CWCB ponies up $275,000 for Ten Mile Creek restoration

September 26, 2014
Ten Mile Creek via ColoradoFishing.net

Ten Mile Creek via ColoradoFishing.net

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

In the summer of 2013, the group of partners put heavy machinery in the creek and began the project, which is expected to take four summers and cost about $800,000.

Due to a lack of initial funding, the project was broken into two parts and shortened from a goal of 3,200 feet of creek restoration to about 2,750 feet.

Project partners completed phase one of the project last week. So far, they’ve restored about 1,600 feet of stream channel and 3.15 acres of riparian, wetland and floodplain habitat.

On Sept. 12 the partners received a $275,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for phase two.

Thanks to that grant funding, Anderson said, the project has almost reached its fundraising goal and work will continue.

The state water conservation board has provided most of the money for the project. Climax contributed $80,000 to the first phase and $50,000 to the second, Copper Mountain paid for the Forest Service environmental assessment and some materials, and the National Forest Foundation and CDOT are pitching in.

This summer, the group planted around 3,000 shrubs, Anderson said. The town of Frisco provided 2,200 willow clippings from a site near Whole Foods, which a Forest Service crew clipped in the early spring and volunteers with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District planted in June. Then another 800 shrubs came from a nursery.

The revegetation has seen an 80 percent success rate so far with the willow transplants, said Jim Shaw, board treasurer of the Blue River Watershed Group, which he credits to “a wonderfully wet summer.”

That wet summer created some hurdles though. Runoff season lasted longer than usual, and high flows eroded the creek for two weeks, damaging the revegetated area in two places.

The heavy runoff gave some insight into how the creek will flood in future years, Shaw said, so last week the partners fixed up some of the damaged spots but they will probably keep one part the way it is now.

Next summer, the partners will start phase two and work toward restoring another 1,200 feet of the creek downstream toward the Conoco gas station.

When the project is finished, the creek will have improved habitat for fish, birds and other creatures. For the humans spending time in and around the Tenmile, that means better wildlife watching, fishing and kayaking.

“Having natural ecosystems that function at their potential, be they streams or lakes or forests,” Anderson said, “all these things, they’re important to the quality of life in Summit County.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


Projects planned for upper and lower reaches of the Dolores River

September 26, 2014

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Matt Clark, director for the Dolores River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is organizing a project to install a fish passage and improved diversion dam at the Redburn Ranch north of Dolores.

Currently, landowners have to build a cobble push-up dam across a wide section of river every year to get enough draw into a nearby diversion that irrigates the pastures.

The make-shift dam blocks fish from moving up and down the river and washes out every year at high flows.

“During the nine months out of the year it is up, there is no water flowing over it, preventing fish passage,” said Clark. “Plus it is a pain for the landowner to maintain.”

The solution is to build three, large-rock dams 200 feet apart that step down.

“Each one drops down the river a foot and has a pour-over,” Clark explained. “A side benefit is that it forms pools and ripple-habitat structure in between.”

In addition a new head-gate will be installed for the irrigation diversion.

Clark said there is anecdotal evidence that juvenile fish are getting trapped in that area of the river.

“A health trout fishery requires a connected river system,” he said. “When fish spawn higher up in the system, their larvae drift down and need to spread out without obstructions.”

The project is expected to be installed next fall, with cost estimates between $200,000 and $300,000. The Redburn Ranch fish passage project has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Basin Roundtable, and $98,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation board. Trout Unlimited contributed $20,000, and the landowner contributed money as well, Clark said.

“We’re piecing it together,” Clark said. “It is a win-win for ranch management and fish habitat. Plus the pour-overs allow for easier passage for recreational boat passage.”

Meanwhile on the Lower Dolores River below McPhee dam, The Nature Conservancy is committed to improving riparian habitat by eradicating invasive tamarisk and planting native species.

TNC, along with the Southwest Conservation Corp, and the BLM formed the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. So far the effort has created 175 jobs and restored 821 acres.

“The impact of tamarisk is huge — they rob waterways of their health and make recreational access cumbersome,” says Peter Mueller, director of the Conservancy’s North San Juan Mountain Program in Colorado.

But, he adds, “When you get rid of this wicked tree, all of a sudden you can see the light, and you can see the river again.”

Aiding the effort is the spread of the tamarisk beetle, introduced into the West in the 1990s as a biological control agent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture imported tamarisk beetles from Eurasia, where they keep tamarisk in check, and after years of quarantine and testing, released them in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.

“These beetles are one of the most tested biological agents we have and there’s little risk of them harming other plants,” says Mueller.

Over the last three years, the beetles have defoliated a majority of the tamarisk on a 60-mile reach of the Colorado River. From the release site in Utah, the insects have now moved into Colorado and the Dolores River watershed.

The lower Dolores is a more difficult river to tame because damming has altered its flow and flood timing, a condition that favors tamarisk and other exotic species.

“Restoring the health of the Dolores will require not only tamarisk removal, but improved water management and planting of native species,” Mueller said.

Native willow, sumac, and cottonwoods are planted, and native grass seeds are spread around where tamarisk once dominated.


Blanca wetlands provide prime habitat

September 25, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The most important resource at the Blanca Wetlands greets visitors the moment they get out of their cars. Mouths, ears, eyes and loose pant legs are all inviting targets for the bugs, which, more importantly, play a critical role in making the 10,000-acre wetlands a magnet for migrating shore birds and songbirds.

“That’s really our job, I think, out here, is to grow bugs,” Sue Swift-Miller, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said.

Swift-Miller and fellow wildlife biologist Jill Lucero help oversee the wetlands, which sits 8 miles northeast of town, and manage the complex interplay of water management with the timing of bug hatches and bird migrations.

The bird species that come in the largest number include the Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird’s Sandpiper and the American Avocet.

But the wetlands and their bugs also attract species such as the western snowy plover, American white pelican, and the white-faced ibis. Those species and 10 others that visit the wetlands are designated as sensitive species by the agency, meaning they or their habitat are either in decline or projected to do so.

Overall, more than 163 mammals use the wetlands.

That the birds and the bugs are here in such numbers is the result of the BLM’s decision in the 1960s to restore the wetlands by drilling 43 wells into the confined aquifer, the deeper of the San Luis Valley’s two major groundwater bodies. The water, which averages out to roughly 5,000 acre-feet annually, is then funneled into a series of basins that range from fresh water ponds that support both cold- and warm-water fisheries to shallower basins that have a higher salt content than the ocean.

After years of study, Swift-Miller said it’s become evident that bugs need specific water-quality parameters, depending on the species. BLM officials can, with the help of hundreds of miles of canals and culverts, funnel fresh water to certain basins to dilute the salinity or withhold to emphasize it.

The intermittent use of water is particularly important in habitat areas known as playas, which are generally saline basins with clay dominated soils that historically went through wetting and drying cycles in the valley.

While drought and diversions for agriculture have cut wetting cycles, the BLM has found a jump in insects such as fairy and brine shrimp when it’s added water to the playas.

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

“We’re getting macroinvertibrates that have been in cyst stage for years,” Lucero said. “Nobody’s seen them for 50 years and suddenly they’re coming out as we wet an area.”

But choosing when to apply water is just as critical.

“If you’ve got bugs available when the birds aren’t here, you really haven’t done yourself any good,” Swift-Miller said.

The agency’s use of groundwater will soon be coming under a new set of state regulations, as is the case with all groundwater users in the valley. Those regulations, which remain in draft form, are expected to require groundwater users to obtain surface water to offset the injury their pumping causes to surface-water users.

But the BLM’s augmentation efforts began even before the draft regulations thanks to 20 illegal wells the agency drilled in the late 1970s.

While the agency will still have to get more augmentation water, Swift­Miller said it’s possible the agency will get enough to avoid shutting down any wells at the wetlands.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape for that,” she said.

Before the agency and other area water users began pumping groundwater, the Blanca Wetlands was the endpoint in a string of marshes, playas and lakes that extended to the north end of the valley. A map from 1869 shows the Blanca Wetlands as part of a large lake. Aerial photos from the 1940s in the agency’s possession show a string of connected wetlands that run to where the current San Luis Lake State Park sits, at the southwestern edge of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Earlier this year, the BLM approved a proposal that would allow it to buy property from willing landowners in an effort to expand the Blanca Wetlands and improve habitat connectivity. The search for willing sellers would focus on the area that extends north and northeast from the Blanca to the west side of the state park.

Another focus area for expansion sits further north on the western edge of Baca National Wildlife Refuge and runs east to Mishak Lakes.

While expansion funding would need to navigate the gridlock that has dominated congressional budget proceedings, the proposal did make it into the White House’s budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Reclamation: Three Chinook Spotted Above Glines Canyon; First Salmon Return to the Upper Elwha in 102 Years

September 13, 2014
Demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam via The Seattle Times

Demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam via The Seattle Times


Summit County buys mining claims near Montezuma to protect land — Summit Daily News

August 25, 2014

Snake River

Snake River


From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley/Joe Moylan) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

During the silver mining boom of the 1870s, with a population of just 71, Sts. John was for a short time Summit County’s largest town.

The Summit County Open Space and Trails Department recently bought the abandoned townsite and nearby mining claims for $425,000 from the Tolen family, which owned land in the area since the 1950s.

The purchase, finalized July 28, conserves about 90 acres in the Snake River Basin above the town of Montezuma as public open space. The 18 separate parcels have significant wildlife value, according to the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the U.S. Forest Service and the Snake River Master Plan.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Tolen family for working closely with the Summit County Open Space program to preserve the heritage of Sts. John and this exquisite landscape for the enjoyment of Summit County citizens and visitors alike,” said Brian Lorch, the program’s director. “This is one of the most important and significant acquisitions the program has made in recent years.”

The county acquired the properties using the Summit County Open Space fund, approved by voters in 2008. Breckenridge Ski Resort contributed $25,000 toward the purchase as part of a deal with environmental groups worried about the impacts of the recent Peak 6 development.

With the acquisition, the county will protect a large portion of the Snake River Basin backcountry and preserve a piece of Summit County history. Lorch said the Sts. John properties are highly valued for their intact historic resources, popularity for outdoor recreation and high-quality wetlands and wildlife habitat…

The Summit County Open Space program acquires lands to protect the scenic beauty, natural habitat, backcountry character and recreational opportunities in Summit County. Funded through property tax mill levies approved by Wvoters in 1993, 1999, 2003 and 2008, the program has protected more than 14,000 acres of open space.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


Still no action on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act

August 25, 2014
Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Coloradans, perhaps better than anyone, understand and appreciate just how special the wilderness can be. And as connoisseurs of the outdoors, they recognize there are not only wild places, but there are best wild places.

These are the places that inspire — some acknowledged and held sacred, others that have managed to remain under the radar. Others still find themselves perched in a sort of purgatory somewhere in between.

Hermosa Creek, in the San Juan National forest just north of Durango, might qualify among those in-betweeners. To Durango locals, the drainage that translates to “beautiful” creek epitomizes the Colorado outdoor experience, and they’d like to see it remain that way. But those who don’t frequent the Four Corners region may not be aware of all that this hidden gem has to offer.

Count the majority of U.S. Congress among that latter group. For more than a year now, a bipartisan bill known as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has languished in the legislative branch of our federal government as a consensus of local stakeholders await acknowledgment of efforts to preserve the attributes that make the place so special.

“The primary thing the bill does is it takes the basin and protects it exactly as it is today,” said Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “This bill is completely supported by consensus from all stakeholders — everyone from county commissioners and town boards to sportsmen, miners, mountain bikers and motorized users. There’s nothing for them to do in D.C. but vote it forward.”

Beyond its lush landscape and idyllic scenery, the beauty of Hermosa lies in its everyman outdoors appeal. The upper creek is a focal point of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado River cutthroat reintroduction program, and the state’s largest unprotected roadless area remains a hunter’s paradise where trophy elk still die of old age. The 20-mile main trail along the creek corridor is a mountain biker’s mecca. The same trail is shared by a reasonable number of motorized users. Backpackers and horseback riders might cross the creek and make their way into a proposed 38,000-acre wilderness area a quarter mile away.

Overall, the bill would protect 108,000 acres through a series of special management areas, allowing for a variety of historic uses. It’s a one-of-a-kind proposal aimed at protecting an entire watershed as an intact, whole unit, rather than parts and pieces of it.

“When we started talking about protecting Hermosa as a river, the work group decided to look at this river basin as a whole ecological unit instead of just a river corridor,” Churchwell said. “That means that the boundaries for this protection are the ridge lines. Everything that flows out of this basin is included in the protection — the whole watershed. It’s the first time that we are aware of that there has ever been a protection bill that encompasses an entire watershed.”

As a result, a coalition of sportsmen’s conservation groups, guides and outfitters, fly shops and retailers, have united with local government entities in support of protecting this public land deemed vital to America’s hunting and fishing traditions and values.

“Hermosa Creek and the backcountry lands that flank its banks are among the special places that hunters and anglers in Colorado and across the region see as crucial to protect for the good of sportsmen, the environment and the sustainability of area businesses,” said John Gale, the Colorado-based manager of the National Wildlife Federation’s sportsmen’s outreach.

Should a portion of the drainage receive federal Wilderness designation this year, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 as only the second wilderness area recognized by Congress since 2009.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


CPW: Wetland Program awards $600,000 in grants for 2014

August 21, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has selected 15 wetland and riparian restoration projects that will share in $600,000 in Wetlands Program grants funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).

Approved projects will restore and enhance more than 4,700 acres of wetlands and riparian areas on State Wildlife Areas, State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other public and private lands across Colorado. Two projects will restore habitats damaged by last September’s flooding. A project at Boulder County’s Webster Pond will create shallow wetlands from a former gravel mining pit, which will also be used for native fish rearing. A project at Loveland’s Morey Wildlife Preserve will improve stream channels for wildlife and fish along the Big Thompson River.

“Wetlands and riparian areas are critically important wildlife habitats,” said Brian Sullivan, CPW Wetlands Program coordinator. “Most wildlife species in Colorado use these areas, which represent only a small part of our landscape.”

Waterfowl aren’t the only species to benefit from these funded restoration projects. Twenty other species of conservation concern, including the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, southwest willow flycatcher, boreal toad and Arkansas darter benefit too.

“GOCO strongly supports wetland and riparian conservation” says GOCO Executive Director Lise Aangeenbrug. “Healthy wetlands and riparian areas mean healthy wildlife populations and water supplies. Restoring these habitats helps build strong communities.”

GOCO, which invests a portion of Colorado Lottery revenues, has supported CPW’s wetland and riparian conservation efforts since 1997. GOCO also provided an additional $250,000 for 10 separate riparian restoration grants earlier this year, all of which include volunteer and Youth Corps labor.

More than 20 funding partners will contribute more than $1.2 million in matching funds for CPW’s wetland grants. Funding partners include city, county, state and federal governments, nonprofit conservation organizations, landowners, and volunteers.

“It is especially rewarding to see so many entities stepping up to partner with us in wildlife habitat conservation,” said Bob Broscheid, CPW director. “This is no surprise given the importance of this work to sustaining both game and nongame wildlife and improving waterfowl hunting in Colorado.”

The complete list of 2014 wetland and riparian restoration projects can be found online at http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/WetlandsProjectFunding.aspx.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife, and a variety of outdoor recreation. For more information go to http://cpw.state.co.us


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