A River’s Reckoning — @AmericanRivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The story of a 5th generation ranching family working to sustain their agricultural legacy while bringing back a healthy Colorado River.

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Omnibus bill for funding U.S. government now includes #FireFix funds for fighting wildfire @SenBennetCO @SenCoryGardner

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

From senators Bennet and Gardner via The Kiowa County Press:

After years of work, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) today secured a long-term fire funding fix in the omnibus spending bill being considered in Congress this week to end fire borrowing and improve how the federal government pays to fight wildfires.

“The Forest Service plays an important role in Colorado’s economy –affecting our water supply, outdoor recreation, and timber industry,” Bennet said. “Its ability to budget effectively and efficiently is critical to our economic success. Because of the pressures that wildfires have brought to the West, as well as the challenges of climate change and development, the antiquated way we pay for firefighting needed dramatic change. This bipartisan fix transforms and modernizes the Forest Service’s capacity to restore forest health and mitigate and fight wildfires. It allows the Forest Service to complete the entirety of its mission, without being undermined by the pressures of fire.”

“I have been working on ending the practice of fire borrowing throughout my time in the House and Senate, and today’s announcement that our bipartisan fire funding fix is included in the spending bill is good news for Colorado,” Gardner said. “Year after year, much of the West is forced to deal with horrible wildfires that burn millions of acres, and funding that should be applied to fire prevention and mitigation projects is instead spent by the Forest Service fighting these fires. Our provision will ensure the Forest Service has the necessary funding for cleanup and prevention efforts that will help reduce the amount of catastrophic wildfires the Forest Service has to fight.”

Unlike for other natural disasters, where agencies can draw from an emergency fund to pay for disaster response, the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department do not have access to disaster funds and are forced to “fire borrow” – or take money from fire prevention and other non-fire accounts to pay to fight fires.

The deal secured in this week’s omnibus, based on the framework from Bennet and Gardner’s Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, restructures how the Forest Service pays to fight wildfires, putting an end to fire borrowing and providing much-needed budget certainty through Fiscal Year 2027. The fire fix is two-fold: It freezes the ten-year average cost used to budget for wildfires at Fiscal Year 2015 levels, and also establishes a separate account for fire suppression that can be used once the cost exceeds these levels.

The deal also includes conservation priorities that Bennet and Gardner have cosponsored, such as the reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) that funds high-priority land conservation projects in Western states, and a two-year reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools.

Lastly, the deal includes bipartisan forest management reforms, several of which improve upon Bennet-authored laws passed in the 2014 Farm Bill, such as stewardship contracting and Good Neighbor Authority.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council hope that area businesses will collect 1% fee for streams

Eagle River Basin

From The Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):

The 1% for Land and Rivers initiative is pretty self-explanatory. The organizations are reaching out to area merchants willing to impose a voluntary 1 percent fee on transactions, with the money going to the two sponsoring nonprofits. Participating businesses will display signs noting their participation in the program, and customers will have the option to opt out of the payment at the time of purchase.

Jim Daus, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, was inspired to launch the program in Eagle County after studying similar efforts in the Crested Butte and Buena Vista areas. Program participants in those communities told Daus that customers were overwhelmingly supportive of their programs and, during their operation, only one or two people a year ask to opt out of paying the 1 percent fee.

“This is a way for everyone in the community to give a little bit,” Daus said. At 1 percent, the fee is a penny on a $1 purchase, a dime on a $10 percent or a dollar and on $100.

Every type of business is welcome to participate, and the Land Trust and Watershed Council are willing to help get the program started. In addition to providing signs for both the business front entry and cash register area that announce participation in 1% for Land and Rivers, program volunteers can work with business owners to launch the effort. Program literature notes that point-of-sale setup should be very simple, but if a merchant has issues, then the program can provide a $100 credit if a business needs to contact its bookkeeper or other professional point-of-sale representative.

“Don’t overthink the opt-out. It is very rare that people opt out (typically less than one customer per five years). There are several simple ways other businesses handle this. For businesses that provide bids and invoices, we’ll provide sample language showcasing your support of land and rivers,” the program statement says.

All donations received from 1% for Lands and River will be used directly by the Land Trust and the Watershed Council within the Eagle River and Colorado River watersheds to help fund their objectives of promoting clean water and responsible growth through preservation of open space, agricultural operations, fish and wildlife habitat, public recreation, scenic vistas and significant natural resources. The organizations are proud to share the work they have done with landowners and local, state and federal agencies to help identify and protect land and water with key values.

More than 7,700 acres of Eagle County land have been placed in conservation easements, while many projects are currently underway that will significantly add to this acreage. More than 40 miles of stream banks and fish habitat have been restored and protected. Every year, more than 5,000 points of water quality data are collected and analyzed in an effort to stay ahead of threats to stream health.

Deep in the Grand Canyon, @USGS Scientists Struggle to Bring Back the Bugs — UNDARK

Via the USGS

From UNDARK (Martin Doyle):

This group was the “food base” team from the U.S. Geological Survey, led by Ted Kennedy and Jeff Muehlbauer. They had started their research trip at Lees Ferry, 87 miles upstream; they had already been on the river more than a week, and they looked it. Short-timers in the Grand Canyon, like me, wear quick-dry clothes and wide-brimmed hats only days or hours removed from an outfitter’s store in Flagstaff, Arizona. Long-termers like river guides and the USGS crew look like Bedouin nomads, with long-sleeved baggy clothes, bandannas, and a miscellany of cloths meant to protect every inch of skin from the sun — yet nevertheless with vivid sunburns, chapped and split lips, and a full-body coating of grime. Almost as soon as I got there, the ecologists wrapped up their work, packed their nets, buckets, tweezers, and other gear, and led me to their home: a flotilla of enormous motorized rubber rafts that held a mini-house of living essentials and a mini-laboratory of scientific essentials, all tightly packed and strapped to get through the rapids of the Grand Canyon.

Crystal Rapid via HPS.com

Take Me to the River — Lesley Adams and Kate Hudson

Here’s a profile of Cindy Medina and her work with the Alamosa Riverkeeper via the Waterkeeper Alliance (Lesley Adams and Kate Hudson). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Inspired by the leadership of Alamosa Riverkeeper Cindy Medina, a community united to bring the Alamosa River back to life.

The San Luis Valley and the headwaters of the Alamosa River rest between the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado rest. Rising more than 14,000 feet above sea level, the “Blood of Christ” mountains are the southern tip of the Rockies and stretch over the New Mexico border to where the Kapota Ute Indians once lived.

Three centuries ago, Spanish settlers came north from what was then Mexico and settled in the San Luis Valley, where they took root amidst the cottonwood and aspen trees along the Alamosa River and became farmers and ranchers with an unflagging commitment to hard work and their Catholic faith. Cindy Medina, a present-day descendant of one of those families, became one of the first women to join the Waterkeeper movement.

Photo credit: Wenck

The middle child of seven girls, Cindy was raised on a farm, helping with chores, playing in alfalfa fields, and splashing around in the irrigation ditch, called an acequia, that brought water to the farm. In her memoir, A Journey into the Heart of the Black Madonna, Cindy wrote lovingly of her family, whose pulsating force sustained her as a girl. Her memories of growing up in the San Luis Valley send aromas through the pages – of fresh tortillas and cinnamon rolls made by her mother, of the home-heating fires fueled by wood gathered in the mountains with her grandfather, of the potent herbal remedies wild-crafted by her grandmother. Her connections to family and the natural world around her were woven together. She wrote: “This lifeblood was no different than the acequia, the ditches lined with dirt that irrigated this arid land with water. . . The acequia was my ocean.”

Cindy Medina photo credit: Waterkeeper.org.

Like many others in the rural West, Cindy left as a young adult to pursue a formal education. She earned a master’s degree in counseling from Arizona State University and relocated with her husband to Seattle. There she began a successful practice as a psychotherapist, gave birth to two daughters and, while on a trip to Zurich, Switzerland to attend a psychology seminar, came across an 8th century statue of the Black Madonna at a Benedictine Abbey and experienced a spiritual transformation that led her to environmental activism. The Black Madonna is considered by some to be the Queen of Nature,” Cindy explains, “and the archetypal energy that fuels change.” She is the mother who fertilizes all life and urgently demands a return to balance and wholeness, honoring the earth. In her memoir, Cindy describes her encounter with the Black Madonna as a spiritual awakening to the interconnectedness of all living things. In 1988, propelled by that journey of self-discovery, Cindy moved back home to southern Colorado, where she found that a pollution crisis threatened the heart of her community, the Alamosa River.

Summitville Mine superfund site

Gold, Greed and Cyanide

The mountains in southern Colorado are rich in minerals, gold and silver, which attracted extensive mining in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. And, in turn, like all boom-and-bust extraction, the mines left a toxic legacy. Acid mine drainage polluted and continues to pollute many Colorado waterways downstream. Mining in high-elevation areas like the San Juan Mountains petered out in the 1920s, and remained dormant for more than half a century, until a new, far more destructive method was developed to allow precious metals to be recovered from otherwise uneconomic ore.

In 1984, Canadian-based Galactic Resources and its subsidiary, Summitville Consolidated Mining Company (named for the local ghost town) acquired 1,230 acres of the San Juan Mountains that loomed above the San Luis Valley, and convinced the state of Colorado to grant them a mining permit for a new “state of the art” mining technique known as “heap leaching” – large-scale open-pit mining that involved slicing off half the side of a mountain and putting the mined ore in a lined open pit (“heap-leach pad”) with sodium cyanide to leach out the copper, gold and silver. This “state of the art” technique was efficient for the mining company, but disastrous for those who lived downstream. The liner of this pit almost immediately sprung leaks, contaminating nearby creeks with heavy metals and acid, and creating a 17-mile dead zone and a massive fish kill in the 51-mile-long Alamosa River.

2017 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests — Colorado State Forest Service

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary

Each year, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) prepares a report on the health of Colorado’s forests to inform Colorado’s General Assembly, citizens and other stakeholders. The report provides an overview of current forest conditions, the forces shaping them and some of the actions being taken to address related challenges. This year, the publication also o ers a special section describing ways in which the state is dealing with millions of standing dead trees, as well as how it is managing those forests at continued risk of insect mortality.

Native forest insects and diseases are important to the ecology of all of Colorado’s forests, often setting the stage for the replacement of older trees with younger, more vigorous ones. However, these same organisms can impact the benefits society derives from forests, including wildlife habitat, recreation, timber production and watershed protection. Regular monitoring for the damage caused by forest insects is a fundamental aspect of forest management, and in Colorado the primary source of this information is an annual aerial forest health survey conducted cooperatively by the CSFS and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Rocky Mountain Region.

Based on the 2017 survey, spruce beetle was Colorado’s most widespread and damaging forest insect pest for the sixth consecutive year. A total of 206,000 acres with active infestations of this bark beetle were observed in high-elevation Engelmann spruce forests, with nearly a third of these acres not previously infested. Counties most significantly impacted by spruce beetle in 2017 included Gunnison, Fremont, Hinsdale, Saguache and Chaffee. Mature Douglas fir trees also continued to be attacked and closely related bark beetle – impacting a total of 14,000 acres in many of the same counties, and several others in the central and southern portions of the state.

Besides the impacts of these bark beetles, in 2017 western spruce budworm defoliated 252,000 acres of Douglas fir, white fir and spruce in Colorado, with the most heavily impacted areas including the Sawatch, Mosquito and Culebra ranges; Sangre de Cristo Mountains; and the Tarryall Mountains in Park County. White fir continued to be attacked and killed by fir engraver beetle in Ouray and Archuleta counties, though tree mortality occurred on fewer acres than in 2016. And damage caused by a complex involving western balsam bark beetle and several species of root-decaying fungi continued to be ubiquitous, causing tree mortality on 50,000 acres of high-elevation subalpine fir throughout the state. Emerging, or currently more
localized, insect and disease threats also exist in Colorado’s forests. The exotic pest emerald ash borer (EAB), first detected in Colorado in 2013, continues to spread in the urban and community forests of Boulder County, and in 2017 was detected for the first time within the City of Lafayette. A needle cast fungi a effecting lodgepole pine forests on Vail and Monarch passes caused localized areas of premature needle drop, and a rapidly increasing outbreak of roundheaded pine beetle in Dolores County continues to a effect more acres of ponderosa pine each year – with more than 10,000 cumulative acres impacted since 2012.

The Gunnison Basin has been dealing with the state’s most serious bark beetle outbreaks, in part due to prolonged drought conditions. Several programs and methods currently are being employed to deal with this growing concern, including the Western Bark Beetle Program, the use of pheromone treatments to repel attacks on susceptible trees, and use of the Good Neighbor Authority to allow state contracting procedures to be used for management efforts on federally owned lands.

Nearly 3.4 million acres of Colorado’s pine forests have been impacted by the mountain pine beetle since 1996, and another 1.78 million acres of Engelmann spruce have been affected by a similar forest insect, the spruce beetle. Together, these bark beetles have caused widespread tree mortality on roughly one-fifth of Colorado’s forestland over the past two decades. But the problem of dead and dying trees in the state’s forests also offers an opportunity: standing dead trees can hold value for years, and currently are being utilized by wood products businesses in efforts that support forest management efforts.

The CSFS and its partners are working with sawmills and forest products businesses statewide to seize this opportunity. Colorado has more than 100 sawmills, ranging in size from small mobile operations to large-scale permanent facilities, and an estimated one-third of these mills use beetle-killed trees as part of their wood supply. Several specific areas and programs related to meeting the challenges of dead trees are addressed in this year’s report. More than a decade after the mountain pine beetle epidemic moved through Grand County, dead trees from over 30,000 acres of private and state land have been sustainably harvested and processed into valuable wood products. And cooperative efforts between the CSFS and its partners are providing opportunities to derive value from Colorado’s standing dead trees, including research with Colorado State University to determine how long wood remains usable after being killed by beetles or fire. A primary focus of these efforts has been at the site of the 2013 Black Forest Fire.

In locations throughout Colorado, CSFS and USFS e orts also are providing access to capital to support the state’s sawmills. These efforts not only help enable forest management, but create jobs in places like the San Luis Valley, where a new mill now employs almost 50 full-time workers from the surrounding area. Besides the need to address dead trees on the landscape, the need to manage forests with a focus on healthy trees – especially those at higher risk for future insect and disease concerns – remains an ever-present priority. To better deal with ongoing forestry challenges, the CSFS is proactively realigning its organizational structure, with changes beginning in 2018. All CSFS field offices will remain open, and the agency restructure will provide enhanced opportunities to fulfill the CSFS Five-Year Strategic Plan to foster healthy and resilient forests.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

The report examines the impacts of widespread infestations of bark beetles. The insects have killed roughly one-fifth of Colorado’s forests in the past 20 years. The trend continued in 2017.

More than 200,000 acres of Colorado’s high-elevation spruce forests were infested with spruce bark beetle last year. Another beetle that attacks Douglas firs impacted 14,000 acres in the southern part of the state.

Temperature and precipitation can affect forest insects. According to the Colorado Climate Center, the average temperature in the state has increased two degrees since the 1980s. Water temperatures are also warmer. The report says these factors contribute to insect and disease outbreaks.

The state forest service report also focuses on dealing with the dead trees. Colorado has more than 100 sawmills, but that’s not enough to harvest and process all the beetle-kill wood.

There are several programs in the state to minimize impacts of bark beetles, including using pheromone treatments to repel the insects.

$60k grant from NFWF means more greenback cutthroats in Colorado waters — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Greenback cutthroat trout photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

More greenback cutthroats are headed to a creek near you, thanks to a $60k grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Bring Back the Natives” (BBN) program.

This project to restore native greenback cutthroat trout to 14 miles of stream in George and Cornelius Creeks in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Poudre River, reached a major funding milestone with the award of the $60k grant. The BBN grant will go toward the design and construction of a temporary barrier to upstream fish migration in Cornelius Creek, enabling systematic eradication of non-native brook trout, brown trout, and whirling disease from the watershed.

“George Creek holds great promise for recovering Greenback cutthroat trout, but our conservation success depends on broad support from many partners,” said Canyon Lakes District Ranger Katie Donahue. “Receiving a national funding award from NFWF is a great step along our path.”

The grant is the direct result of continued support for the project from Colorado Trout Unlimited. In addition to this grant “The Greenbacks,” a chapter of CTU, previously leveraged funds from a crowd sourced fundraising effort to secure a grant from Patagonia’s World Trout Initiative, resulting in the contribution of $17k toward a permanent barrier at the downstream end of the project. This barrier will exclude non-native trout from the watershed in perpetuity.

“We’re proud of how our volunteers have risen to meet the call,” said David Nickum, Executive Director for Colorado Trout Unlimited. “From backpacking fish into high-mountain restoration sites and releasing them back into their native range, to helping install fish barriers to protect native recovery areas, TU members have been hardworking, enthusiastic partners in recovery.”

This recent BBN grant brings the total amount of funding raised from grant sources and other public fundraising activities to $162k for the project.

About the George Creek Multi-phase greenback recovery project

The George Creek greenback restoration project has been in the works for three years and consists of three phases: (1) eradicate nonnative trout from upper George Creek [Summer 2018], (2) eradicate trout from upper Cornelius Creek, (3) eradicate non-native trout in lower reaches of George Creek down to a permanent barrier near the confluence with Sheep Creek. The BBN grant will help fund phase 2.

Native greenback cutthroat trout will be re-stocked into the streams when it has been confirmed that all non-native trout and whirling disease have been completely eradicated, in the year 2025 at the earliest.

The George Creek restoration project will ultimately restore native greenbacks to 14 miles of quality trout stream habitat, more than tripling the number of stream miles currently occupied by greenbacks in their native range, the South Platte Basin.

“Our work has been benefitted greatly from our strong partnerships with Colorado Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service,” said Boyd Wright, Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It is gratifying to work together to ensure that future generations will enjoy Colorado’s greenback cutthroat trout for years to come.”

For more information on the native greenback cutthroat story, visit: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchGreenbackCutthroatTrout.aspx

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout