russian olive trees from 81 acres of wetland habitat on the Meadows Greenbelt and Dutch Creek Drainage property.

    Spring Creek Park Restoration Work, $15,200 grant to the Town of Brookside

    With the help of GOCO funding, Mile High Youth Corps will assist with clearing debris, including tree trunks, branches, and other vegetation that prevent mowing of the area and pose a potential fire threat. Corps members will also help rebuild and seal the perimeter fence, rebuild the pedestrian bridge and park benches, repaint the property’s shed and vault restroom, and perform trail restoration work.

    Steamboat Springs Trail Project, $35,000 grant to the City of Steamboat Springs

    With the help of GOCO funding, the City of Steamboat Springs will employ crews from Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) for trail building and restoration work. At Spring Creek Pond Loop Trail, RMYC corps members will build and restore trail at the area’s upper pond. At Emerald Mountain, crews will reroute 1,500 feet of the Prayer Flag Trail, which was built 25 years ago and has become badly eroded. Just outside of downtown, RMYC crews will build the first official trail at Rita Valentine Park to discourage the creation and use of social trails.

    Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,000 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

    Brad Evans’s Mission to Turn #SouthPlatteRiver From a Sewer Into a Gem — Westword

    From Westword (Michael Roberts:

    Brad Evans loves to stir up shit. The founder of the Denver Cruisers Ride and a 2018 candidate for the RTD board is also the prime mover for Denver FUGLY, which draws attention to the most unsightly new development in the city. And he was among the driving forces behind Ditch the Ditch, a group that unsuccessfully sued to stop the Central 70 project.

    Now, Evans has another title to add to his collection: South Platte River Waterkeeper. Under the auspices of Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization that bills itself “the largest and fastest growing nonprofit solely focused on clean water,” he will work toward protecting and restoring a waterway that he sees as in desperate need of attention and care. The South Platte is one of Denver’s primary water sources, but a Waterkeeper Alliance release argues that it’s been tainted by “rampant development, unmonitored dumping from chemical and production plants, and hundreds of stormwater drains.”

    “It’s been a sewer rather than a jewel,” Evans says. “So how do you shift from it being a sewer to treating it like a gem? That’s what we’re going to find out. But right now, we’re still in the sewer phase.”

    Sounds like the perfect gig for a shit-stirrer — although he’s much more interested in reducing the river’s waste and pollution than simply swirling it around, as evidenced by a new online fundraising endeavor being launched in conjunction with Colorado Gives Day today, December 10.

    According to Waterkeeper Alliance U.S. organizing manager Bart Mihailovich, “we’re a global support network of 350 waterkeepers and waterkeeper affiliates around the world. We serve to support autonomous, local grassroots work with services, so they can do the important work they do to fight for drinkable, fishable and swimmable waters around the world.”

    River diversion will eliminate portaging — The Leadville Herald

    A river project, partially funded by the CWCB on the Arkansas River at Granite. The project was removing a river-wide diversion structure and replacing it with a new diversion structure that will allow unimpeded boating through Granite. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Chaffee County Times (Max R. Smith) via The Leadville Herald:

    In the mid-1960s, a partnership between the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora installed a diversion dam in the Arkansas River south of Granite near Clear Creek Reservoir as part of a pipeline system bringing water from the western slope of the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

    The presence of the diversion dam caused that portion of the river to be non-navigable, requiring portaging of one’s raft or kayak.

    By the end of this year, however, Colorado Springs Utilities is on schedule to complete a three-year project to build a new river diversion that will allow boaters to float right through, meaning that the 2020 rafting season will be the first in over 50 years in which the entirety of the Arkansas can be travelled without portage.

    “We’ll see how the snow treats us over the next couple weeks, but we’re really down to some final boulder work in the river and general site cleanup at this point,” said CSU project manager Brian McCormick.

    The intake that pumped water out of the Arkansas (which, legally speaking, comes from the Eagle River Basin as part of the Homestake Project), destined for Aurora and Colorado Springs, “as with anything in the river for 50-plus years, it took some wear and tear,” McCormick said. “By about the mid-2000s, the cities recognized we needed to rehabilitate this structure to keep it as a reliable facility and ensure safety of the river users.”

    Construction on the new $9.1 million diversion project began in 2016 after a number of years of planning, budgeting, and engineering. Support for the project included $1.2 million in grant funding from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

    Significant to water consumers in Colorado Springs and Aurora, the project utilizes a new intake and piping structure to send water to the Otero pump station, he said.

    Significant to boaters is a chute constructed of boulders and mortar with six two-foot drops that will allow them to pass the intake facility without exiting the river. McCormick said that CSU put the call out to members of Colorado’s river recreation community to participate in a trial run down the chute in November, testing the Arkansas’s newest whitewater feature…

    Significant to the scaled, Omega-3 rich denizens of the Arkansas who swim upstream to spawn every year, the new diversion also features a fish ladder: a sequence of weirs and pools that give brown and rainbow trout a route to move up the river to their spawning grounds.

    Adam Beh named Executive Director of Central #Colorado Conservancy — The Ark Valley Voice

    Adam Beh. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy

    From the Central Colorado Conservancy via The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Adam Beh has joined the Central Colorado Conservancy as its new executive director, bringing more than 20 years of experience in conservation and rural development to the position. He started the job in late October, relocating from northern Colorado where he served as the Chief Conservation Officer for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

    Beh, an active outdoorsman, received his PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University (2010). He says he is always interested in exploring the social dynamics that influence success in landscape-level conservation. With a focus on applied science, land stewardship and community education, he led the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies land stewardship investments in the Intermountain West, including public-private partnerships among federal, state and nonprofit groups.

    He says Central Colorado Conservancy’s focus on community involvement, including the countywide Envision process, was a strong draw in his decision to take the position. The Conservancy’s support of the agricultural community was another key facet in his decision.

    “I wanted to stay focused on true community-based conservation efforts,” said Beh, adding that he is excited at the prospect of exporting the community-driven model to other places. “Not every organization out there has a rural way of life component as a driver.” He points to the Conservancy’s Hands for Lands volunteer program as a good example of reaching out to the rural community and supplying help with labor-intensive tasks such as spring ditch clearing.

    He notes that the Conservancy recently began the important Forever Chaffee project. It includes conservation easements of nearly 2,000 total acres for the Centerville Ranch, the Tri Lazy Ranch property (which connects the Centerville land east to Brown’s Canyon National Monument), and the Arrowpoint Cattle Company, which lies north of the Tri Lazy W.

    Beh plans to continue to grow the Conservancy’s existing programs, including restoration of the Sands Lake Wildlife Area. The project serves to restore Sands Lake to enhance the site for both wildlife and citizens of Colorado, using Natural Resource Damages settlement money from the California Gulch Mining Site. The project collaborates with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Southwest Conservation Corps, with volunteer help from Hands for Lands.

    Based on his work with birds, Beh emphasizes the importance of habitat links across the landscape. “Birds need those spaces – from Canada to Mexico. It makes you think differently.” He sees Central Colorado Conservancy as “a different type of land trust” that brings multiple resources to a property to enhance habitat, water quality and other factors that support the long-term health and beauty of the space.

    He can be reached at adam@centralcoloradoconservancy.org.

    #FERC flooded with opposition to #LittleColoradoRiver dam proposals — The #Arizona Daily Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Arizona Daily Sun (Scott Buffon):

    Many of the comments filed before the comment window closed criticized Pumped Hydro Storage LLC’s applications for four dams in the Little Colorado River.

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits, if granted, would allow Pumped Hydro Storage to study the impacts of constructing the four possible dams. The Navajo Nation owns the land where the dams are proposed, and would need to approve any project for development. The first proposal is a half mile from the boundary of the Grand Canyon National Park and is called the Little Colorado River Pumped Storage Project. The other is five miles upstream and called the Salt Trail Canyon Pumped Storage Project.

    The comments filed stem from many groups, including conservation and recreation groups as well as Native American tribes.

    Earthjustice, a legal environmental organization, filed a motion to intervene in the process on behalf of seven conservation groups: Save the Colorado, Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Colorado Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc., and Wildearth Guardians. Some of these conservation groups also filed comments on behalf of other members of the public.

    The filing argues that allowing the corporations to conduct the studies would be a waste of FERC’s time, Earthjustice’s attorney Michael Hiatt said…

    The Humpback Chub is endangered species that can be found in the Colorado River at the confluence where the river merges with the Little Colorado River. The proposal closer to the park, deemed the Little Colorado proposal, could directly impact the threatened fish.

    The chub originally evolved within the rushing waters of the Colorado River before Glen Canyon Dam was constructed, and thrives in warmer waters. The Little Colorado River has become a critical resource for the restoration effort, as its warmer and undammed waters offer a place for it to spawn.

    Steve Irwin, the applicant from Pumped Hydro Storage LLC, now understands the impact the dam could have on the chub, saying he had heard many people’s complaints. Despite the complaints, Irwin suggested the location is great for a dam due to the steady source of water and steep walls.

    He defended his proposal, saying the electricity and jobs are needed in the region, and that he would be willing to modify the project going forward to a certain extent…

    Proposal details

    These proposals are two of five that Pumped Hydro Storage has filed around Arizona, including one on the San Francisco River, one on the Gila River and one on the Salt River, according to FERC documents.

    The Little Colorado proposal would create two dams: one 150-foot high, 1,000-foot long lower dam and a reservoir that can store 15,000 acre-feet of water. The second 200 foot-high, 3,200-foot long upper dam and reservoir would store 15,400 acre-feet of water.

    Both the Little Colorado and Salt Trail Canyon proposals would have water travel from the higher reservoir into the lower reservoir and pass the water through turbines to create their energy…

    In order to transmit power from the dam to the Moenkopi switchyard near Cameron, Pumped Hydro Storage proposes building a 22-mile long, 500 kilovolt transmission line.

    The second proposal took the name of the Salt Trail Canyon, a trail still used to this day. The Salt Trail Canyon project proposes two dams a few miles up the river, and would create reservoirs that hold 6,750 acre-feet of water and 6,000 acre-feet of water.

    The transmission line from the dam to the Moenkopi switchyard would only be 20 miles long.

    Opposition from many groups

    The Hopi Tribe’s chairman and vice-chairman opposed the proposal due to the “living relationship” their people have with the land of the Grand Canyon, Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma wrote in the filing. The people of the Hopi Tribe make pilgrimages and deliver offerings to their ancestral Hopi lands to reinforce that connection…

    Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke questioned why the Navajo Nation is the only tribe considered as “interested in, or affected by” the proposal in the tribe’s filing, citing the original proposal. Clarke used the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program as an example of their tribe’s inclusion in dam management, including the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni Pueblo Tribes and Southern Paiute Consortium also as active participants…

    The National Parks Conservation Association also filed a motion to intervene in the project, citing impacts on the banks of the Colorado River.

    When the Glen Canyon Dam was first completed, the sediment that flows down the Colorado River that forms beaches and banks decreased. The banks acted as critical habitat for the plants, animals and insects of the river, Kevin Dahl, Arizona Senior Program Manager for the association wrote.

    Dahl said that the Little Colorado River has become one of two important sources of sediment for the Colorado River. Additionally, those beaches are also critical for another factor in the river’s economic ecosystem: river trips.

    The Western Colorado River Runners association filed to intervene and requested consultation with many state agencies, including Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Geological Survey and Arizona Department of Water Quality. While brief, they demanded the proposal consider the impacts to the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992, climate impacts and mineral content.

    Despite all the opposition, Irwin isn’t sure how FERC, or the Navajo Nation, will act.

    “My crystal ball is foggy,” Irwin said.

    Efforts to relocate an ancient wetland could help determine the fate of a water project on Lower Homestake Creek — @AspenJournalism

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory):

    One morning last month, Brad Johnson arrived at a patch of rippling yellow grasses alongside U.S. 24, a few miles south of Leadville in the upper Arkansas River valley. Sandwiched among a cluster of abandoned ranch buildings, a string of power lines and a small pond, it is an unassuming place — except, of course, for its views of 14,000-foot peaks rising across the valley.

    But appearances can be deceiving. The rather ordinary-looking property was a fen, which is a groundwater-fed wetland filled with organic “peat” soils that began forming during the last ice age and that give fens their springy feel.

    “It’s like walking on a sponge,” Johnson said, marching across the marshy ground, stopping every now and then to point out a rare sedge or grass species.

    Johnson was visiting the fen to record groundwater measurements before winter sets in. As the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, Johnson is part of an effort spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo to study new ways to restore fens.

    The research could help facilitate future water development in Colorado, such as the potential Whitney Reservoir project, part of a 20-year water-development plan from Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities for the upper Eagle River watershed. The utilities, working together as Homestake Partners, are looking at building the reservoir in the Homestake Creek valley, south of Minturn, in an area that probably contains fens, which could hinder the project.

    Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together on the reservoir project, and Aurora and Pueblo are funding the fens research. Although the Whitney project is not directly tied to the fen project, if the research efforts are successful, they could help Aurora and Colorado Springs secure a permit approval for the reservoir — and maybe alter the fate of an ecosystem.

    Brad Johnson, a wetland ecologist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, takes groundwater measurements at the research site near Leadville, while his dogs, Katie and Hayden watch. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Irreplaceable resources

    If you’ve walked through Colorado’s high country, chances are you’ve walked by a fen, which are among the state’s most biodiverse and fragile environments. To protect fens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency drafted a “fen policy” in 1996. The policy, amended in 1999, determined that fens are irreplaceable resources because their soils take so long to regenerate. “On-site or in-kind replacement of peatlands is not possible,” the policy reads.

    Inside the Fish and Wildlife Service, however, a different interpretation emerged. “Irreplaceable” became “unmitigable,” making it difficult or impossible to secure approval for any project that would severely impact fens.

    Although Johnson is in favor of fen conservation, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “unmitigable” interpretation bothered him. Not only was that status not supported by the fen policy itself, he believes saying “no” all the time is not in the best interest of fens.

    “My fear is that if we don’t have the means of mitigating our impacts, we’ll just impact them,” he said.

    Eventually, Johnson believes, conservationists will have to make some concessions to development. But by researching better mitigation techniques, he hopes he can help preserve fens in the long run.

    Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    An organ transplant

    For water utilities, fens have been particularly troublesome. Fens like to form in high-alpine valleys, the places best suited for dams and water reservoirs that take water from rivers mostly on the Western Slope and pump it over the mountains to supply the Front Range’s growing population.

    But the fen policy has stymied many of the utilities’ plans to develop new water projects. Those defeats helped spur Front Range utilities to start researching new mitigation strategies that would help them comply with environmental regulations — and get around the fen policy.

    “They wanted to figure out how to do this right so they could actually permit their projects,” Johnson said.

    Through the fen-research project, Aurora and Pueblo saw an opportunity to address the fen policy’s requirement that a project offset unavoidable impacts to a fen by restoring an equivalent amount of fen elsewhere.

    Since the fen project began 16 years ago, Aurora and Pueblo have invested $300,000 and $81,500 in the research, respectively. More recently, other funders have joined the effort, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities at about $10,000 each and the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($100,000).

    After a number of fits and starts, Johnson three years ago settled on a design for the research that would test whether it’s ecologically possible to transplant fen soils from one location to another. First, Johnson restored the original groundwater spring at the old Hayden Ranch property. Then, he and a team of helpers removed blocks of soil from another degraded fen site and reassembled them, like an organ transplant, at the “receiver” site, where the restored spring now flows through veinlike cobble bars and sandbars, feeding the transplanted fen.

    Brad Johnson, the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, at the project site in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Launched by two Front Range water utilities in 2003, the project is studying a new way to mitigate potential impacts to fens, an ecologically rich and fragile wetland found throughout Colorados’ high country. Photo credit: Sarah Tory/Aspen Journalism

    Positive signs

    It’s still too early to know whether the project could eventually serve as a fen-mitigation strategy for a new reservoir, but Johnson is optimistic about the results thus far. In 2017, after just one growing season, he was shocked to discover 67 different plant species growing at the transplanted fen site — compared with just 10 at the donor site. He was thrilled by the news. The data showed that the transplanted fen ecosystem is thriving.

    That’s good news for utilities such as Aurora, too.

    A week after Johnson visited the Rocky Mountain Fen Project site, Kathy Kitzmann gave a tour of the wetland-filled valley formed by Homestake Creek where Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to build Whitney Reservoir.

    Kitzmann, a water resources principal for Aurora Water, drove down the bumpy, snow-covered road that winds along the valley bottom, pointing to the two creeks that would — along with Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, near Camp Hale — help fill the reservoir. A pump station would send the water upvalley to the existing Homestake Reservoir and then through another series of tunnels to the Front Range.

    In the lower part of the valley, Kitzmann stopped at the first of four potential reservoir sites — ranging in size from 6,000 acre-feet to 20,000 acre-feet — that the utilities have identified for the project and the wetlands it would inundate.

    “You can sort of see why it wouldn’t be the best, just given the vastness of the wetlands,” Kitzmann said.

    Farther along, the valley becomes more canyonlike, with higher rocky walls and fewer wetlands — probably offering a better reservoir site, said Kitzmann, although the permitting agencies won’t know for sure until they complete their initial feasibility studies.

    In June, Aurora and Colorado Springs submitted a permit application to the U.S. Forest Service to perform exploratory drilling and other mapping and surveying work, but the agency has not yet approved the permit.

    Potential fen impacts are just one of several environmental hurdles facing the project. One of the Whitney alternatives would encroach on the Holy Cross Wilderness. Aurora and Colorado Springs have proposed moving the wilderness boundary, if necessary, to accommodate the reservoir.

    It’s also likely that the wetlands in the Homestake Valley contain fens, but until the utilities conduct wetland studies around the proposed reservoir sites next summer, the scope of the impacts remains uncertain.

    Environmental groups including Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit, oppose the Whitney Reservoir project, arguing that it would destroy one of the state’s most valuable wetlands, as well as an important habitat for wildlife and rare native plants.

    In the meantime, Aurora is hopeful that Johnson’s research might one day help solve some of the environmental problems around new water development. “We are excited about proving that you can restore and rehabilitate fens,” Kitzmann said.

    The dam in the Eagle River headwaters that forms Homestake Reservoir, which diverts water to the Front Range. If the wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley contain ancient peat bogs called fens, it could hinder the progress of the Whitney Reservoir project. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journailsm

    Inevitable impacts

    But is a transplanted fen as good as not touching one in the first place?

    A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said fens are still designated a “Resource Category 1,” which means that the appropriate type of mitigation is avoidance, or “no loss.”

    White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams echoed the spokesperson’s statement, noting that land managers place a high emphasis on protection for fens: “It’s really hard to replace a wetland in these high elevations.”

    Johnson, asked whether he was worried that his research into fen mitigation might end up facilitating the kinds of projects that are most damaging to fens. He sighed. “I’m sensitive to that,” he said.

    But like it or not, Johnson believes that more impacts to fens are inevitable. As Colorado’s population grows, water utilities will have to build new reservoirs, the state will need new roads and ski resorts will want to expand.

    “I can’t argue with whether they should get built,” he said. “I’m just a wetlands guy.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 18 print edition of the Vail Daily.

    “If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed” — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):

    For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

    But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

    Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders…

    Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

    A winter wonderland in Winter Park, Colorado, near the west portal of the Moffat Tunnel, which delivers water from the Fraser and Williams Fork River basins, under the Continental Divide and on to the Moffat Treatment Plant in Lakewood, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water. (Photo taken in winter of 2016-2017.)

    For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

    But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

    Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders. But with future restoration projects being contingent on two new water diversion projects that will siphon even more water from the Fraser to the Front Range, some worry that the efforts might only be a mirage.

    “They’re basically putting a Band-Aid on the issue, they’re not helping the underlying cause of the problem, which is that too much water is being taken out of a river to meet human needs,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director for the organization WildEarth Guardians.

    Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

    Kirk Klancke, pictured Aug. 21, 2019, in front of the Fraser Flats area, was the visionary for the restoration efforts that improved fish habitat along the 1-mile stretch of the Fraser River. The efforts, which were partially funded by Denver Water, involved narrowing parts of the river to create deeper channels and faster flows. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)
    Seeing the river flowing again brought tears to the eyes of Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime resident of Grand County.

    “It was like I was looking at a completely different river,” said Klancke, who has been an integral part of the collaborative. “In the 48 years I’ve lived in Grand County, it was the first time that I saw the river actually looking healthier.”

    “We’ve got the most heavily diverted county in Colorado, about 300,000 acre-feet a year comes out of Grand County. The next highest competitor is Pitkin County, with 98,000… We consider ourselves ground zero. If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed.”

    Chaffee County applies for new #Colorado state fire resiliency grant — Ark Valley Voice

    From the Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Chaffee County’s proactive steps to address our community’s wildfire challenges is getting noticed. Because of the work of Envision Chaffee County, combined with the resulting 1A Ballot question known as Chaffee Common Ground, Chaffee County has been asked to participate in a very large and brand new statewide grant program that, if awarded, would super-size the county’s efforts toward fire resilience, forest health action and watershed protection.

    A pre-grant joint proposal of Chaffee and Lake counties was submitted and the counties were invited to formally submit their joint grant proposal to the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI). The full proposal was completed Nov. 3. Only eight communities are competing for funding from the three focal areas for the grant: two are in Southwest Colorado, four in Central Colorado and two along the I-70 Corridor. One of the other communities is Durango, which experienced severe fire during the summer of 2018.

    Now the county is moving to the next stage of the grant process, with a Nov. 13 presentation in Golden to about 40 representatives of the various agencies and entities involved in the grant award. The comprehensive grant review board includes a mix of agencies. Among them: representatives of the forest service, water resources, the energy and power grids, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The team from Chaffee County will include Commissioner Greg Felt, U.S. Forest Service District Manger Jim Pitts, and Cindy Williams representing the Central Colorado Conservancy. According to Williams, Chaffee is the only county showing up represented by a cohesive group including a County Commissioner, the forestry agency and the private non-profit sector.

    Think of it as a sprint toward resiliency – with the state, as well as other Colorado communities and counties taking notice.

    “This probably wouldn’t have happened if Chaffee County hadn’t passed the funding for forest health,” said Williams. “This is the first time we’ve been invited to do something like this. We understand that the likely thing is that three of the eight applications will be selected. We’re not sure how much money is available, we think somewhere between one and four million a year for the county. But as a 10 year plan we’re presenting for $40 million over ten years, not just for Chaffee, but we are working together with Lake County on this grant proposal. Together we’re the Arkansas River watershed.”

    Paired historical and current photographs of the Cheesman Reservoir landscape (near Denver CO) illustrating the general increase in forest density and loss of openings that occurred from the late 1890’s to 2000. These types of paired photos can help us to give scientists a broad idea of how forests have changed over time (photos from 2000 by M. Kaufmann) via the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

    @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.