Glenwood Canyon restoration continues, summer closures to be weather dependent — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent

Looking up at the source of the debris flow in Glenwood Canyon August 2021. Photo credit: CDOT

Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

Repairing Glenwood Canyon, Interstate-70 and mitigating future debris flow damages has cost state, federal and local governments about $27 million so far, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson said. Joined by partnering agencies, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew briefed media outlets Tuesday on efforts to repair the damage done to Glenwood Canyon by wildfires and historic debris flows in recent years…

Work is also expected to begin shortly on a primitive trail to Hanging Lake, Forest Service spokesperson David Boyd said. While the lake itself was spared by the debris flow events, the trail leading to the pristine woodland attraction was all but eliminated. Boyd said a trail reconstruction project is planned to begin Friday [April 29, 2022], which could install a primitive trail leading to the lake by mid-summer…

CDOT contractors Lawrence Construction and IHC Scott continue to remove material from the Colorado River at six locations throughout the canyon. More than 200,000 tons have been removed so far, CDOT Resident Engineer Andrew Knapp said…In addition to debris removal, CDOT is working with contractors and the U.S. Forest Service to build debris flow catchment fences, nicknamed “bathtubs,” alongside the roadways. The bathtubs create a basin where excess debris and water can collect during future events, minimizing impacts to the interstate and travelers, Knapp explained…

This summer, CDOT will be working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine whether the canyon will remain open ahead of potential significant rain events above the Grizzly Creek burn scar. When NOAA issues watches or warnings about potential debris flow events, Blake said CDOT will close rest areas and the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path. If NOAA issues a watch, CDOT staff will head out to closure points along I-70, and should a warning be issued, Blake said the canyon would be closed for the duration of the warning.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council receives funding to continue monitoring #GrizzlyCreekFire post fire impacts #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the newsletter on the Middle Colorado Watershed Council website (Click through and volunteer to do some sampling or whatever.). Here’s an excerpt.:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has granted three more years of funds to the Middle Colorado Watershed Council (MCWC) to continue the United States Geological Survey (USGS) water quality and rain gauge monitoring set up in 2021, adding new mid-stream water quality monitoring stations between South Canyon and Cameo, soil moisture monitoring, and a dashboard notification system for downstream municipalities.

The Colorado River District has agreed to serve as fiscal agent for the USGS in a three-year cooperative agreement with MCWC. The $583,396 CWCB grant will be matched with in-kind labor and cash from the USGS, Garfield County, the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance, and coordinated project funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE) for a total project cost of $1.3 million over the next three years.

Funding secured from CDPHE, $206,600, will be used to purchase the additional equipment needed for the new mid-stream water quality station, soil moisture monitors, and the user-friendly dashboard for downstream users to monitor changes in water quality and rainfall information. The CDPHE funding will also support pre-fire mitigation planning and allow the Silt Water Conservancy District to complete repair work from damage due to the continual impact of high amounts of sediment in the Colorado River in 2021.

Since early 2021, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council has coordinated post Grizzly Creek Fire water quality and rain gauge monitoring to set up a regional notification system and lessen the impact on downstream water users. MCWC received the first year of funding from CWCB, CDPHE and the Colorado River District’s Community Partnership Funds.

Using services from the USGS Colorado Water Science Center, the USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS), and SGM, an engineering firm acting as MCWC’s technical advisor, water quality and precipitation information networks were set up in canyon drainages and on the Middle Colorado river corridor. Seven rain gauges were deployed throughout the Grizzly Creek burn area and a 6-parameter data sonde water quality monitoring station was set up at No Name.

During the summer of 2021, summer monsoons caused flooding, debris flows and highway infrastructure damage in Glenwood Canyon as a result of the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire burn scar and a 500-year-rain event. MCWC and other stakeholders expect continued problems with flooding and debris flows from these canyon drainages over the next few years and sought the additional funding to continue and expand monitoring in 2022 through 2024.

#Colorado to receive $18.1M for #wildfire mitigation projects along Front Range — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, at the microphone, speaks during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch in Boulder County on April 11, 2022. Sens. John Hickenlooper, left, and Michael Bennet, third from left, Rep. Joe Neguse, second from left, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, second from right, and regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region Frank Beum, right, also joined. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado will receive over $18 million this fiscal year from the federal government to treat thousands of acres susceptible to increasingly damaging wildfires, part of a strategy leaders hope will emphasize lowering fire risk before disaster strikes.

The Colorado Front Range is one of 10 landscapes selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service to benefit from an initial $131 million investment with funding from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In Colorado, money will head to nine identified projects in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and four projects in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. It will treat up to 10,000 acres this year.

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“At this point, there is no margin for error. We must and we will continue to stay coordinated, because the reality is that these days, as everyone has said, fire season is now fire years,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch on Monday, with trees still blackened from the 2020 CalWood Fire on a hillside behind her.

“Climate change is making the fire seasons more intense, as our firefighters deal with hotter, drier conditions and more extreme fire behavior. The increased frequency in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses and communities every year,” she said.

Colorado faced a record-year for wildfires in 2020 with the CalWood, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch fires. In December, the Marshall Fire burned over 6,000 acres and destroyed entire neighborhoods in Boulder County.

Colorado also faces harsh, ongoing drought.

“It is all the more reason and motivation for us to take wildfire mitigation and resiliency seriously,” Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, said during the press conference with Haaland.

Climate change has increased the risk of dangerous wildfires in Colorado, and it has contributed to a drought in the Southwest that has lasted more than two decades. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, largely due to human activity, have caused many parts of the state to warm by an average of more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

Haaland said the financial investments enabled by last year’s bipartisan legislation will facilitate a “collaborative, multi-jurisdictional approach” to reducing wildfire risk. Wildfires, after all, do not discriminate between land managed by the county, private citizens, the Forest Service or the National Park Service, and experts say the best approach is informed by all land managers.

Those projects are about reducing the grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves and fallen pine needles that increase the chances of a catastrophic wildfire, forest supervisor for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests Monte Williams said.

“It’s about fuel,” he said. “And not just the fuel that’s standing up, but about the fuel that is actually laying on the ground. For a long time, we thought all we needed to do was go thin the forest, and that would create a place where the fire would hit, slow down and stop because there would be nothing left to burn. The truth is we recognize it’s a lot more than that.”

In addition to forest thinning, Williams said prescribed burns are crucial in wildfire mitigation. It’s a similar strategy that he said prevented the 2020 Cameron Peak fire from spreading on two of its largest days. In that case, it was coordinated treatments on local, state and federal lands that stopped the fire in its tracks.

“The actual results of this have already been shown,” he said of the type of projects the incoming money will fund.

A view from the highway of the massive East Troublesome wildfire smoke cloud near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on October 16, 2020. Photo credit: Inciweb

The beginning of a long process

U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said it is necessary to combat the scale of recent wildfires with an appropriately large response. A 10-year strategy from the Forest Service calls for the treatment of tens of millions of acres across the country. This fiscal year’s investment will begin the implementation of that ambitious strategy.

“This is an opportunity for us to come from a place of want into a place of have,” Moore said. “For a long time, we’ve known what to do, but we have not had the ability to do it at a scale that made a difference on the landscape.”

Sen. Michael Bennet said there’s still a chance Congress could pass a reconciliation bill — what was known as the Build Back Better Act — that has $27 billion in additional investments for wildfire risk reduction. That would be the largest investment into forestry in United States history. Build Back Better was stalled after holdout from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“That may or may not pass now,” Bennet said. “But what we’ve been able to do this year, with the 5.6 (billion dollars) we’ve been able to put in the bipartisan bill, is demonstrate that the country, for the first time, really recognizes the scale of the challenge that we have.”

It will take much more money to implement the full 10-year plan, but Bennet said the financial puzzle is well worth it, comparing an estimated $50,000 per acre cost to fight a wildfire versus a $1,500 per acre to do mitigation work.

“I am optimistic that we will figure out how to do it over the long haul,” he said.

Sen. John Hickenlooper also attended the event.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was slated to join the visit to Heil Valley Ranch with Haaland and members of the congressional delegation, but he is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

The other regions that will benefit from this initial investment are in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.

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Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

New Initiative Targets Western #Wildfire Risks: Joint Forest Service-Department of Interior effort will focus resources on priority landscapes — The Nature Conservancy

WILDFIRE CHALLENGES The 2013 Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park burned 4,240 acres. © Mike Lewelling, National Park Service

Click the link to read the release on The Nature Conservancy website (Jay Lee and Lindsay Schlageter):

The following is a statement from Carlos Fernández, state director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Colorado, and Cecilia Clavet, a TNC senior policy advisor, in response to the announcement by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Randy Moore, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS), of “10 Initial Landscape Investments.”

USFS highest risk firesheds January 2022.

The announcement is part of USFS’s 10-year plan to address wildfire risk throughout the United States. According to the agency, these 10 priority landscapes will apply funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law and other funding to provide treatments that will reduce wildfire risk primarily in western states.

Carlos Fernández, State Director, TNC in Colorado: “We are thrilled to welcome Secretary Haaland and Chief Moore to Colorado to announce the next phase of their 10-year strategy to address wildfire risk. “Colorado is no stranger to the devastating effects of increased wildfires, with the largest fires in our state’s history occurring within the last three years. We know that in order to address the growing threat of large-scale wildfires and longer fire seasons, we need to increase investments in wildfire resilience.

That’s why it’s promising to see the Front Range landscape is a priority for federal land management agencies as they plan to scale up their efforts to address wildfire risk. Our forests are so important to our quality of life here in Colorado, they clean our air and water, sustain wildlife and provide opportunities for recreation. We look forward to working together to ensure they are healthy, our communities are safe, and our way of life can continue into the future.”

Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor, TNC: “Colorado is not alone. The entire western United States is facing unprecedented, large-scale wildfires, exacerbated by climate change. We need to build resilience of our forests and rangelands, reduce risk to communities and ensure people are empowered and prepared to live safely with fire. Wildfire resilience is an all-of-society challenge in need of an all-of-society approach. We commend the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior for prioritizing landscapes with the highest risk of wildfire. This will ensure investments are going to communities that need it most.

“The announcement today is a great step forward for the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy. The investments provided through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represent an important down payment for wildfire resilience. TNC will continue to support investing in wildfire resilience to meet the longer-term training, capacity building and workforce development needs.

Partnerships are essential to maintain and sustain this work. TNC partners with federal land management agencies, Indigenous peoples and other federal and non-federal partners to achieve a better future with fire.

Bent lodgepole pine in some areas revealed intensity of the wind. Photo/National Park Service via Big Pivots

Governor Polis Applauds Biden Administration, Sec. Vilsack on Securing Critical Investment in #Wildfire Risk Reduction Using Historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Funds

Smoke billows from the Cameron Peak Fire. Photo by Karina Puikkonen

Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

Today, Governor Jared Polis released a statement following U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s announcement that $131 million in funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure law will begin work on the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy to protect communities and improve resilience in America’s forests.

“I’m excited about this $18 million in funding to help us fight wildfires and protect communities. We thank the Biden Administration, Secretary Vilsack, and the U.S. Forest Service for making this important wildfire-fighting investment in Colorado,” said Governor Polis.

Over the last three years, Colorado has experienced record natural disasters, from the three largest wildfires recorded in 2020 to the Marshall Fire in December 2021 – recorded as the most destructive in state history. In response, the Polis administration has acted swiftly to invest in wildfire suppression, the recovery of our lands and watersheds, as well as forward-thinking mitigation and forest health efforts.

During the last legislative session, the Governor signed into law significant investments, including roughly $88 million to help communities recover from and prevent future wildfire devastation, and a total of $50 million to support the implementation of Colorado’s State Water Plan and fund Colorado Water Conservation Board grants supporting local projects. Colorado is one of the states that will receive the initial investment, which spans 208,000 acres of wildfire risk reduction treatments in 10 landscapes. Other Western states to receive funding include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Desert hydrology: Science Moab highlights talks with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

Click the link to read the article on the Moab Sun News website (Science Moab). Here’s an excerpt:

In the desert, few issues are as crucial as water. As a historic megadrought continues in the West, water usage is at the top of mind for many scientists. Hydrologists can help us understand how and when to enact new water policies. In this week’s column, Science Moab highlights important messages from conversations with hydrologists, speaking with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist.

Science Moab: Are we bound by water usage policies enacted years ago? If nature can’t sustain those, what then?

Eric Kuhn: One hundred years ago, we had some flexibility because the river was not very well-used. Today, not a drop of the Colorado River reaches the Gulf of California, so we don’t have that luxury. The way I look at it is: we legally allocated water based on an assumption that this river system had about 20 million acre-feet. Today, we think it’s more like 13, and it might be less in the future with climate change. Predictions and models show that increasing temperatures are going to reduce flows to the Colorado River. The drama is not how much water we’re going to have in the future — we know it’s going to be less. The drama is how we’re going to decide who gets less water, and when…

These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Science Moab: At the start of 2021, Lake Powell was at 41% of its capacity. Why should we be so concerned that Lake Powell levels continue to fall to all-time lows?

Brian Richter: Lake Powell serves three really important benefits. One is that it generates hydropower from the Glen Canyon Dam, which provides electricity throughout the southwestern United States. Two, Lake Powell is important for tourism, which is impacted by falling water levels. But by far the biggest concern is that if Lake Powell drops by another 85 feet — and for reference, the lake level dropped by more than 30 feet in 2020 — then the lake will drop below the hydropower outlets, so all the electricity production out of Glen Canyon Dam will stop. But even worse is that it will become physically impossible to move enough water into the Lower Basin states to provide for their water needs.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

San Juan Water Conservancy District and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District discuss future of Dry Gulch Reservoir — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

View to the south into the snaking West Fork of the San Juan River as seen from US 160, halfway up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. By User:Erikvoss, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61976794

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

At their March 10 joint meeting, the boards of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) discussed the future of the Dry Gulch reservoir.

The meeting opened with SJWCD board president Al Pfister providing an update on the organization’s activities related to Dry Gulch.

“We haven’t really … done a lot of work in the past two years,” Pfister said.

He continued to explain that SJWCD had unanimously voted to hire Wilson Water Group to perform a water needs assessment study at its meeting earlier in the day. This study will cost $15,000 and will be completed over a three- month period. The study will examine the mu- nicipal, agricultural, industrial, environmental and recreational water needs of the community and assess how these needs are likely to change in the future given the population increases the county has recently experienced…

Secrist provided an update on SJWCD’s work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to potentially nominate the Dry Gulch site to be a state park site. According to Secrist, this process began in the summer of 2021 when Secrist was approached by CPW representatives about the possibility of locating a state park at the Dry Gulch site…He explained that the state park application would need to be submitted by June 1 and that CPW is interested in creating the park whether or not the site contains a reservoir.

Restoration of Home Lake is underway — The #Alamosa News

Sediment removal is underway at Home Lake. Photo credit: city-data.com

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa News website:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife began restoration efforts this week to remove sediment from high spots in Home Lake just east of Monte Vista. Tyler Cerny, CPW District Wildlife Manager for the Monte Vista District, said sediment has accumulated in the lake for years primarily from the water inlet from the Lariat Ditch on the south side of the lake. With irrigation season slated to start in early April, plans are to remove as much sediment as possible before the water allotment is available. Fish restocking will begin as early as May or June with plans to include trout, bluegill, large mouth bass, catfish, grass carp and possibly crappie.

#SouthPlatteRiver restoration project awarded $350 million in infrastructure bill funds — #Colorado Newsline

Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.

The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.

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“I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”

The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.

In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.

Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.

“The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”

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Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Community Agriculture Alliance: Five principles to boost soil health in Routt County — Steamboat Pilot & Today

Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
Integrated Water Management Plan website

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Clinton Whitten and Lyn Halliday). Here’s an excerpt:

The Routt County Conservation District (RCCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are looking at the basin from a watershed health perspective and developing programs to improve and protect the private lands that catch the precipitation in much of the basin.

The foundation of a healthy watershed is healthy soils. Not only do soils allow vegetation to grow, but they can act as a sponge that absorbs and stores precipitation. They provide the nutrients that allow life to flourish. At its base, soil is a combination of sand, silt and clay, but it’s much more than that. A single teaspoon of soil can contain billions of living organisms that make up an entire ecosystem. When this ecosystem is thriving, it provides the glues that hold the soil particles in place as water rushes through them, it cycles nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable for plant growth and it helps to build organic matter in the soil. Keeping a healthy soil ecosystem can help increase plant productivity, increase drought resilience and decrease the need for additional inputs.

NRCS has developed five principles that can be followed to maintain and develop healthy soils.

The first is to minimize soil disturbance. Plowing the soil not only destroys the habitat that these microorganisms have created, but it negates all of the benefits that they provide.

Crop residue November 4, 2021. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

The second is to keep the soil covered with plant residue. Residue increases infiltration and decreases erosion.

The third is to maximize plant diversity. Just like any ecosystem, soil ecosystems benefit from diversity, and diversity above ground means diversity below ground.

The fourth principle is to maintain a continuous growing root in the soil. We are limited by a short growing season, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t keep a live root in the soil year-round.

The fifth and final principle is to integrate livestock into the growing system. Livestock play a critical role in nutrient distribution and residue cycling.

A good first step to improving soil health on your property is to get a soil test that will give you a baseline to better understand where nutrients are limited or in abundance. The Routt County Conservation District has a grant program available that can pay for a soil test on fields that have the ability and intention of implementing management changes that could improve soil health.

For more information, visit http://RouttCountyCD.com/. For more information on practices that can help improve the health of your soil contact NRCS at Clinton.Whitten@usda.gov.

Lyn Halliday is the Board President of the Routt County Conservation District, and the Upper Yampa River Watershed coordinator. Clinton Whitten is the resource team lead with the National Resource Conservation Service. For more about the Community Agriculture Alliance, go to CommunityAgAlliance.org.

Study: Estimating widespread #beaver dam loss: Habitat decline and surface storage loss at a regional scale — EcoSphere

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

Click the link to access the study on the Ecosphere website (Julianne E. Scamardo, Sarah Marshall, Ellen Wohl). Here’s the abstract:

The loss of beaver populations has commonly been accompanied by the failure of beaver dams, leading to stream incision, water table lowering, and the eventual transition from a beaver meadow to a drier riparian corridor. Widespread decline in NorthAmerican beaver populations (Castorcanadensis) has been documented from pre-European settlement to the current day, representing an estimated 80% to 98% loss of historicalpopulations. While individual case studies have investigated the ecosystem impacts of local beaver population loss, few studies have quantified large-scale changes associated with widespread population decline. Here, we use the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool to model landscape-scale habitat suitability and beaver dam capacity in Colorado, USA, in order to deter-mine whether a widespread loss in beaver population corresponds to a similar scale decline in the capacity to sustain beaver on the landscape and declines in physical benefits associated with beaver, such as surface water and sediment storage. Currently, the statewide stream network (298,119 stream kilometers) can support approximately 1.36 million beaver dams, compared with 2.39 million dams historically. All regions of Colorado have seen a decline in beaver dam capacity from historical conditions, likely due to agriculture, urbanization, and loss of vegetation necessary to beaver. Beaver dam capacity loss is accompanied by an approximate 40% decline in beaver-mediated surface water and sediment storage potential across the state. Regions with high percent loss in storage potentials also had a highpercentage of drainage network that had experienced beaver dam capacity losses of 15 or more dams per kilometer, which highlights the disproportionate impacts of losing high dam density reaches (i.e., beaver meadows).Extreme dam density declines were rare, and instead, most reaches have undergone a shift from high to moderate capacity. Statewide shifts in beaver dam capacity highlight the opportunity for using beaver-related restoration in Colorado and across the American West.

Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership: Years-long effort aims to balance health, use of #water — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

Current projects

WEP’s work to leverage the knowledge it has accumulated is reflected in the organization’s two ongoing stream enhancement projects.

[Al] Pfister explained that stream enhancement involves “enhancing channel stability [and] doing some reworking of the river so that you have a low stream channel instead of flat stream bed.”

WEP’s current stream enhancement projects focus on enhancements to the San Juan River both near the proposed Yamaguchi Park South and upstream from Pagosa for 2.5 miles from near Bob’s LP. Pfister stated that both of these projects build off of prior work undertaken by the Town of Pagosa Springs and its partners to enhance the section of the San Juan River that flows through downtown Pagosa.

Yamaguchi South Planning Project site layout via the City of Pagosa Springs.

Yamaguchi South project

The planned stream enhancements in Yamaguchi Park South involve both modifications to the river itself and enhancements to the recreational resources along its banks. Pfister explained that, in terms of river modifications, “There’s going to be one whitewater feature in there, but then also enhancing the stream morphology. Pfister stated that these changes are aimed at providing healthier fish habitat and promoting the health of the riparian corridor for all its users, including birds, mammals and insects. He also suggested that the stream modifications required for conservation synergize with the needs of recreational users by promoting healthy fish populations for fisher people. They also provide deep stream channels and shallow bank pools that benefit boating and riverside recreation. On the banks, the project will involve the creation of a new boat put in and take out in Yamaguchi Park South to replace the current put in at the south end of Yamaguchi Park.

Pfister commented that this will improve “access for people so there’s not the conflict that currently exists down there at the end of Yamaguchi Park now.”

Pfister elaborated, saying, “The county and town both use that as a location to fill their water trucks. So … it can create some challenges.”

Pfister explained that the new boat take out will include a gravel road to the new take out location, in contrast to the dirt road currently used to access the take out, and a larger area for taking out and launch- ing boats. Pfister said that the goal was “to have more of a permanent thing, whereas now it’s a dirt road, and having the put in or take out such that it doesn’t have negative impacts on the stream morphology/hydrology.”

Pagosa gateway project

WEP’s second major stream enhancement project is the Pagosa gateway project, which involves enhancements to the San Juan River for approximately 2.5 miles north of Bob’s LP. This project will involve similar stream improvements to the Yamaguchi South project as well as the removal of several car bodies that are currently deposited in the river upstream from Pagosa. Pfister highlighted that the removal of these car bodies is “a big issue as far as river recreationists are concerned, and it’s not healthy for the river.”

Both the Pagosa gateway and South Yamaguchi projects are await- ing the completion of final steps, including pieces of grant funding and private landowner permissions. However, Pfister expressed optimism that both projects would begin to break ground in the “next couple years.”

Changing snowfall makes it harder to fight fire with fire — The Associated Press

Women in Prescribed Fire Training Exchange participants practice different controlled burning ignition patterns. Photo courtesy Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network via USDA

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Brittany Peterson and Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

[Controlled burn] operations are a central piece of the Biden administration’s $50 billion plan to reduce the density of western forests that have been exploding into firestorms as climate change bakes the region. But the same warming trends that worsen wildfires will also challenge the administration’s attempts to guard against them. Increasingly erratic weather means snow is not always there when needed to safely burn off tall debris piles like those on Colorado’s Pike-San Isabel National Forest. And that seriously complicates the job of exhausted firefighters, now forced into service year-round…Western wildfires have become more volatile as climate change dries forests already thick with vegetation from years of intensive fire suppression. And the window for controlled burns is shrinking.

“It’s been a little bit harder just because of shorter winters,” said David Needham, a U.S. Forest Service ranger who led the Colorado burn operation in late February when the thermometer hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius). Surrounding hillsides showed barren scars from past wildfires, including a 2002 blaze that destroyed 133 homes and at the time was the largest in state history.

Aerial view from the south of Hayman Fire June 30, 2002. Road traversing from left to right is U.S. Highway 24. Town of Manitou Springs is in lower part of photo, Colorado Springs to the right. Garden of the Gods park defined by three upright orange rock formations in right center just below smoke line. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Edible Extinction: Why We Need to Revive Global Food Diversity — Yale Environment 360

Coffea stenophylla. Afrique tropicale de l’Ouest. Jardin botanique de Berlin. By Ji-Elle – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66697024

Click the link to read the article on the Yale Environment 360 website (Dan Saladino):

In August 2020, inside the cupping room of a London roastery, a team of botanists and baristas gathered to taste a coffee species that most believed had been lost forever. It was an important moment. Coffee experts had spent years searching in West Africa for the few remaining trees of this species, even issuing “wanted posters” to farmers asking if they had seen it.

The coffee, named stenophylla, had last been recorded in Sierra Leone in the 1950s, but civil war and widespread deforestation had pushed it to the brink of extinction. In 2018, with the help of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, a small cluster of stenophylla trees were found, which two years later produced just nine grams of beans. The first sips provided hope. “It’s fragrant, fruity, and sweet,” said Aaron Davis, Kew’s senior research leader for Crops and Global Change. “Stenophylla is a coffee with real potential.”

Since then, seeds have been collected from the surviving trees in Sierra Leone, and 5,000 seedlings are being grown in nurseries. This is significant for us all, not just coffee aficionados. That’s because saving diverse foods, whether plant species or animal breeds, will give us the options we’ll need in an increasingly uncertain future.

The case of stenophylla is just one of almost 40 such stories I discovered while researching my book, Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. In it, I argue that we’re at a pivotal moment in our food history and in a race against time to save diversity. Stenophylla helps illustrates the point. Although there are 130 coffee species so far identified, the world depends on just two, arabica and robusta. Both of these are vulnerable to climate change. Arabica is best suited to temperatures around 19 degrees C (66 degrees F); fluctuations in this can reduce productivity and encourage coffee leaf rust, a devastating fungal disease. Robusta, an inferior-tasting species, fares slightly better, growing at low elevations across much of wet-tropical Africa, but it needs consistent moisture throughout the year.

Stenophylla, on the other hand, can cope with higher temperatures and possesses greater tolerance to drought, as well as being a great-tasting coffee, one that Victorian botanists even described as “superior” to arabica. If arabica starts to fail, as it did catastrophically across Southern Asia in the 19th century and again in Central America in 2014, millions of coffee farmers will be affected. History will repeat itself: Coffee supply chains will be put at risk, family incomes will fall, and regional economies will be devastated, triggering waves of migration. We need to keep our options open.

Since the Second World War, we’ve created a highly productive but incredibly fragile food system. Like an investor with a stock portfolio of just a few holdings, we removed an important safety net for our food supplies: diversity. By narrowing the genetic base of the global food system and focusing on highly productive but increasingly uniform crops and animal breeds, we have increased our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change: extremes of temperature, more virulent outbreaks of disease, droughts, and erratic rainfall. Diversity gives us options and provides resilience.

In less than a century, most of the world has become dependent on a small number of crops for its sustenance. Since the dawn of agriculture (roughly 12,000 years ago) humans have domesticated around 6,000 plant species for food, but now just nine provide the bulk of our calories, and four of these — wheat, corn, rice, and soy — supply roughly two-thirds of that intake. The bottleneck doesn’t end there. Despite the huge genetic variation found within these crops, just a few varieties of each are selected to be grown in vast monocultures.

One of the Colorado Orange apples collected from an ancient tree in Fremont County, Colorado. (Provided by Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project)

In Victorian Britain it was possible for people to eat a different apple every day for more than four years and never have the same one twice. Today, supermarkets typically offer four or five varieties, all extremely similar in levels of sweetness and texture. In the United States, at the beginning of the 20th century, farmers grew thousands of different locally adapted varieties of corn. By the early 1970s a small number of hybrids dominated, and all were later found to be susceptible to a disease called leaf blight. Perhaps most famously of all, although there are more than 1,500 different varieties of banana, global trade is dominated by just one, the Cavendish, a cloned fruit grown in vast monocultures and increasingly at risk from a devastating fungal disease, TR4. Where nature creates diversity, the food system crushes it.

The decline in the diversity of our food, and the fact that so many foods have become endangered, didn’t happen by accident; it is an entirely human-made problem. The biggest loss of crop diversity came in the decades that followed the Second World War when, in an attempt to save millions from starvation, crop scientists found ways to produce grains such as rice and wheat on a phenomenal scale. To grow the extra food the world desperately needed, thousands of traditional varieties were replaced by a small number of new, super-productive ones. The strategy that ensured this — more agrochemicals, more irrigation, plus new genetics — came to be known as the “Green Revolution.”

Farmers have grown more cereals on roughly the same amount of land since the Green Revolution. OUR WORLD IN DATA

Because of it, grain production tripled, and between 1970 and 2020 the human population more than doubled. But the danger of creating more uniform crops is that they become vulnerable to catastrophes. A global food system that depends on just a narrow selection of plants is at greater risk of succumbing to diseases, pests, and climate extremes.

Although the Green Revolution was based on ingenious science, it attempted to oversimplify nature, and this is starting to backfire on us. In creating fields of identical wheat, we abandoned thousands of highly adapted and resilient varieties. Far too often their valuable traits were lost. We’re starting to see our mistake — there was wisdom in what went before. And there are encouraging developments: Wherever you look in the world, you can find people working to save an endangered food and preserving the diversity we all need.

In India, farmers are looking once again to landrace, or native, varieties of millet. Millet is a nutrient-packed and diverse cereal that sustained generations of people in India. But British colonizers, unaware of millet’s unique nutritional qualities and resilience, replaced it with varieties of bread wheat and cash crops such as indigo. Those millets that survived were mostly relegated to animal feed. The decline of millet continued after Indian independence and was intensified by the Green Revolution as rice cultivation expanded. As a result, the last harvests of many millet varieties were recorded in the early 1970s.

Pearl millet in the field. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=393190

Among these was a millet grown by the Khasi people of Meghalaya, in northeast India. Their millet was called Raishan, an ivory-colored grain cooked into soups and baked into biscuits and flatbreads. Like millions of Indians, the Khasi became dependent on the state-run Public Distribution System, which today provides $2.25 billion worth of subsidized food — mostly rice, wheat, and sugar — to India’s poorest 160 million households. Millet — labor-intensive to harvest and to mill — was the first food they stopped growing themselves. Then, in 2008, in India and in the rest of rice-growing Asia, a huge supply crisis caused by a sequence of bad harvests, disease outbreaks, and low grain reserves hit food systems. Governments responded by banning rice exports, which in turn triggered panic and a massive price spike. In many of the Khasi villages of Meghalaya, one response was to bring back lost millets.

Another problem facing India is water — or the lack of it. Half of India’s rice crop is irrigated by underground water supplies, and Indian aquifers are emptying at a faster rate than they are being replenished. When a team of scientists — including water experts, plant breeders, and nutritionists — calculated what would happen if large areas of water-intensive rice cultivation were replaced with millets and sorghum, they found benefits on every level: more dietary nutrients, lower greenhouse gas emissions, greater resilience to climate change, reduced water and energy use. All of this could be achieved without losing a single calorie or expanding croplands, they concluded.

“Despite its many achievements, the Green Revolution locked us into an unsustainable system,” says lead researcher and food systems expert Kyle Davis of the University of Delaware, “and without crop diversity we won’t break out.” This makes endangered varieties of millet, such as Raishan, look like a food of the future, not one to be lost to the past.

In 2017, an international team of crop scientists modeled the impact of rising temperatures on yields of major crops. Their research showed that “each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6 percent, rice by 3.2 percent, maize by 7.4 percent, and soybean by 3.1 percent.” There are varieties of all of these crops, lost to farmers fields in the 20th century but stored away in seed banks, that, just like Raishan millet, possess traits that will give us greater resilience for the future.

And building resilience in food systems in one part of the world can benefit others, as is the case with efforts to preserve an endangered type of wild vanilla found in central Brazil, important to a community known as the Kalunga.

Descendants of escaped slaves, the Kalunga created a network of villages in the Cerrado, the immense plateau of savannah, grasslands, and tropical forest that takes up nearly a quarter of Brazil’s land mass. Here, as well as growing rice, beans, and sesame, the Kalunga use wild plants, among them an endangered type of wild vanilla with which they brew infusions and flavor food. Its pods are larger than all other known types of vanilla — it’s more the size of a banana than a bean — and its taste is more intense. The pods are harvested in spring, mostly from along the rivers that wind through the Cerrado’s forests, where it grows among moriche palms. For the Kalunga, going in search of the pods is like mushroom foraging; everyone has a secret patch. But even with this knowledge, finding a pod isn’t guaranteed because vanilla-loving monkeys provide fierce competition.

Neither the Kalunga nor the monkeys are the cause of the vanilla’s endangered status, however; newly arrived farming businesses and mining companies are clearing or degrading the land and driving the loss of biodiversity.

The Kalunga can help preserve the Cerrado’s remaining biodiversity, but only if they are provided with economic opportunities to do so. This is where the wild vanilla comes in. “By protecting the Kalunga communities, we can protect the Cerrado,” says Alex Atala, one of Brazil’s most high-profile chefs. “The wild vanilla provides an economic opportunity. The plant can give the Kalunga settlements a future, and the communities can help keep a check on the expansion of soy farming.”

Projects have been set up to help the Kalunga hand-pollinate the vanilla plants (to increase yields) and to improve their processing techniques. “One family can make $50 a day,” Atala says, “more money than welfare payments or the wages paid by the illegal mines.” Saving the Cerrado isn’t just about protecting the rivers and the forests — its people need to be protected as well, he believes. “They are defenders of biodiversity. Why? Because they depend on it.”

But then again, we all do. Although it’s less well known than the neighboring Amazon, the Cerrado is one of the richest centers of biodiversity in the world. As one of the world’s major carbon sinks, its preservation is vital in the fight against the climate crisis.

Transformation of the food system and the need to rethink farming appeared to be low down on the agenda at COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow last November. Not one of the 10 themed days was dedicated to agriculture or our eating habits. But around the world there are grassroots food heroes and Indigenous activists taking it upon themselves to conserve diversity, save endangered foods, and keep alive knowledge and skills, some for reasons of identity and culture, others to build resilience and increase self-sufficiency. Our broken food system needs to be rebuilt with diversity at its core. This isn’t a call to return to a mythical or halcyon past, but a plea to value and celebrate the ingenuity and legacy of generations of farmers and food producers. It’s up to us to continue their legacy.

Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO
Photo by Devon G. Peña

#YampaRiver Fund grant requests due April 4, 2022 — Steamboat Pilot & Today

Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
Integrated Water Management Plan website

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig). Here’s an excerpt:

The community-based collaborative Yampa River Fund is accepting applications through April 4 for $195,000 in funds available for conservation and restoration activities that positively impact Yampa River basin flows and support natural resource-based livelihoods including agriculture and recreation.

Eligible applicants include state and local government entities, public districts, irrigation entities, mutual ditch companies, homeowner associations and nonprofit organizations. The grant guidelines and application are posted at YampaRiverFund.org/grants. Technical support is available for applicants to help develop grant proposals.

The Yampa River Fund, which launched in September 2019, is dedicated to identifying and funding activities that protect the water supply, aquatic habitat and multi-beneficial opportunities provided by the Yampa River. The fund was created through a partnership of 21 public, private and nonprofit entities representing the Yampa River basin. Total grants for $200,000 from the endowment fund were awarded to six projects in 2021 stretching along the Yampa River from Maybell to Craig and Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek. In 2020, five projects were awarded a total $200,000.

Landowners Embrace Conservation as Financial Boon, Family Legacy — Public News Service

The future site of Steamboat Lake is shown here in 1949. The barn pictured was owned by the Wheeler family, one of several families who ranched the land before it was bought by brothers John and Stanton Fetcher. John Fetcher proposed the construction of Steamboat Lake, which was built in 1967 and funded by the operators of Hayden power station and the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Photo via Bill Fetcher and Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Public News Service website (Eric Galatas). Here’s an excerpt:

Landowners in Colorado could play a major role in President Joe Biden’s efforts to conserve 30% of the nation’s undeveloped lands by 2030, and make money at the same time.

Jay Fetcher’s family has been ranching cattle since 1994. He said when his family looked into the idea of a conservation easement for their property near Steamboat Springs, his father was immediately sold.

He did not want to see the land developed for the service industry; he wanted it to remain land that produced food…

The family’s decision to conserve the land for ranching caught on, and led to Fetcher founding the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust…

Conservation efforts also are seen as critical for protecting clean-water supplies, especially during times of severe drought. Melissa Daruna, executive director of the group Keep it Colorado, said some strategies already under way could provide a path for communities across the West.

The May Ranch near Lamar, Colo., has never been plowed. Photo/Ducks Unlimited via The Mountain Town News

She pointed to local stakeholders on the Eastern Plains outside Pueblo who are taking the lead to reckon with current and future impacts of a warming climate…

In 2008, lawmakers allowed the donated value of the land set aside for conservation to be considered a state tax credit which can be resold to Colorado taxpayers with outstanding tax burdens.

“So all of a sudden, I do an easement, I can sell the value of that easement to a Colorado taxpayer,” said Fetcher. “And I get a check in my pocket. You know, we’re not going to develop the land anyway, but all of a sudden I get paid for not doing it.”

How Mapping Beaver Wetlands Can Chart a Path to a Better Water Future: First-of-its kind project will use machine learning and remote sensing to track beaver wetland changes in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — The Walton Family Foundation #ActOnClimate #COriver #aridification

Beaver dam. Photo credit the Walton Family Foundation

Click the link to read the article on the Walton Family Foundation website (Kara Stevens Peter Skidmore):

At a time when climate change increasingly threatens water resources across the American West, what can we do to secure a future of sustainability rather than scarcity?

One promising way forward: Look to nature-based solutions from the past.

In the 16th century, long before Europeans settled the continent, the North American beaver was the continent’s most diligent and effective water manager.

Beaver dams – millions of small-scale barriers of twigs, branches and mud – created ponds that acted like giant sponges on the landscape. They stored moisture and created complex wetlands that sustained diverse flora and fauna. They captured sediment and snowmelt that slowed floodwaters and – because they were imperfect and leaky – released water downstream in more even amounts throughout the year.

Then, in a historical instant, beavers were gone from almost every creek and stream – trapped to near extinction to satisfy European trends that prized fur as fashion.

This beaver dam supports willow carr wetlands in Colorado’s North Fork Crystal watershed. These dams can create a virtuous cycle of restoration that revives mountain meadows and stream meanders.
Photo Credit: Kyle Jackson

The disappearance of beavers and the natural reservoirs they built created a ripple impact across ecosystems – more erosion in rivers, fewer wetlands, drier landscapes. Many jurisdictions still consider beavers a pest that hinders agricultural productivity.

Today, however, beavers are having a renaissance moment among scientists, conservationists, land managers and some ranchers and farmers.

This keystone species is being rightfully recognized for its ability to restore watery habitat, improve riparian ecosystem health and improve the reliability of water supply – with potential implications for large river systems.

Particularly in dry regions like the Colorado River basin, these rodents can come to the rescue of river systems and are inspiring humans to build beaver-related natural infrastructure.

This beaver pond formed upstream of a partially breached beaver dam in the headwaters of Colorado’s Fryingpan River. The photo illustrates how even abandoned dams can support wetland habitat and capture sediment in mountain watersheds.
Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall

As part of our 2025 Environment program strategy, the Walton Family Foundation is supporting efforts to remove barriers to restoration and increasing funding for projects that re-establish structures mimicking the effects of beaver dams in degraded streams.

This illustration by Caroline Nash shows a design for an artificial beaver dam on a degraded stream. Beaver-dam meadows can improve a watershed’s health by trapping snowmelt and releasing water more slowly, increasing available water supply and reducing flooding.

These structures can create a virtuous cycle of restoration that revives mountain meadows and stream meanders, supports wildlife populations, provides natural firebreaks and fire refuge for wildlife and alleviates impacts of post-fire flooding.

To assess the impact of this work, and its potential to provide system-wide benefit for Colorado River water management, the foundation has initiated an effort to identify and map changes in vegetated wetlands and beaver ponds throughout the basin.

This inactive beaver pond is located along the Crystal River in the Roaring Fork watershed of Colorado.
Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall

The first-of-its-kind project, led by Lynker Technologies and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) at Colorado State University, will use remote sensing and machine-learning techniques to map the extent of wetlands and the presence of beaver ponds – and chronicle how they have changed over time.

Scientists will use high-resolution 4-band aerial photography from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing methods to map wetland extent.

The team has developed deep-learning algorithms to identify and detect beaver ponds from existing historical data, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetlands Inventory.

The mapping team is using a model that searches aerial imagery for characteristic shapes of beaver ponds. The first image, on the left, shows aerial photography from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) in “true,” or red/green/blue color. The second image is derived from NAIP imagery and shows an index of wetness that emphasizes the contrast between ponded water and drier areas on river floodplains.
Photo Credit: Lynker Technologies

Wetland ecologists from the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, led by Sarah Marshall, will provide training to the mapping team using direct knowledge of the beaver-dam complexes and conduct field surveys to measure map accuracy.

Not only will the maps provide insight into increases or decreases in wetlands over the past decade, but they can also show us ongoing changes including the addition of new wetlands, whether created through beaver-related restoration or beavers themselves.

These beaver ponds in the headwaters of Colorado’s North Thompson Creek, shown in 2021, successfully re-wetted wet meadows that were dry two years earlier.
Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall

The mapping data will be released publicly and provide a year-over-year analysis of the impacts of wetlands and beaver-related restoration projects.

The foundation’s support for beaver-related restoration reflects our belief in demonstrating the value of nature-based, nature-friendly solutions that restore ecosystem health and protect water quality and quantity.

At the same time, our investment in this wetlands mapping work is part of a commitment to invest in new technologies that can help the foundation and its partners learn how wetland coverage changes over the next five years.

Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall

We don’t yet know the full potential of beaver-related restoration or whether beavers themselves can mount a comeback, embraced as allies in the fight to protect against climate change.

But their ability to provide free, self-sustaining water infrastructure represents, at a minimum, an opportunity well worth exploring.

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

Navajo Dam operations update (February 26, 2022): Bumping releases from Navajo Dam to 400 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016. Photo credit: Allen Best

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs for tomorrow, Saturday, February 26th, at 4:00 AM.

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html

Will a $40 million trust save the #GreatSaltLake? Lawmakers hope so — The Deseret News

Satellite photo of the Great Salt Lake from August 2018 after years of drought, reaching near-record lows. The difference in colors between the northern and southern portions of the lake is the result of a railroad causeway. The image was acquired by the MSI sensor on the Sentinel-2B satellite. By Copernicus Sentinel-2, ESA – https://scihub.copernicus.eu/dhus/#/home, CC BY-SA 3.0 igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77990895

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

A committee of Utah lawmakers on Friday unanimously approved a measure that would infuse $40 million worth of solutions into helping the ailing Great Salt Lake.

HB410, sponsored by House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, facilitates a process that ultimately awards the money to an eligible conservation organization tasked with improving flows to the lake, boosting the health of its watershed and raising money through public and private partnerships. Wilson’s district covers half of the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island…

Under the measure, eligible applicants would be required to have knowledge and experience of the Great Salt Lake and its watershed and wetlands, experience with Utah water laws and a history and ability to attract funding for land and water conservation projects.

Wilson’s bill also emphasizes a need for upstream conservation work to improve the health of the lake.

The successful applicant would establish the trust as a private nonprofit organization or as an agreement between two or more conservation organizations. Applicants have to apply within 60 days of the law taking effect, and by 90 days, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, in coordination with the Utah Division of Water Quality will rank them and make a selection.

Paper: An ecoregion-based approach to restoring the world’s intact large mammal assemblages — Ecography

A European Beaver in Norway. The Eurasian beaver is one of 20 species that could have a significant impact on restoring the world’s ecosystems if reintroduced. By Per Harald Olsen – User made., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=944464

Click the link to read the paper from Ecography (Carly Vynne, Joe Gosling, Calum Maney, Eric Dinerstein, Andy T. L. Lee, Neil D. Burgess, Néstor Fernández, Sanjiv Fernando, Harshini Jhala, Yadvendradev Jhala, Reed F. Noss, Michael F. Proctor, Jan Schipper, José F. González-Maya, Anup R. Joshi, David Olson, William J. Ripple and Jens-Christian Svenning). Here’s the abstract:

Assemblages of large mammal species play a disproportionate role in the structure and composition of natural habitats. Loss of these assemblages destabilizes natural systems, while their recovery can restore ecological integrity. Here we take an ecoregion-based approach to identify landscapes that retain their historically present large mammal assemblages, and map ecoregions here reintroduction of 1–3 restore intact assemblages. Intact mammal assemblages occur across more than one-third of the 730 terrestrial ecoregions where large mammals were historically present, and 22% of these ecoregions retain complete assemblages across > 20% of the ecoregion area. Twenty species, if reintroduced or allowed to recolonize through improved connectivity, can trigger restoration of complete assemblages over 54% of the terrestrial realm (11 116 000 km2). Each of these species have at least two large, intact habitat areas (> 10 000 km2) in a given ecoregion. Timely integration of recovery efforts for large mammals strengthens area-based targets being considered under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Report: From the Ground Up: How Land Trusts and Conservancies Are Providing Solutions to #ClimateChange — The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy #ActOnClimate

From the ground up cover Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Click the image to go to the report page.

From email from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy:

As the need to address the climate crisis grows ever more urgent, land conservationists are taking meaningful action to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and protect natural systems from the unavoidable impacts of a warming planet.

Our new Policy Focus Report documents how land trusts and conservancies are developing and implementing creative, nature-based strategies to address climate change around the globe, from the Great Plains of the United States to the high-altitude wetlands of Ecuador.

In this report, we document a dozen case examples that demonstrate how conservation organizations can help to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.

Paper: Smokey the Beaver: beaver-dammed riparian corridors stay green during wildfire throughout the western United States — Ecological Society of America

Conceptual model of vegetation response to normal, drought, and fire with and without beaver. Credit: ESA

Click the link to read the paper from the Ecological Society of America (Emily Fairfax, Andrew Whittle). Here’s the abstract:

Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low-tech, low-cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale. They slow and store water that can be accessed by riparian vegetation during dry periods, effectively protecting riparian ecosystems from droughts. Whether or not this protection extends to wildfire has been discussed anecdotally but has not been examined in a scientific context. We used remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to compare riparian vegetation greenness in areas with and without beaver damming during wildfire. We include data from five large wildfires of varying burn severity and dominant landcover settings in the western United States in our analysis. We found that beaver-dammed riparian corridors are relatively unaffected by wildfire when compared to similar riparian corridors without beaver damming. On average, the decrease in NDVI during fire in areas without beaver is 3.05 times as large as it is in areas with beaver. However, plant greenness rebounded in the year after wildfire regardless of beaver activity. Thus, we conclude that, while beaver activity does not necessarily play a role in riparian vegetation post-fire resilience, it does play a significant role in riparian vegetation fire resistance and refugia creation.

Photo credit: Wisconsin Wildlife Services

#Colorado Open Lands and Southern Plains Land Trust: Fresh Tracks Preserve – permanently protected!

Fresh Tracks prairie landscape in southeast Colorado. Photo credit: Colorado Open Lands

From email from Colorado Open Lands:

Colorado Open Lands is excited to once again partner with the Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT) to add additional protections on the shortgrass prairie of southeast Colorado! SPLT’s mission is to preserve these lands for the native species – both plant and animal – that thrive on them. The Fresh Tracks easement combines several parcels owned by SPLT into one 2,559-acre addition to their wildlife preserve holdings. It also represents COL’s first easement in Baca County, bringing our total counties served to 50 out of 64!

Fresh Tracks is home to species great and small, including mountain lion, mule deer, pronghorn, Colorado Species of Special Concern ferruginous hawk and swift fox, and Colorado Threatened Species burrowing owl, as well as the rare Colorado green gentian plant.

Beaver Dams Help #Wildfire-Ravaged Ecosystems Recover: Long after Flames Subside Dams mop up debris that would otherwise kill fish and other downstream wildlife, new observations suggest — Scientific American

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

From Scientific American (Isobel Whitcomb):

…Tinniswood and his team stumbled upon something even more surprising, and somewhat encouraging: roughly five acres of pristine greenery amid an otherwise burned-out area along Dixon Creek, a tributary in the Sprague River watershed. At the center were roughly eight active beaver dams. But this was more than a refuge from fire, which hundreds of beaver dams are known to have afforded to other riparian areas. Whereas fish seemed to have disappeared upstream of the Dixon Creek dam site, the downstream water was crystal clear—and trout were thriving as though the fire had never happened. The dams and ponds appeared to have altered the hydrology of the landscape around them, Tinniswood says. The beavers had effectively built something like a water treatment plant that staved off fire-related contamination.

Similar dam-driven refuges have been documented from Colorado to California, Idaho to Wyoming. Now, scientists are discovering that these green sanctuaries are part of a larger story of how beaver dams contribute to fire resilience. Along with deterring the flames themselves, beaver dams and ponds also function as filters for ash and other fire-produced pollutants that enter waterways—thus maintaining water quality for fish, other aquatic animals, and humans—emerging evidence suggests.

Tinniswood isn’t the first to observe that beaver dams protect streams from the toxic effects of postfire runoff. In the past several years, as climate change has ramped up wildfire frequency and intensity throughout the western U.S., similar accounts have come in after fires across the region. These range from the 2018 Sharps Fire in Idaho to the 2020 Lefthand Canyon and Cameron Peak fires in Colorado. Ecohydrologist Emily Fairfax of California State University Channel Islands, who personally made such observations in Colorado, says such findings support efforts to conserve and reintroduce beavers in the West, and to establish human-made structures that mimic beaver dams—a growing movement in riparian restoration…

The filtration provided by dams is crucial for the surrounding ecosystem. In the aftermath of wildfires, autumn rain and spring snowmelt wash sediment into waterways—including ash and other debris, and soil that vegetation normally would hold in place. This pulse of pollution can be deadlier to aquatic life than the fire itself, Tinniswood said. Just as humans struggle to breathe air that’s thick with smoke, fish can’t take in enough oxygen from water laden with sediment that their gills are not designed to block…

Beaver dams and ponds filter out sediment by slowing the rate at which water flows, says researcher Sarah Koenigsberg at the Beaver Coalition, an Oregon-based nonprofit organization that promotes conservation. When water lazily drifts through a beaver pond rather than rushing in a torrent down a narrow channel, suspended sediment has time to settle on the bottom where it poses less risk to fish and other aquatic animals. “You can almost think of it like a coffee filter,” Koenigsberg said.

Draft plan available for Windy Gap Bypass; Community meeting on February 22, 2022 — The Sky-Hi Daily News

A draft plan for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, also known as the Windy Gap Bypass, is now available. Public comment will be accepted starting February 8, 2022 through March 10.
NRCS/Courtesy photo

From the NRCS via The Sky-Hi Daily News:

The public is encouraged to give feedback on the draft plan for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, also known as the Windy Gap Bypass.

Public comment opens [February 8, 2022] and will remain open through March 10.

The US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service with sponsors Grand County, Trout Unlimited and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has presented the draft watershed plan and environmental assessment.

The project proposes ecosystem improvements along the Colorado River corridor near Windy Gap Dam. Measures are being proposed to provide connectivity and improve the riparian corridor of the Colorado River to enhance stream habitat and sediment transport while moderating elevated stream temperatures and allowing for public recreation access.

NRCS and project sponsors will hold a public meeting to provide information about the project. The meeting will be 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Grand Fire office in Granby or online with Zoom access available at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/co/programs/farmbill/rcpp/?cid=nrcseprd1326277.

An electronic copy of the draft plan is also available at that link. Hard copies of the plan can be found at the Granby Library, Hot Sulphur Springs Library, Grand County office and Granby Town Hall.

Submit comments to Greg Allington by emailing your comment to windygap@adaptiveenviro.com or mailing them to:

Adaptive Environmental Planning, LLC
2976 E State St.
Ste 120 #431
Eagle, ID 83616

Comments must be received by March 10 to become part of the public record.

Looking west across the 445 acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, which straddles the Colorado River (Summer 2011). Photo By: Jeff Dahlstrom, NCWCD via Water Education Colorado

Contest Launches to “Re-Engineer” Glen Canyon Dam, Rewild the #ColoradoRiver — Rewilding the Colorado River #COriver #aridification

Glen Canyon Dam

Here’s the release from RewildingColoradoRiver.org:

OPEN DATE: February 7, 2022 1:00 PM MDT

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: NOVEMBER 15, 2022 11:59 PM MDT

CONTEST PRIZE: $4,000 (and counting)

Climate change and overuse of Colorado River water have brought the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead to historic lows. As stakeholders of the Colorado River Basin rush to find solutions to address the western water crisis, calls to phase out Lake Powell reservoir have grown louder. With Lake Powell at 27% of its storage capacity, and downstream Lake Mead at 30% capacity, there is no longer enough water to fill either reservoir, and the intended purpose of Glen Canyon Dam, to store excess water, is significantly less applicable to today’s hydrology as well as all future predictions of hydrology.

Re-engineering Glen Canyon Dam to reconnect the Colorado River through Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon could have vast benefits to the ecosystems of Glen and Grand Canyons. Further, alternatives to Colorado River management that no longer rely on, or use, Lake Powell could negate the need to make large leases or purchases of farm water in the Upper or Lower Basin simply to try and save Lake Powell.

The “Rewilding the Colorado River Contest” is seeking engineering alternatives for Glen Canyon Dam that would allow for a “run of river” regime through or around Glen Canyon Dam with consideration to:

  • cost effectiveness
  • public safety
  • sediment flow
  • recreation
  • possible hydropower production
  • fish migration upstream and downstream
  • habitat restoration in Glen and Grand Canyons.
  • The contest seeks white paper proposals (no more than 20 pages) that describe a technical approach, including cost estimates and drawings, to these challenges. The contest is open to engineering students and engineering companies across the U.S.

    The Rewilding Contest is sponsored by:

  • Tick Segerblom, Clark County Commissioner, Nevada
  • Daniel P. Beard, former Commissioner U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • John Fielder, Nature Photographer
  • Save the Colorado
  • Glen Canyon Institute
  • Great Basin Water Network
  • Living Rivers
  • Judges will be up to 3 engineering professors and/or ecological specialists with skill and expertise in the issue.

    Winners will be announced at the Dec. 2022 Colorado River Water Users Association Conference.

    Relevant Glen Canyon Dam Design Documents below (linked for download):

    Glen Canyon Dam (fact sheet)

  • 1961 – Design features of Glen Canyon Dam. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • 1970 – Glen Canyon Dam technical record of design and construction. (searchable doc); Chronology; Intro; Geology; Foundation; Dam; Spillways; River Outlets; Penstocks; Powerplant; Switchyard; Visitor Center; Consruction, Appendix. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • 1975 – Scientific information in the decisicion to dam Glen Canyon. Lake Powell Research Project Bulletin #9.
  • Email proposals as one pdf to: Gary@SaveTheColorado.org

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Former Governor Bill Owens defends Renewable Water Resources proposal; Valley #water managers brief Douglas County — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    A view of public lands around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and just south from the area Renewable Water Resources has proposed a wellfield for water exportation. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    CALLING it a “carefully crafted plan,” former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens defended efforts by Renewable Water Resources to export water from the San Luis Valley in a pointed opinion published Sunday.

    Owens is leading the RWR plan and called out “status-quo politicians who are stoking fear doubling down on one valid reality: the San Luis Valley is one of the most economically challenged areas of our state.”

    “When the attorney general and state Sen. Cleave Simpson claim they will do all they can to stop the voluntary selling of water rights, they are saying to Coloradans that they know better than you do what to do with your private property,” Owens penned in the op/ed published in ColoradoPolitics.com.

    Simpson responded during Monday’s Douglas County commissioners work session on the RWR plan. Douglas County is vetting the proposal for a $20 million investment, using its federal COVID relief money to potentially buy into the RWR plan and pump groundwater in perpetuity to Douglas County from the Valley.

    “Myself and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District very intentionally have not tried to implement any type of rule or legislation that would interfere with private property rights,” Simpson said. “If folks are interested in selling water rights to Renewable Water Resources we’ve not stood in the way. We certainly would challenge that a change in the water right and the proposal as crafted isn’t good for the community, and likely our position would be ‘I’m not sure you can do it without injuring other water rights.’”

    Simpson was joined by other Valley water managers who briefed Douglas County commissioners on the most current groundwater withdrawals and condition of the unconfined and confined aquifers in the Upper Rio Grande Basin. The RWR groundwater pumping and exportation plan draws from the confined aquifer in Saguache County and is in a part of the Rio Grande Basin considered not sustainable due to current withdrawals.

    Owens, making a point in his opinion piece that there is water in the San Luis Valley available for exportation, said “the San Luis Valley pumps over 600,000 acre-feet of water from the aquifers every year.” Actual water flow meter readings show Valley farmers pumped 458,000 acre-feet in 2020, according to data presented to Douglas County commissioners.

    The commissioners also saw figures that show the Rio Grande with an average flow of 550,000 acre-feet over the past 20 years, down 15 percent from the Rio Grande’s historical average going back to 1890 when water flows on the Rio Grande started to be measured.

    “We’re not guessing at the numbers that we pump. We’re not guessing at the amount of water we’re withdrawing, and we’re not guessing at what it takes to farm in the San Luis Valley,” said Conejos County farmer Nathan Coombs. He is on the board of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s Subdistrict 3.

    San Luis garden. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    “We don’t have different points of view on the same subject, we have different interests on the same subject,” Coombs said. “The San Luis Valley, we’re needing just to survive in our agriculture economy and with our neighbors. The Renewable Water proposal is just about money. It’s about an exportation of a cash commodity.

    “We are struggling to keep our ship correct and to try to recover our aquifer, and then here comes this seemingly predatory-natured entity to exacerbate our problem when we’re in the middle of a hardship.”

    Coombs showed Douglas County commissioners where he farms in Conejos County and how it’s 53 miles away from Renewable Water Resources’ proposed wellfield. He said it’s incomprehensible to think the RWR groundwater pumping and exportation of water to Douglas County wouldn’t impact his operations and farming operations in the Valley as a whole.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    “Those of us who have voluntarily worked our tails off to become sustainable, it’s a slap in the face. Who am I? I’m expendable? Denver Basin aquifer should be sustained, San Luis Valley should not? We should import water so unsustained growth on the Front Range continues to expand, where I have to limit the size of my operation because I have to live within my means?

    “Why are we trading one aquifer for the other? I think we all matter don’t we? Why can’t agriculture interests in the San Luis Valley matter as much as the Denver aquifer?”

    For Owens, the former governor of Colorado, it’s a “false assertion that there is ‘no water’ available in the SLV.”

    For farmers like Coombs, it’s more the reality.

    New federal #wildfire plan is ambitious – but the Forest Service needs more money and people to fight the growing risks — The Conversation


    Forest thinning and prescribed burns leave less fuel to burn.
    Escaflowne via Getty Images

    Ryan E. Tompkins, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Susan Kocher, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

    People living in the western U.S. have been concerned about wildfires for a long time, but the past two years have left many of them fearful and questioning whether any solutions to the fire crisis truly exist.

    The Dixie Fire in the Sierra Nevada burned nearly 1 million acres in 2021, including almost the entire community of Greenville, California. Then strong winds near Lake Tahoe sent the Caldor Fire racing toward homes, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people – including one of us. They followed destructive wildfires in 2020 in California, and Colorado and Oregon also saw devastating fires in the past two years.

    As foresters who have been working on wildfire and forest restoration issues in the Sierra Nevada for over a quarter of a century, the main lesson we gather from how these fires have burned is that fuels reduction and forest restoration projects are our best tools for mitigating wildfire impacts amid a changing climate, and not nearly enough of them are being done.

    A new 10-year plan announced by the U.S. Forest Service in early 2022 aims to change that. It outlines an ambitious strategy, but Congress will now have to follow through with enough funding to carry it out.

    Fuels reduction projects can work

    The Dixie and Caldor fires provided evidence that forest fuels reduction projects can work.

    The fires spread quickly over vast areas, but both burned less severely in areas with proactive forest restoration and fuels management projects, including near South Lake Tahoe and near Quincy.

    Fuels reduction projects include thinning out trees, burning off woody debris and reducing “ladder fuels” like small trees and brush that can allow fire to reach the tree canopy. Forest restoration projects focus on forest structure, density and composition as well as reducing fuels.

    A forest with space among the trees.
    Thinned areas like this one in California’s Genesee Valley were more resistant to 2021’s Dixie Fire.
    Ryan Tompkins, CC BY-ND

    These projects create more open forests that are less likely to fuel severe megafires. They also create strategic areas where firefighters can more easily fight future blazes. And because fires burn less intensely in thinned forests, these projects leave more intact forest after a fire for regenerating new trees and sequestering carbon.

    A new 10-year plan

    The Forest Service’s new 10-year plan sets a goal to treat as much as 50 million additional acres across the West over 10 years, just under 80,000 square miles. For comparison, the Forest Service treats around 2 million to 3 million acres a year now.

    The first priorities in the plan are high-risk areas where communities have been threatened by out-of-control fires, including in the Sierra Nevada in California, the eastern side of the Rockies in Colorado and parts of the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.

    The Forest Service already has a “shared stewardship” agreement with California, reached in 2020, aiming to treat 1 million acres annually by 2025. Though, research indicates that current levels of treatment are closer to 30% of that million-acre goal. Remember that 1 million acres is about how much the Dixie Fire burned.

    A lingering question is how the 10-year plan will be paid for, considering that it will require a workforce larger than the U.S. has seen in decades.

    A few walls are standing, but most of the town is burned and melted rubble.
    Little remained of downtown Greenville after the Dixie Fire.
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    So far, Congress has approved additional funding through the 2021 infrastructure bill, which included about $655 million a year for fire management for five years. That’s in addition to the Forest Service’s annual funding for this work, which was about $260 million this fiscal year.

    But in California alone, a group of scientists, land managers and former government leaders has recommended spending $5 billion a year on proactive management, roughly equivalent to what was spent to suppress fires in the state in 2020. Known as “The Venado Declaration,” this proposal, championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and former Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott, calls for addressing forest resiliency on every acre and acknowledges that more than just funding is needed. It also discusses building infrastructure and a workforce and reevaluating regulatory barriers.

    Four key steps

    To manage fires in an era of climate change, when drier, hotter weather creates ideal conditions for burning, experts estimate that the area treated for fuels reduction needs to increase by at least an order of magnitude. We believe government needs to accomplish these four things to succeed:

    1) Drastically increase funding and staff for agencies’ fuels reduction projects, as well as outreach, cost-sharing and technical assistance for private forestland owners. The new plan is a good start. Funding more federal and state agency positions would add forest restoration capacity for the long term. The Biden administration’s proposal for a Civilian Climate Corps could also bring in more young workers.

    During the Dixie Fire, firefighters used an area that had been strategically thinned to set backfires to prevent the wildfire from reaching Quincy.
    Ryan Tompkins, CC BY-ND

    2) Reduce regulations on forest and fuels management efforts for both public and private land. While California and the federal government have made recent strides to streamline regulations, land management agencies need to acknowledge the biggest risk is doing nothing. Agencies need to plan larger restoration projects and drastically cut the time needed to implement them.

    3) Invest in communities’ capacity to carry out local forest restoration work by providing long-term support to local organizations that provide outreach, technical assistance and project coordination services. Funding restoration through competitive grants makes development of long-term community capacity challenging at best. The new plan’s inclusion of state, tribal and private lands is an opportunity for partnerships.

    4) Provide funds and financial incentives for at-risk communities to retrofit homes to withstand wildfires and reduce fuels around homes, communities and infrastructure.

    Amid a changing climate, we will have to learn to coexist with wildfires in the U.S. West. This will require concerted action and a cultural shift in how we view and manage our forests and communities to be resilient.

    This is an updated version of an article first published on Oct. 13, 2021.The Conversation

    Ryan E. Tompkins, Cooperative Extension Forester and Natural Resources Advisor, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Susan Kocher, Cooperative Extension Forester and Natural Resources Advisor, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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

    Forest Service plans to thin and burn millions of acres to mitigate more extreme wildfires — #Wyoming Public Radio

    Women in Prescribed Fire Training Exchange participants practice different controlled burning ignition patterns. Photo courtesy Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network via USDA

    From Boise Public Radio (Madelyn Beck) via Wyoming Public Radio:

    The U.S. Forest Service plans a dramatic increase in forest thinning and prescribed burns across the West.

    Its recently released 10-year plan includes treating 20 million acres of Forest Service land, and 30 million acres of other federal, state, tribal, and private lands. The agency says it has seen such proactive treatments dampen the effects of massive blazes, like in Arizona’s largest blaze, the Wallow Fire, in 2011…

    The agency aims to treat forests at up to four times the current rate…

    Since the late 20th century, there’s been less land management and far more spent on fighting big blazes, [Ryan] Tompkins said, “and we need to flip that investment.” He points to all the resources – more than $600 million – used to fight Northern California’s Dixie Fire for months as it burned nearly a million acres last summer…

    USFS highest risk firesheds January 2022.

    The Forest Service also picked out areas it wants to treat first. That includes large sections of Colorado and Idaho. But Wyoming doesn’t have a single area identified.

    Tompkins says there can be equity issues when you have to prioritize burns, and he’d like there to be plans for forest resiliency on every acre, but “there are so few resources available that we continue to try to address this problem through prioritization. And over decades of prioritization, we’ve ended up in a situation where we’re really in triage.”

    Great Outdoors #Colorado Annual Report

    Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt (Click the screenshot for a larger view.):

    The San Luis Valley gears up for another #water fight — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    ON Instagram Karen Lundquist asks, “Other than locally voting, what else can be done to oppose this horrible proposal?”

    “What a crock,” writes Don Richmond on Facebook.

    You can say the Valley is gearing up for another fight over its water.

    “This fight has now come to the forefront in what would seem to be a David vs. Goliath scenario,” said Alamosa City Councilman Mike Carson, who used last week’s meeting to rally his fellow city council members to the urgent matter of the day – beating back the latest effort to move water out of the Upper Rio Grande Basin and the San Luis Valley. (Read his full statement HERE.)

    “The current proposal ‘threat’ to the water security challenges in the San Luis Valley presented by Renewable Water Resources is once again a demonstration of self-serving financial speculation at the expense of others,” said Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and state senator representing the San Luis Valley and counties east of the Valley.

    The conservation district has launched ProtectSanLuisValleyWater.com as its public-facing strategy to address the RWR plan. You can go back through the decades to find other water exportation efforts, including American Water Development Inc.’s (AWDI) application to the Colorado Division 3 Water Court in the 1990s to pump groundwater from the Valley.

    This past week Renewable Water Resources engineer Bruce Lytle presented the RWR plan to Douglas County commissioners. They’re weighing whether to use $20 million of Douglas County’s federal COVID relief funding to invest in the RWR plan as a way to bring additional water to the growing Denver-metro county.

    Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, who holds what appears to be the deciding vote on the three-member county commission, emphasized Douglas County’s growth and the importance of positioning Douglas County for the future as a basis for any decision he makes on whether to support the RWR plan.

    “I have not made any decision whatsoever, nor will I without the input of the community and water experts,” Laydon told AlamosaCitizen.com. “We still have a lot to learn but I hope everyone that is interested will join us in these public meetings and provide their input along the way.

    “What I can assure you of is that I will not do anything that is not a clear win/win for both our citizens and the people of the San Luis Valley. That is my commitment, on the record, and I will not deviate from that.”

    Laydon is in a position to decide whether the RWR plan moves forward to a formal state review after one his colleagues, Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas, voiced opposition to taking water from the San Luis Valley and another, Commissioner George Teal, leaned to supporting it.

    On Monday [January 24, 2022], the Douglas County commissioners are scheduled to meet with three attorneys who will talk to them about Colorado water law as it relates to the RWR plan. The attorneys are James Eklund of Eklund Hanlon LLC; John Lubitz, partner with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP; and Glen Porzak, managing partner with Porzak, Browning & Bushong LLP.

    The backdrop for the RWR push to transfer 20,000 acre-feet of water per year from the confined aquifer of the Upper Rio Grande Basin is an over-appropriated, drought-stricken San Luis Valley that has fewer wetlands, lower stream flows, diminishing natural spring flows, and fewer irrigated acres as the result.

    The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council is raising concerns about damage to the Blanca Wildlife Habitat, among other environmental concerns. RWR’s proposal neighbors the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the northeastern end of the Valley, and RWR’s engineer Bruce Lytle emphasized in his presentation to Douglas County that the plan is “designed to take advantage of the rim recharge coming off the Sangre de Cristos.”

    “It’s difficult to get your mind wrapped around the potential environmental impacts of the Renewable Water Resources proposal because effects are so numerous and far-reaching that to quantify on any practical level, we’d have to also keep in mind the exponential affects, because this RWR proposal is asking for perpetuity of ground water withdrawal, so the aquifers potentially won’t ever be able to recharge once the pumps are turned on,” said Chris Canaly, director of the SLV Ecosystem Council.

    The San Luis Creek and Rio Alto Creek move through the preliminary wellfield of 22 to 25 groundwater wells that RWR showed to Douglas County.

    “The environment in this area has already been changing over time,” said Canaly. “This area is now struggling, in terms of desertification, so RWR’s proposal is just adding fuel to an already burning fire.”

    Baca National Wildlife Refuge

    Just southwest of the RWR proposed wellfield is the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, where biologists for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been working to conserve two native Rio Grande fish, according to Canaly. The Baca refuge is also home to one of only two aboriginal populations of Rio Grande sucker and Rio Grande chub in the state. Important fish habitat also resides in Crestone Creek, which runs through the refuge, and work in 2017 replaced old culverts to restore fish passage and enhance connectivity in the stream.

    “This is the type of restoration work that the RWR project would likely undermine and dismantle,” Canaly said. She said, “if you look at the ‘impact maps’ that RWR Engineer Bruce Lytle displayed, that entire area of the Sangre de Cristo foothills watershed/alluvial fan will be impacted.”

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Whether or not RWR makes it to the phase of well drilling and exportation, what remains is the growth of Colorado’s Front Range from Colorado Springs north and concerns with the Denver Basin.

    “Many conversations have and are taking place as to why Front Range cities and towns are going to need to depend less on the Denver Aquifer,” said Monica McCafferty with Renewable Water Resources. “And, why water providers in the Front Range are scrambling to find non-Denver aquifer sources.”

    In a world where water is becoming an even more scarce and sought-after natural resource, water exportation proposals like RWR’s only need to win one time in court to sink wells in the ground and pump water north. The San Luis Valley, on the other hand, has to win each and every time to protect one of the most unique ecosystems in North America.

    The sandhill cranes are back in the San Luis Valley (2020) on their spring migration. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    #GoldKingMine settlement — @Land_Desk #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

    We have just received word that the federal government and the owner of the Sunnyside Mine have agreed to pay a total of $90 million to settle claims relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout. The proposed consent decree will be posted in the Federal Register and opened to public comment for 30 days prior to being finalized.

    That consent decree will “resolve all claims, cross-claims, and counterclaims between the United States and Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation (the “Mining Defendants”) in this multidistrict litigation,” according to the U.S. District Court of New Mexico filing.

    The Land Desk will have more details—along with a wonkfest explaining why Sunnyside is even involved with an incident that occurred at a mine it doesn’t own—next week.

    The settlement by the numbers:

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    $40.95 million

    Amount Sunnyside Gold Corp., a subsidiary of Canada-based Kinross Gold, will pay to the federal government under the settlement, all of which will be used to finance cleanup relating to the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.

    $4.05 million

    Amount Sunnyside Gold will pay to the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment.

    $45 million

    Amount the U.S. government, on behalf of federal settling agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service—will pay to “appropriate federal accounts” under the settlement.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    From The Durango Herald (Aedan Hannon):

    The Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department, Department of the Interior, Department Agriculture and state of Colorado announced Friday they have reached a settlement with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company Kinross Gold Corp. to fund remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton.

    In the case of an old-fashioned standoff, the federal government will drop its claims against Sunnyside Gold Corp. and Canadian mining company Kinross Gold Corp. and the two companies will drop their claims against the federal government after the settlement.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. will pay $40.95 million to the federal government and the EPA and another $4.05 million to Colorado, while the United States will contribute $45 million to the cleanup of mining contamination in the area…

    The agreement marks the end of Sunnyside Gold Corp.’s remediation work in the Bonita Peak Mining District. The EPA previously ordered the company to undertake a costly investigation of groundwater in the area in March 2018.

    The state of Colorado has also released Sunnyside from its reclamation permit obligations, which require the company to clean up its past mining operations and meet the conditions of a reclamation plan approved by the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, a branch of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

    In addition, the settlement limits the future liability of both Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company…

    The settlement was made as a matter of practicality with no admission of wrongdoing or liability, Myers said in an email to The Durango Herald.

    Myers noted the federal government’s matching $45 million was a result of the federal government’s own liability for the Gold King Mine spill and damage to the surrounding area…

    The Colorado and the federal governments have argued that Sunnyside Gold Corp. is partly at fault and responsible for funding remediation in the Bonita Peak Mining District after placing bulkheads in the 1990s to prevent the drainage of contaminated water.

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    In legal filings, the state has said the bulkheads backed up waste in surrounding mines, including the Gold King Mine, which was released when EPA contractors accidentally caused a blowout…

    The EPA has already spent more than $75 million to remediate the site.

    The Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group is working to define water-quality targets and other environmental standards that will need to be met for the area to be considered decontaminated. Those targets will help guide the work of the EPA…

    [Ty Churchwell] said a full cleanup of the site will likely take at least another decade. He pointed to similar Superfund sites near Leadville and Idaho Springs that each took about two decades.

    The settlement is a step in that direction.

    Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Associated Press (James Anderson) via The Colorado Sun:

    The agreement must be approved by the U.S. District Court in the District of New Mexico after a 30-day public comment period…

    An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine, another site in the district not owned by Sunnyside, in August 2015 when it inadvertently breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.

    Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

    An estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals, mostly iron and aluminum. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted…

    Monies will be used for water and soil sampling and to build more waste repositories. The EPA said in a statement Friday it has spent more than $75 million on cleanup work “and expects to continue significant work at the site in the coming years.”

    The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

    The proposed consent decree follows Sunnyside settlements with New Mexico and the Navajo Nation earlier this year. Sunnyside admits no fault in the agreement.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    #Wildfire mitigation efforts gain urgency in #Aspen, Pitkin County: U.S. Forest Service is ready to roll with 5 projects, Pitkin County helps with funding — The Aspen Times

    Above: The Lake Christine Fire, July 4, 2018. Photo: Katie Baum Hueth, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Photo via Wildfire Today

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    The Marshall Fire that destroyed more than 1,000 structures in Boulder County Dec. 30 has increased the urgency of completing wildfire mitigation projects in the Aspen area and Pitkin County.

    The U.S. Forest Service is working with the governments of Aspen and Pitkin County as well as fire districts and homeowners associations to identify places that are the highest priorities for fuels reduction. The private lands on Red Mountain and public lands surrounding the high-end neighborhood are one of the highest priorities…

    Richards said the Marshall Fire that swept through parts of Louisville and Superior show the importance of fire mitigation on private lands as well as national forests…

    A working group loosely referred to as the Roaring Fork Fuels Collaborative is looking at numerous wildland fire mitigation projects, including one called Sunnyside, which would treat lands adjacent to Red Mountain subdivision. Between 1,000 and 1,500 acres would be targeted, according to Kevin Warner, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger. It would require mechanical treatment of tree and vegetation removal and prescribed burns in areas away from homes. The earliest that project could advance is probably spring 2024, Warner said.

    Cooperation from the homeowners would be essential so that land within the subdivision would be treated as well. Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine said his department is working on demonstration projects to show homeowners that easing wildfire risk doesn’t mean ruining their property…

    The Forest Service led a project in 2016 to treat lands near Red Mountain in the Hunter Creek Valley. Additional work on up to 1,500 acres in Hunter Creek could be undertaken as soon as this spring, according to Gary Tennenbaum, director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program. He credited the Forest Service for leading the successful 2016 project and not causing alarm in Aspen. He also credited the agency for its willingness to propose working close to Red Mountain…

    Warner said five wildland fire mitigation projects throughout the region are being planned. The Forest Service and its partners probably don’t have the resources to pursue them all this year, but priorities will be dictated by factors such as moisture levels this spring and the ability to get a permit from the state over air quality.

    The contending projects include 2,000 acres in Collins Creek east of the settlement of Woody Creek, 2,000 acres in Braderich Creek west of Redstone, the 1,500 acres in Hunter Creek in Aspen’s backyard, a project in Cattle Creek north of Basalt Mountain in Eagle County and a project in the Seven Castles area in Fryingpan Valley…

    Pitkin County has budgeted $300,000 over three years to assist the Forest Service. The highest priority for the county is “where the forest meets homes,” said county emergency manager Valerie MacDonald. The county has collaborated in recent years on several small projects that reduced fuels on federal lands in the Crystal River Valley that are adjacent to private properties, such as Swiss Village, she said.

    A project north of Redstone treated 100 acres. “It gives the historic town of Redstone a fighting chance to evacuate safety,” MacDonald said.

    Like other speakers at the meeting, she said getting cooperation from private landowners is the key to building resiliency. Pitkin County is 83% public lands, but much of its private property is in what’s known as the wildland-urban interface…

    The local planning comes as the U.S. Forest Service released a major new initiative called “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis.” It will target “firesheds” in the Western U.S. — areas 250,000 acres and larger with a high likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities and infrastructure to wildfire.

    The initiative will target 20 million acres on national forestlands as well as up to 30 million acres on other federal, state and private lands over the next 10 years. It will also come up with a maintenance plan beyond the next decade.

    President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill earmarked $3 billion for the effort beyond regular funding for wildfire mitigation. The strategy is drawing criticism from some environmental groups.

    Archuleta County Board of County Comissioners grants river enhancement funds The #Pagosa Springs Sun #SanJuanRiver

    Yamaguchi South Planning Project site layout via the City of Pagosa Springs.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    On Dec. 21, 2021, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) committed $10,000 through a letter of commitment to be used as part of the cash match for the Town of Pagosa Springs and the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership’s ( WEP) grant application for the south Yamaguchi Park project.

    The funds will be taken from the county’s Conservation Trust Fund, which can only be used for outdoor recreation purposes.

    The grant being applied for will be dispersed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) next March.

    WEP representative Al Pfister first approached the BoCC in regard to the matching fund request on Dec. 7, 2021.

    Pfister previously explained that the total cost of the project is just over $664,000, with more than $500,000 coming from the grant.

    The WEP needs a 25 percent cash match, or just over $166,000, to be awarded the grant. Six other entities have been asked to com-mit funds including the Town of Pagosa Springs, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Upper San Juan, The Nature Conservancy and Weminuche Audubon.

    County Attorney Todd Weaver noted that “it’s a community col- laborative effort.”

    The letter of commitment sent to the CWCB reads, “This project is part of the Upper San Juan Basin Integrated Water Management Plan and would create various new and/or improved river access points and channel features for the San Juan River, thereby enhancing recreation options at various river flows, reducing access conflicts, create diverse aquatic habitat to support fisheries, and develop a more resilient river facing changing hydrology and temperatures in the future.”

    Commissioner Warren Brown mentioned he felt it was a “worthwhile” project to support, noting it will likely have a positive impact on tourism in the community.

    Commissioner Ronnie Maez mentioned the project will be a “huge improvement.”

    Commissioner Alvin Schaaf noted it will serve as a benefit “to all of the community.”

    The letter of commitment of funds was approved unanimously.

    Manipulating from the margins: #ClimateChange and the #MarshallFire — @BigPivots

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    So this is what climate change looks like: operating on the margins, yet able to dramatically alter the story on center stage.

    Warming temperatures played a monster role in creating the conditions that enabled the fire that burned nearly 1,000 houses as well as other buildings in Boulder County on Dec. 30.

    “We are just numb. It happened so quickly,” Lafayette resident Peggy Williams reported in a Facebook post after being forced to flee. “We never thought our little towns would experience something like this.”

    To understand what happened and why, it’s useful to examine the discrete elements. Some are entirely natural and nothing new. Taken together, though, they represent a new dynamic, unprecedented in Colorado.

    “Certainly, climate change is never the only part of the story when it comes to wildfires. It’s part of the story but there’s always more to the story,” said Russ Schumacher, the Colorado state climatologist. “That being said, what we see in these fires and have seen in the last couple of years in Colorado, the changing climate is kind of making us expand our imaginations of what types of destructive wildfires are possible.”

    A scattergram assembled by Schumacher showing weather and precipitation records from three Front Range locations tells the story of hot and dry over past decades. The Fort Collins record goes back longer, but records kept at Denver’s Central Park – the site of Denver’s airport prior to DIA — are more proximate to Boulder.

    The year 2021, for the period between June 1 and Dec. 29, stands alone in its intense combination of warm and dry, even compared to other seven-month periods. Look at the warm and dry quadrant closely and you will see a pattern: disproportionate representation of 21st century years.

    Again, it’s not just precipitation, not just warmth. It’s the combination.

    Because of the warm temperatures and drought, vegetation became bone dry by year’s end. And that resulted in what one meteorologist suspects was near-record combustibility of the grasses in the open spaces.

    High winds were another crucial ingredient. They rapidly pushed the flames eastward from origins of the fire near Marshall, on the outskirts of Boulder, through Superior and into Louisville while threatening Lafayette, Westminster, and Broomfield.

    What’s new in all this?

    Wind? Absolutely not. Boulder, Golden, and Denver were still new mining supply camps in the 1860s, when the newspapers of Colorado reported the “savage violence” of winds that tore off roofs and stopped trains. Papers issued by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the 1970s and 1980s reported winds in excess of 100 mph, including one gust of 137 mph at the NCAR building in January 1982.

    The winds of Dec. 30 were notably strong but not without precedent. They shattered the glass in cars and other vehicles, but wind storms in the past have flattened buildings in Boulder, Golden, and other towns even in recent years.

    No particular study of the winds seems to have been conducted since the 1980s, but the perception is that they have actually become less frequent in recent decades, according to Schumacher.
    One final ingredient, what meteorologist and science writer Bob Henson calls the “other elephant in the room,” is housing and other buildings adjoining open spaces in Superior and Louisville. Without it, this would have been a prairie fire.

    Conditions for the fire began setting up in spring. Abundant May rains created a landscape lush and green. Then in June, it stopped raining across most of the Front Range and temperatures spiked.

    In a tweet, Henson pointed to records for Sept. 1 through Dec. 30 for Denver.

  • Temperatures an average 52.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the second warmest in 150 years.
  • Precipitation of 0.47 inch, the least in 150 years.
  • Snowfall of just 0.3 inch, the least in 140 years.
  • “The warmer it gets, the harsher these droughts will be on the landscape,” Henson, whose books include “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change,” wrote in the tweet.

    The climate writing was on the wall

    Climate scientists in recent years have stressed how rising temperatures can create drought where none would otherwise exist. These are called hot droughts, and California has made them infamous.

    That expression has also been used in the Colorado River Basin. There, increased evaporation and transpiration caused by rising temperatures has robbed average or near-average snowpacks, producing runoff into Lake Powell of 25% to 30% of average.

    In Boulder County, precipitation was nowhere near normal. In its New Year’s Eve story, “How extreme climate conditions fueled unprecedented Colorado fire,” The Washington Post reported that Boulder averages over 30 inches of snow between September and December; this year it got 1.46 inches.

    Graphic credit: Westwide Drought Tracker

    This converted the green vegetation of May into the sort of tinder useful to getting the logs burning in the fireplace. The Washington Post story by staff writer and meteorologist Jason Samenow, assistant Colorado state climatologist Becky Bolinger, and meteorology student Jacob Feuerstein pointed to two indexes that document this flammability.

    One, the Evaporative Demand Drought Index, or EDDI was at a record high in eastern Colorado during December. The index provides a snapshot of how “thirsty” the atmosphere is compared to normal that time of year.

    “It can be a good wildfire risk predictor as it takes into account temperatures, sunlight and wind, in addition to humidity,” the authors wrote.

    Another indicator, the Energy Release Component, was also dangerously high, reflecting the contribution of all live and dead fuels to potential fire intensity.

    Boulder County had instituted fire restrictions on Nov. 30, prohibiting open fires, including charcoal barbecues and grills. The release said the restrictions were a response to the “increasing fire danger, lack of moisture, and the forecast for above seasonal temperatures without precipitation.” As of Dec. 30, eastern Boulder County was in a swath described by the Colorado Drought Monitor as “extreme,” the second driest category.

    Then came the spark or fire – from a source or sources still undetermined as of Sunday evening — and the 6,200-acre conflagration.
    Henson observes that the vast majority of the homes were built in the 1980s or later. Had this firestorm occurred 50 years ago, it might well have been largely a prairie fire. With the development, though, it became a different, more destructive fire.

    Firefighters from across Kansas and Oklahoma battle a wildfire near Protection, Kan., Monday, March 6, 2017. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

    ‘Several things going wrong at the same time’

    Massive fires have not been uncommon on the Great Plains. In March 2012, a fire near Yuma burned 24,000 acres. Other fires in recent years have swept across hundreds of thousands of acres in other Great Plains states.

    “As white cells are to man, so fire is to prairie,” wrote William Least Heat-Moon in “PrairyErth,” his paean to Chase County, Kansas. In his assessment of the tallgrass prairie, however, he did not speak to the seasonality of prairie fires.

    The latest major fire on the Great Plains occurred in mid-December. A fire driven by gusts of up to 100 mph resulted in deaths of two men and damages across 163,000 acres near the town of Paradise in north-central Kansas. As with the Boulder County fires, abnormally dry conditions were blamed along with the winds.

    “It was definitely a perfect storm,” Shawna Hartman, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Forest Service, told The Associated Press. “These fires ran for 20-plus miles in an afternoon. It’s very, very reminiscent of what you would see in California.”

    In the shortgrass prairie of Boulder County, Henson described a similar confluence of “several things going wrong at the same time, including the wind storm, the dryness, the warmth drying out the landscape further.”

    The suburban nature of this fire also deserves attention. This wasn’t the foothills in what is commonly called the wildland-urban interface. It was the place of winding streets, many million-dollar homes and an economy strongly engaged in northern Colorado’s booming high-tech economy.

    Residents forced to flee were still in shock two and three days later, trying to sort out the circumstances that had at least one (and likely many others) shopping for clean underwear and other necessities at Target in nearby towns, still unable to return home.

    That shopper, after a night deprived of sleep and still unsure of whether her rented home was standing — it was, but a house four doors away had become rubble — shared a friend’s report from afar of having a new understanding of what it’s like to be a refugee.

    The Wildland-Urban Interface is the Boulder County suburbs

    Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles and a well-known blogger, pointed out in a tweet that the Boulder County fires demonstrate “just how far into the suburbs the … interface actually extends given sufficiently extreme drought and wind conditions.”

    In a tweet, the University of Montana’s Phil Higuera, a professor of fire ecology, also suggested the fires will “help dispel the misconception that the wildland-urban interface (#WUI) is ‘just’ a bunch of vacation homes in dense forest.”

    In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire on the edge of Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes and killed 2 people. Photo/Allen Best

    During the last decade, fires have made it into the suburbs and exurbs. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 346 homes and killed 2 people on the northwestern outskirts of Colorado Springs. The next year, the Black Forest Fire destroyed 511 homes north in a forested area north of Colorado Springs in what was – until the Boulder County fires – the most destructive of human property in Colorado history.

    Different from those June fires in and near Colorado Springs, the Boulder County fires occurred in late December. This is a new game, at least in Front Range fires. It’s also part of a trend: an expansion of wildfire season. Like tornados in Southern states and the Midwest, the calendar for wildfires is less useful.

    Consider the East Troublesome Fire. In the 20th century, mid-October brought hunting season and snow. In 2020, it produced a new fire even as other fires, including the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, continued to grow. Then came a wind storm and, on Oct. 22-23, East Troublesome raced past Grand Lake and vaulted across the treeless Continental Divide, forcing the evacuation of Estes Park.

    Now comes the state’s biggest fire in history — on the cusp of New Year’s Eve.

    The fire will force us to “expand our imaginations,” said Schumacher. “Thinking about the most destructive fire ever happening in late December is not the sort of thing that we were probably planning on. Given what we have seen in the last couple of years, we as a collective Colorado community need to do some rethinking of what is possible, what we need to prepare for.”

    […]

    This story benefitted from editing by the crew at Boulder Reporting Lab. Scattergrams and posts courtesy of Russ Schumacher.

    Suggested reading:

    There Will Be Fire: Colorado arrives at the dawn of the era of megafires tells about the debate in Vail about the risk of wildfire in light of the East Troublesome and other massive wildfires.

    Is Fire Really Essential in Prairies? probes the difference between prairie, as in the ecosystem, or prairie, as in an individual patch of grassland.

    Suburban #MarshallFire stuns #Colorado as statewide #wildfire protection efforts ramp up — @WaterEdCO

    Lands in Northern Water’s collection system scarred by East Troublesome Fire. October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

    From Water Education Colorado (Jason Plautz):

    As J.T. Shaver, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, strolls through the Hutchison Ranch, a legacy cattle farm in Salida, Colo., it’s what he doesn’t see that excites him most.

    Last year, the trees here were so dense you couldn’t see more than 20 feet away. The 11,713-foot peak of Methodist Mountain was obscured by piñon-juniper trees. Now, the trunks are pleasantly spaced out, letting in beams of sunlight. The ground is scattered with wood chips and stumps, feeding a healthy new bed of grasses.

    “This looks completely different than this time last year,” Shaver says. “I’m pleasantly surprised.”

    The landscape’s evolution was the result of a weeks-long treatment organized by Shaver’s office to help this 5,800-person town prepare for wildfire. By thinning the dense thickets of trees, any fire that does reach the ranch shouldn’t burn hot and fast in the crown of the trees. Instead, it should run along the ground with less intensity, burning more naturally. “We’re mimicking the behavior of a wildfire that would have occurred prior to European settlement,” Shaver’s colleague, Josh Kuehn, explains.

    Over the past decade, Chaffee County’s once sleepy population has steadily grown as people seek refuge from the busier Interstate 70 corridor. In 2017, county leaders convened a master planning process but were surprised to learn that residents’ No. 1 concern wasn’t small business sustainability or housing prices or even traffic. It was wildfire.

    “We knew about the beetle kill epidemic and saw that our forests were in poor health,” says Kim Marquis, project and outreach coordinator for Envision Chaffee County. “The first step to growth planning was taking on our wildfire risk.”

    At that point, Chaffee County had been spared from the intense fires ravaging the state in recent decades, although the 2019 Decker Fire would soon burn just two miles south of Salida. But residents had embraced the frightening reality that few places in Colorado are safe from fires. Climate change and the decades-long drought have been fueling bigger and more dangerous fires, leaving devastation up and down watersheds.

    The county assembled stakeholders, including state foresters, federal officials, local landowners and farmers, to work proactively to improve forest health. Aurora Water also joined the talks, since a fire near Salida could potentially pollute the headwaters of the Arkansas River, one of Aurora’s primary water sources. The partners thoroughly mapped the area, highlighting the properties and forests most at risk if a fire did come through the Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.

    While local landowners could take their own preventative measures like shoring up buildings and removing dead trees, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) also received funding for a more holistic treatment. The Methodist Front Wildland Urban Interface Forest and Watershed Health Restoration Project, funded through a RESTORE Colorado Program grant, along with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Salida and Poncha Springs, and a county fund, will treat 478 acres of public and private land, masticating trees to thin out the crowns and encourage healthier vegetation. Eventually, with the participation of enough landowners, the fuel break will stretch five miles, creating a buffer between the forest and the ranches, townhomes and small farms in Salida.

    How fires went from healthy to hazardous

    Decker Fire October 2019. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    The Decker Fire, which burned nearly 9,000 acres, came in an unusually calm year in the midst of a decade that has reshaped how Coloradans see fire. Since 2012, six megafires, defined by the National Interagency Fire Center as fires larger than 100,000 acres, have burned in Colorado.

    Looking towards Boulder at the Marshall Fire December 30, 2021 From 53rd and Stuart in Adams County.

    Last week, the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, though just a few thousand acres in size, became the state’s most destructive, burning nearly 1,000 homes in Superior, Louisville and parts of unincorporated Boulder County.

    During 2020’s Pine Gulch Fire, north of Grand Junction, Colo., hotshot firefighters watch and wait for the fire to burn through brush and move to grass fields, where the flames become less intense, before they can hold it back. Photo by Kyle Miller/Wyoming Hotshots, USFS, via National Interagency Fire Center
    A helicopter drops water on the Cameron Peak Fire near CSU’s Mountain Campus. Photo credit: Colorado State University
    A view from the highway of the massive East Troublesome wildfire smoke cloud near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on October 16, 2020. Photo credit: Inciweb

    2020 saw the state’s three largest recorded fires to date—Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch—and some 700,000 acres burned, more than 540,000 of which burned in those three fires alone. And the CSFS’s 2020 Forest Action Plan projects a 50% to 200% increase in the annual area burned in the state by 2050.

    There’s no single factor making Rocky Mountain fires more intense. Bark beetle infestations swept through tens of millions of acres of forest in the West over the past two decades, leaving large stands of dead trees. A century of federal policy that squelched out all fires rather than letting them burn naturally led to a buildup of fuel stores in forests. Climate change is creating warmer and drier conditions, and an earlier snowmelt has extended the fire season.

    Chuck Rhoades, a research biogeochemist at the USFS’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, says those “compound disturbances” have created a pattern of fires that are burning more intensely and in places and seasons that experts wouldn’t predict. Fires that once would have been a natural tool to clear dead fuel and encourage seeds to sprout are now a major threat to communities. Some, including Cameron Peak and East Troublesome, have ravaged high-elevation forests where fires used to be rare. A 2021 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that high-elevation forests in the Rocky Mountain region are burning more than at any point in the past 2,000 years.

    That, Rhoades says, means land managers and cities are seeing impacts outside the scope of anything they’ve prepared for—with ripple effects throughout the environment.

    “We often think that where we were before will help us predict where we’re going,” he says. “But there are a lot of question marks out there. It forces a little humility in that we can’t understand what we’re going to get next.”

    One known, however, is that the higher-intensity wildfires are putting more Coloradans at risk as the state’s population booms. In 2020, the CSFS estimated that half of the state’s population lived in Colorado’s 3.2 million-acre wildland-urban interface area, known as the WUI, where human development intermingles with fire-prone vegetation. By 2050, CSFS says that area could triple in size to encompass more than 9 million acres, or more than 13% of the state.

    The risks are especially profound for watersheds. As more intense fires clear out thick older trees, shrubs and grasses grow back in their place. Without dense roots and pine needle cover, the forest floor that typically acts as a sponge for snowmelt and precipitation is turning fragile and rocky. Those are prime conditions for erosion and flooding, with streams and rivers accumulating water faster and earlier than usual. According to USFS research, the risk of flooding and debris flow is higher for at least 3-5 years post-fire, often longer, and those floods can be as much as three times more severe than they would be otherwise.

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

    Runoff from burn scars can run black, laden with ash, debris, nutrients and heavy metals from burned soil and biomass. If those contaminants reach utilities’ water infrastructure, they can clog water filters or settle in reservoirs, possibly fostering algal blooms and taking up valuable reservoir space.

    The 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and the 2002 Hayman Fire, the largest in Colorado’s history until 2020, each burned along the Upper South Platte River, immediately upstream of Strontia Springs Reservoir, which accommodates about 80% of Denver Water’s raw water supply and 90% of Aurora’s supply. The fires exacerbated erosion in the watershed, leading to sediment-laden flows that dumped debris and contaminants in the reservoir. More than a decade later, the reservoir’s capacity to store water remains reduced, and water quality is still impacted from sediment flows, even after $27.7 million worth of dredging, removal and recovery work. Last year’s fires caused water utilities across the state to shift their operations to protect their source water.

    It’s clear, then, that the risks of fires no longer stay in the forest. Partnerships have sprung up from Boulder to Durango to protect valuable watersheds and water infrastructure, forcing water district managers to become just as interested in what happens to the forest around headwaters as what goes into their customers’ pipes.

    All hands on deck

    In 2020, the Colorado State Forest Service released its updated Forest Action Plan, identifying some 2.5 million acres—roughly 10% of the state’s forests—as being “in urgent need of treatment.” The highest priority forests were in the Front Range’s Arapaho-Roosevelt and Pike-San Isabel forests and in the San Juan Forest around Durango. “We have to prioritize those areas where we’re going to get the most bang for the buck,” says Weston Toll, watershed program specialist for the CSFS. Still, he says, with so much of the state at risk, “we’re paddling against the current.”

    The Forest Action Plan’s priority map reflected a range of factors, including where fuel had built up, how close fires could get to human development, and the impact on wildlife and water. But those areas didn’t all line up with valuable headwaters, despite some water managers’ arguments that any waterways must be protected. Nor does the map give much direction on how to square the widespread needs with limited resources.

    Wildfire mitigation used to be defined by what some experts call “random acts of restoration,” individual projects on small plots of land depending on the owner’s interest and availability. A National Forest might have dead trees removed and fuel treated for insect infestation, but neighboring land might be left untreated, doing little for the overall region’s safety.

    Now, the USFS and others are promoting a philosophy of shared stewardship, bringing together a variety of partners ranging from federal land managers, local water districts, utilities, logging companies, recreationists and private landowners to collaborate on responsible forest management.

    Toll says the state may still be paddling against the current, but “it helps to have everyone paddling in the same direction, which wasn’t happening until five or 10 years ago.”

    Watershed Assessment Vulnerability Evaluation (WAVE) volunteers work to install silt fencing immediately above Northern Water’s Willow Creek Reservoir. Photo by Emanuel Deleon, Colorado State University

    ‘Mutual benefits’

    After the runoff from the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires poured sediment into Strontia Springs Reservoir, officials at Denver Water realized they could be spending less money and having a bigger impact by focusing on preventing fires and flooding before the effects reached their infrastructure. The utility formed the From Forests to Faucets partnership with USFS, a multi-year effort to fund forest health projects to boost resilience in priority areas within Denver Water’s collection system. In 2017, the program was expanded to include state and local authorities to stretch Denver Water’s forest health work to non-federal lands.

    Fuel breaks played an important role protecting homes during the Buffalo Fire on June 12, 2018, in Summit County. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service.

    Fuel breaks around the Dillon Reservoir watershed funded by the program are credited with protecting nearly 1,400 homes near Silverthorne during the 2018 Buffalo Fire, despite red-flag drought conditions.

    “There was this exciting realization that there were a lot of mutual benefits in funding these projects,” says Madelene McDonald, watershed planner at Denver Water. “Forest restoration projects not only bolster source water protection, but also improve wildlife habitat, expand recreation access, and can protect communities in the wildland urban interface.”

    But it is also incumbent on communities to do their own preparation. That can include building codes that require fire-resistant building material or defensible space requirements to clear fuel from some established perimeter around buildings. Colorado does not have a state wildfire code or model ordinance, despite recommendations from a 2014 task force, but communities like Boulder and Colorado Springs have regulations governing new homes in at-risk areas.

    “There’s a big educational component, but seeing a disaster happening right in our faces prepares people,” says Marquis of Envision Chaffee County. “We’re asking people to join this honestly heroic story to protect the community.”

    Money matters

    Addressing all of the CSFS’ Forest Action Plan’s priority areas is estimated to cost $4.2 billion, money that state agencies and local partnerships just don’t have. USFS spent $1.8 billion in fire suppression, fighting and responding to wildfires nationally in fiscal year 2020, but just $431 million on treatments to reduce fuel buildup through its Hazardous Fuels program, according to national spokesperson Babete Anderson. According to National Interagency Fire Center data, other federal government programs spent $510 million on fire suppression in 2020. According to a Colorado Department of Public Safety report, Colorado’s 2020 fire season cost the state an estimated $38 million in suppression costs and required another $248 million in federal funds. Those state figures don’t include suppression costs footed by local agencies or the costs of property loss, infrastructure damage, watershed impacts, or economic losses. Nor do they account for other private, local, county or federal wildfire expenses.

    Photo credit: Cascade Timber Salvage Facebook page

    The federal bipartisan infrastructure bill brings nearly $8 billion for wildfire risk reduction and forest restoration, including $90 million a year for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative to support forest and grassland restoration secured by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

    Fire departments and forest managers can also cobble together money from grants from a variety of federal sources. In 2021, the Colorado legislature passed SB21-258, which authorized $25 million for wildfire mitigation, recovery and workforce development. In a statement, Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs said the bill would “quickly move resources to on-the-ground projects and mitigation teams,” a step up from previous efforts that “have lacked the coordination, landscape-scale focus and robust state investment required to properly address the size and behavior of catastrophic wildfires.”

    Even with those funding sources, it can be a challenge to prioritize spending in areas with the biggest benefit, or even address the widespread impacts of fires. Studies have shown that up-front mitigation saves costs on fire suppression, but even that is daunting when the needs are so vast.

    Shaver, the Salida forester, says his community seems to understand that narrative and is on board with the cost of mitigation, knowing that the worst risk could be coming during any upcoming fire season.

    “Sometimes there’s a feeling that you wish a fire would come through to validate the work,” Shaver says. “But a lot of people say they feel safer, and that in and of itself makes the work successful. Feeling safe is a win whether or not anything ever burns.”

    Camille Stevens-Rumann, a forestry researcher at Colorado State University, graduate assistant Zoe Schapira, and field technician Zane Dickson-Hunt gather data in 2019 at the 2018 Spring Creek Fire burn scar, near La Veta, Colo. Here, aspen and scrub oak have sprouted but all pine trees and cones were destroyed in the fire. Photo by Mike Sweeney

    The megafire era gripping the West isn’t just a threat to human development. Fires now burn so intensely that they literally reshape forests, shift tree species, and turn calm waterways into devastating mudflows.

    A 2017 University of Colorado study analyzing 15 burn scars left from fires in Colorado and New Mexico found that as many as 80% of the plots did not contain new seedlings. In a 2020 follow-up study project under different climate change scenarios, the most severe scenario, where climate change continues unabated through 2050, showed as many as 95% of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests would not recover after a fire. In a “moderate” scenario where emissions decline after 2040, more than 80% of the forest would be replaced by scrubby grassland.

    That, said study author Kyle Rodman, could have serious implications for waterways, due to the lack of established trees to stabilize soil and reduce the risk of flooding.

    “Just because there aren’t trees doesn’t mean there’s no vegetation. Grasses and shrubs can hold back the soil, but it won’t be the same,” says Rodman, now a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Wisconsin.

    Nearly two decades later, the site of the 138,000-acre Hayman Fire, which burned in an area southwest of Denver in 2002, is still marred with patches of bare ground. That fire, according to a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) study, was so severe in areas that it consumed the canopy foliage as well as the seed bank for the forest’s ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, limiting regeneration. Overall, the study predicted “gradual return to preferred conditions” in the Hayman Fire area, though some of the worst-hit patches may see permanent vegetation changes.

    Slopes above Cheesman Reservoir after the Hayman fire photo credit Denver Water.

    In lower elevations, some of the heartier species, like the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, are having trouble regrowing because of the increased heat and months-long drought. A 2018 study found that even seedlings of those species that were given supplemental water in burned areas had lower survival rates than expected because of the harsh natural conditions.

    “When you’re planting a garden, those first few days are so critical. The plants need water to establish their roots and get healthy,” Rodman says. “Trees work a much longer timescale. Those first few years should be cool and wet and we just don’t have those conditions too often.”

    Some tree species, like the high-elevation lodgepole pine, generally rely on fire because the heat helps them open and release seeds. But recent fires are burning so intensely that even lodgepole cones are consumed.

    A 2020 study in BioScience found that burned forests are showing “major vegetation shifts” and recovering more slowly than expected. In some cases, heartier species might give way to drier shrub-dominated vegetation that can burn more easily. The study found that, generally, those post-fire “forested areas will have climate and fire regimes more suited to drier forest types and non-forest vegetation.”

    That means that hearty forests used to adapting to natural changes are now facing conditions “outside the realm of the disturbances that some forests can handle,” says lead author Jonathan Coop, a professor of environment and sustainability at Western Colorado University.

    “We have this paradigm that fire is a natural part of the forest and that forests will always recover,” Coop adds. “These days, we shouldn’t count on that.”

    That vegetation shift is especially worrisome for waterways. Normally, forest floors soak in rain and snowmelt, releasing it to waterways slowly throughout the spring and summer. Burn-scarred watersheds, however, have faster runoff and a lower water yield because of the loss of natural material and because of hydrocarbons from smoke permeating the soil. A USFS analysis found that more than 50% of wildfire-scarred land area in Colorado showed increased erosion potential, mudslide threats, and sediment in streams for at least 3-5 years after a fire.

    Those effects can last even longer depending on natural conditions, says USFS research engineer Pete Robichaud. The wild seasonal swings from climate change are challenging forests by dumping more precipitation on less stable ground.

    The aftermath of July 2021 floods in Poudre Canyon, west of Fort Collins. (Credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

    “The drought cycle is bigger and the wet cycle is more intense,” Robichaud says. “The perfect storm is a high-severity fire followed by a high-intensity rainfall event.”

    The harsh natural conditions, as well as widespread damage from bark beetles, has complicated typical recovery efforts. Some scientists say the rapid changes in forest conditions and fire characteristics make it hard to know what the best recovery strategy is. In some forests, for example, aspen trees that regenerate from low-ground structures rather than relying on seeds to sprout may dominate. Especially in low-elevation areas, shrubbier species like the Gambel oak may regrow faster in forests once driven by conifers.

    While replanting is a natural step in recovery (USFS hosts six national nurseries that act as seed banks, although it has restrictions on where certain species can be planted), there are even concerns that the natural conditions should prompt a re-examination of how best to revitalize forests. Ultimately, Coop says, we should expect that forests may not look the same as they did in a pre-megafire era.

    “I think this points to the need for all stakeholders and the public to start to think outside the box as far as how we evaluate the forests and ecosystems we depend on,” says Coop. “We might have to think about what ecosystems we are saving and under what circumstances we’ll have to let things go and let some changes unfold.”

    A version of this article was first published in the Headwaters magazine Fall 2021 issue.

    Jason Plautz is a journalist based in Denver specializing in environmental policy. His writing has appeared in High Country News, Reveal, HuffPost, National Journal, and Undark, among other outlets.

    An ‘ambassador’ for the larger conservation mission: Aspen Valley Land Trust’s protection of historic ranch anchors a unique habitat, speaks to future open space needs @AspenJournalism

    An ‘ambassador’ for the larger conservation mission
    AVLT’s protection of historic ranch anchors a unique habitat, speaks to future open space needs. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Curtis Wackerle):

    The next decade is seen as perhaps the most critical yet to determine how much of the remaining unprotected lands in the Roaring Fork watershed will be preserved to support biodiversity, open space and public access, in the face of increasing pressure from climate change and development.

    At 141 acres, the acquisition in August of Coffman Ranch, located east of Carbondale off County Road 100, stands out for the kind of preservation effort that the environmental community hopes to see going forward, exemplary as it is of remaining intact lands and critical conservation values.

    The property, sold at a discount by longtime ranchers Rex and JoAnn Coffman to Aspen Valley Land Trust for $6.5 million, has been a working ranch for more than 100 years. Although about 80 acres of the property consists of irrigated meadows used in the spring and fall to raise cattle by local rancher Bill Fales, much of the rest of the site is more wild in character, with 35 acres of wetlands. It includes three-quarters of a mile of Roaring Fork River frontage along what AVLT Philanthropy Director Jeff Davlyn described as the most uninterrupted, biodiverse riparian corridor between the river’s confluence with the Colorado and Aspen’s North Star Nature Preserve.

    An ecological inventory conducted on AVLT’s behalf lays out a total of five vegetative communities and two wetland types identified on the ranch property, supporting a wide array of plant, animal and fish species. While evidence of the impact of grazing is evident, the riparian habitat is still found to be in “excellent condition,” according to a draft of the study.

    “The uniqueness of the property is the spatial distribution and mosaic of productive habitat types based upon vegetation communities and the extensive edge habitat they create,” says an ecological assessment from Carbondale-based firm DHM. “The combination of riparian forests, shrublands, grasslands/pasture and wetlands provides a surprisingly high richness of wildlife (particularly avian species) for the size of the property.”

    AVLT — which remains in the midst of a yearslong fundraising campaign to secure a total of $14 million to cover the purchase price and development of a management plan, as well as to fund ongoing improvements and operations — sees Coffman Ranch as an “ambassador” for a larger conservation and public-engagement mission, according to Suzanne Stephens, director of the nonprofit.

    “It’s manifest of where we are needing and wanting to go. It’s a big step,” she said of the acquisition of the site, which is located roughly 1.5 miles east of downtown Carbondale and can be accessed via the Rio Grande Trail.

    The irrigated pasture of Coffman Ranch, shown here in August, has extensive and senior water rights. That’s one of the reasons Pitkin County helped fund the purchase with $2 million in open space funds.
    CREDIT: CURTIS WACKERLE/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Bringing the public over the fence

    Although habitat protection, open space and continued agricultural production are the key values driving the acquisition, public access for limited managed recreation and educational use are also important components.

    How these values and uses play out will be subject to the prescriptions of the management plan, a process expected to take at least until mid-2023. A conservation easement held by Pitkin County guarantees some form of recreation access no later than 2025. While there is currently no public access to the site pending the development of the management plan, AVLT staff is arranging tours for those interested in taking a look. Land-trust officials have discussed the potential of establishing a recreational trail that could be open for hiking and nordic skiing, accessing the river and other portions of the property, but subject to seasonal closures. It is also expected that the parcel will be used as an outdoor classroom serving 26 schools located within 15 miles of Coffman Ranch.

    Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

    Funding from Great Outdoors #Colorado and @cwcb_dnr advances private lands #conservation planning: Keep It Colorado’s statewide planning effort will launch this spring — Keep It Colorado

    Paulson Ranch | Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    Here’s the release from Keep It Colorado:

    The nonprofit conservation coalition Keep It Colorado has received $250,000 in funding to support the development of its Statewide Private Lands Conservation Plan. Investments include $175,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)’s Resilient Communities Program – which funds one-time, immediate needs or opportunities that have emerged in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic – and $75,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)’s Water Plan Grant program.

    The Statewide Private Lands Conservation Plan is a collaborative plan that Keep It Colorado is developing with the input of land trusts and partners to create a unified vision for the future of private lands conservation in Colorado. It will provide a set of concrete objectives and strategies, with aims to identify urgent areas for protection and create a roadmap for on-the-ground conservation the private lands conservation community wants to achieve in the next 10 years.

    Because 60 percent of lands in Colorado are privately owned, they account for a significant portion of the state that needs protection and are a primary focus of Keep It Colorado’s coalition work. Prioritizing the conservation interests and needs of private landowners, including the protection of working lands, wildlife habitat and iconic viewsheds, Keep It Colorado’s plan will be a coordinated effort to ensure that those lands feature prominently in a broader statewide conservation framework. For example, there are growing calls to meet 30×30 (a goal to conserve 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030), and many organizations are creating or updating plans around water, wildlife and recreation. These include the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Colorado Water Plan, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s comprehensive statewide recreation and conservation plan.

    Keep It Colorado conceived of the plan in 2019 when it recognized a gap in statewide planning around the protection of private lands. “There is a long history of strong private lands conservation across the state. But those efforts are often fragmented and not based on a set of common strategies that prioritize the protection and connectivity of private lands at a statewide level,” said Melissa Daruna, executive director of Keep It Colorado. “This generous funding demonstrates GOCO’s and CWCB’s commitment to increasing the scale and pace of conservation and protecting a substantial percentage of Colorado’s natural resources in a coordinated and thoughtful way.”

    “GOCO couldn’t be more eager to learn the results of this planning process,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Each year GOCO has the privilege to invest a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds in land protection work, and our funding strategy supports projects by our trusted partners in the conservation space across Colorado communities. We’re grateful to Keep It Colorado for taking the leading role in this important effort to elevate statewide priorities that will guide us all in achieving the greatest outcomes.”

    The Nature Conservancy is a key partner and will provide data and the science through its Resilient and Connected Networks (RCN) tool. RCN will identify and prioritize the landscapes and the number of acres critical to conserve at both the state and local community levels, with goals to ensure connectivity of large natural areas; promote health and survival of wildlife and fish; and enable Colorado communities to prepare for and adapt to change. RCN will also be a tool to encourage collaborative projects.

    GOCO’s and CWCB’s funding will be applied toward development of the plan; training and implementation of The Nature Conservancy’s RCN tool; diverse stakeholder engagement across Colorado; public relations and a plan release; and facilitation of activities. Keep It Colorado seeks additional funds for implementation of projects.

    Keep It Colorado received additional GOCO Resilient Communities Program funding for a transaction cost assistance program…Several Keep It Colorado coalition members also received Resilient Communities Program funding for a variety of open space initiatives, including Aspen Valley Land Trust, Central Colorado Conservancy, Colorado West Land Trust, La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Montezuma Land Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, City of Boulder, City of Loveland and Eagle County. A complete list of awarded projects is available on GOCO’s website.

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    About Keep It Colorado

    Keep It Colorado serves as a unified voice for conservation organizations focused on private lands conservation, and does so by bringing together land trusts, public agencies and conservation champions around a vision to create a Colorado where people, lands, waters and wildlife thrive. Keep It Colorado advocates for sound public policy; provides connection and collaboration opportunities for conservation partners; offers a forum to address emerging conservation issues and opportunities; pursues sustainable funding and programmatic tools and solutions; and works to advance a culture of conservation in Colorado. Learn more at http://www.keepitco.org.

    Amid a Drought Crisis, Inspiration from Our Work in Western Water for Birds and People: In 2021, Audubon led the way in protecting rivers, lakes, and bird habitat in the West — Audubon Society

    Canvasbacks. Photo: Chandler Wiegand/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon Society (Karyn Stockdale):

    Maybe it’s this holiday season or maybe it’s my need for inspiration to counter this ongoing pandemic and drought impacting our lives and families, but I find myself looking back at 2021 for the gems of hope in our Western Water work.

    This year, dry conditions across the West were the worst they have been in recorded history—lowest levels at Lake Mead, Great Salt Lake, and diminishing flows across the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins. And the superlatives are not hyperbolic. Extreme. Exceptional. Unprecedented. Catastrophic. Record-breaking. There’s no doubt that the conditions have been terrible—and rivers, lakes, and wetlands and the birds and wildlife that depend on them are suffering as a result.

    But even in the midst of these dire circumstances, Audubon and our partners were able to create hope for a brighter future. These impactful successes this year and their stories of courage and collaboration will stick with me—and our Audubon team—as we push for more change in the year ahead. Hopefully you’ll find inspiration from our water work too, as we need your support to help birds and the places upon which they depend across our arid western landscape. Here are our top three wins:

    #1: Water flowed again in the Colorado River Delta—connecting the river to the sea again

    From May to October 2021, the Colorado River flowed again in its final 55 miles thanks to binational commitments from the U.S. and Mexican governments. Water in the river provides an oasis in the midst of the Sonoran Desert for birds and the people that live there. The water creates and supports habitat for birds like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yuma Ridgway’s Rail, and Vermilion Flycatcher.

    I know I’m not alone in feeling tremendous hope seeing birds return, and smiling faces and playful splashes as people enjoyed the of water flowing down the Colorado River.

    On top of that, Audubon and Raise the River partners are excited that the binational collaboration took a sophisticated approach to water delivery. Using results from prior monitoring, scientists designed the flows to optimize the location and timing to benefit the restored habitats that have documented increases in bird abundance and diversity. This year’s flows were also studied in order to add to our understanding of how to best use the limited supply of water available for the environment. This will inform management of the Colorado River for the future.

    #2: Even in this dry year, rivers (and Great Salt Lake) are getting more dedicated flows

    From the amazing partnership that implemented water deliveries down the Jordan River to Great Salt Lake in Utah to the groundbreaking state policy changes in Colorado and Arizona to allow more water for rivers, our efforts this year resulted in good news for people and birds in seeing water return to important bird habitats.

    An innovative collaboration led by Audubon’s Saline Lakes Program, with businesses, government agencies, and the Nature Conservancy, achieved a first in Utah water rights history in securing water for the drying Great Salt Lake. With dedicated water rights on the Jordan River donated to the cause, we are now delivering water to the Farmington Bay in Great Salt Lake-and will do so for up to ten years.

    With two wins for rivers in a dry year, we highlighted how our multi-year efforts succeeded in expanding the State of Colorado’s existing “instream flow” program for water rights holders to loan water to the environment, allowing for more water to stay in a river. This policy change was immediately put to use to benefit 43 stream miles in western Colorado. And with the unprecedented engagement of our supporters, we were able to retain water quality protections for all of Colorado’s rivers.

    In Arizona, we took a pivotal step forward to benefit rivers and the bird habitats they provide. With our support, a new state law was passed to allow surface water users like farmers an incentive to conserve water on their property—by switching to less thirsty crops for example—and be confident that any water saved will not be subject to the loss of water rights.

    #3: Birds will benefit from new and restored habitats

    Of course, our work in water policy and management benefits birds and other wildlife, but our team accomplished some key wins focused on bird habitat this year that bring new hope for migratory birds and communities.

    In Nevada, a long-awaited transfer of more than 23,000 acres of wildlife habitat gives birds a boost. Along with lands from Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribal Wetlands, Carson Lake and Pasture is part of the Lahontan Valley Wetlands complex, now as a state wildlife management area, within a designated Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of hemispheric importance. The 220,000-acre site, east of Reno, has freshwater marshes and shallow flooded mudflats providing excellent habitat for breeding and migrating shorebirds like American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Wilson’s Phalaropes, as well as Canvasbacks, White-faced Ibis and Pied-billed Grebes. And we have more work ahead for shorebird management planning in the Lahontan Valley.

    Audubon’s team at the Salton Sea is leading the way in adaptive habitat management with opportunities at emerging wetlands such as those near Bombay Beach. With partners in 2021, we focused on the existing 400-acre Bombay Beach wetlands to stabilize and preserve existing high-quality wildlife habitat; increase the amount and quality of habitat available for target species; provide dust control benefits to the adjacent playa areas and decrease dust emissions for local communities improving public health; and provide local and regional public access and research opportunities. This project is in the first phase of habitat and dust control project design, with scientific monitoring and data collection underway, and community engagement in planning design.

    In the Southwest, Audubon continues to collaborate with numerous partners to implement sustainable on-the-ground habitat restoration projects to address habitat loss and degradation along the Isleta Reach of the Rio Grande in New Mexico. And in Arizona, from the freshly renovated wetland habitat at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in Phoenix to the newly planted cottonwoods, mesquites, and willows along the Colorado River with the Cocopah Indian Tribe and Yuma Audubon, birds and other wildlife are benefitting from many partnerships.

    Even as 2021 will go down as one of the driest years ever recorded in the West, with record-setting heat, catastrophic fires, and continued declines in river flows and lake levels, birds tell us when we are doing some things right. Birds remain beacons of hope for me—and so many of you, I know. Birds and the places upon which they depend across this arid western landscape need our support—and capturing gems of hope and inspiration keep us going. It’s also a call to do more in the coming years.

    Please help us to accomplish much more in 2022 and join us in speaking up and taking action for the birds, rivers, lakes, and habitats they so desperately need.

    The San Luis Valley angler in a changing environment — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Owen Woods):

    ANGLING is a time-honored tradition that spans family generations and fills a spiritual or even religious void in many people’s lives. Above it all, though, it is an almost daily connection with nature. These days, changes in the environment around us are becoming more apparent and even alarming.

    This story started out as a pursuit to gain an understanding of climate change through the gaze of the Valley angler. Most of the questions were broad and allowed the angler to speak freely, but as more interviews were conducted, there became a series of throughlines, common subjects, and themes that became present: water levels, the Hoot Owl, an increase in recreational angling, and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

    “The water is never gonna be what it used to be,” said Larry Zaragoza. He is an avid angler and fisher, who’s observed a stark decline in water levels and fish health over the past two years.

    In his 53 years of fishing the Valley’s waters, Zaragoza said that he cannot compare these last two years to any other. He said the average 14-16 inch trout he catches are not as healthy looking, “not as meaty,” and slender-looking. As a catch-and-release fisherman, he said that there’s hardly even anything to catch and release.

    What do he and his fellow anglers discuss when they meet or get together? “Water level is the first thing we talk about.”

    Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo

    Deacon Aspinwall, the City of Alamosa’s planning and development specialist, is an avid angler himself.

    Aspinwall has a science background and prefaced his answers by stating that in the 10 years he’s fished in the Valley’s waters it’s hard to draw long-term conclusions. However, he did say that within the last 10 years we have seen climate shifts, with runoff occurring much earlier than it did 20 years ago. He’s observed, through the angler’s perspective, a two-phase runoff, with the initial snow melt surge dubbed the “meltoff,” which is occurring earlier in the season from drier and warmer days.

    His climate concerns as an angler are the lower snowpacks and earlier runoffs. In 10 years of fishing here he has noticed some changes in the fisheries – such as more “snot moss” turning up, and in higher elevations. And some fisheries that 10 years ago were fishable have now dried up.

    He said that trout populations in Cat Creek and East Pass Creek that existed 20 years ago no longer exist today. “What will the next 20 years look like?” he pondered, especially, at what high mountain lakes and streams will look like in two decades.

    Aspinwall said that it’s often difficult to discuss climate in a meaningful way that resonates with people. He added that a changing climate is natural, but the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere isn’t.

    On top of this, Aspinwall said that a real concern of his is the increase in angling pressure on fisheries. In the last year alone, he noticed that the Valley’s waters have seen an increase in angling and fishing.

    “Some fisheries can’t handle more than one angler a day,” he said, pointing out that we all have a responsibility to fish and angle sustainably, for the next generation, and that all anglers and fishers should ask themselves, “Are we doing this sustainably, are we doing this responsibly?”

    Conversations with the Hoot Owl

    He said anglers need to be mindful of the “Hoot Owl.” This is the time to stop fishing. Catch-and-release fishing in warming waters after 2 p.m. can cause harm to the fish.

    Trout Unlimited has worked closely with CPW to suggest that fishers and anglers voluntarily stop fishing between noon and 2 p.m.

    Aspinwall and Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited’s Rio Grande Basin program director, both brought up the point that it is a common misconception that the coolest part of the day to fish during is as the sun goes down. For catch-and-release fishing on warmer days in warmer waters, this presents a problem, as the warmest water temperatures, in fact, often don’t break until 9 or 10 at night.

    So, the solution to this is to fish earlier in the day.

    Terry said that if the water temperatures are high, and cause for concern, then fishing in the evening and at night is a problem, but if the temperatures are fine, then fishing in the afternoon is also fine. He said that it is the anglers’ responsibility to take a temperature reading of the stream to be certain it’s okay to fish there.

    This goes against traditional thinking, but anglers have to evolve. This becomes more difficult for traveling anglers who spend time and money and travel to fish in the Valley’s waters. Though it is voluntary to adhere to the Hoot Owl, most catch-and-release anglers respect it.

    Terry works for the National Trout Unlimited, and is a board member of the SLV Trout Unlimited chapter.

    It’s worth noting that during the interview, Terry stressed that anglers and farmers are having similar water issues. There is a larger picture of the San Luis Valley’s water and how it affects everyone who lives here – and it brings attention to recent attempts to export water to the Front Range and the chronic unease that is felt around the Valley’s water.