Upper #ColoradoRiver Endangered Fish Recovery Program update

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

From KUNC (Laura Palmisano):

It all started in 1988 when the federal government signed an agreement with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, establishing what’s called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Endangered fish at various stages of development can be found at the Colorado River Fishery Project, a national fish hatchery in Grand Junction, Colorado. Right now, the hatchery is home to two species, the endangered razorback sucker and the bonytail.

“Back when I first started, pikeminnow were probably doing better,” said Dale Ryden, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There were more big fish throughout the [Colorado River] basin. I had worked here for four years before I ever saw a razorback sucker out of the wild. They just weren’t around anymore. Same thing with bonytail. Bonytail were extremely, extremely rare.”

The recovery program includes federal and state agencies, environmentalists, hydropower associations and water user groups. Unlike some efforts to conserve other species, it hasn’t involved litigation.

“Working toward the same goal of recovering the fish, while allowing water development to continue… those two at first blush don’t seem to go together,” Ryden said. “But they actually work together very well.”

Just to the south of town on the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado, sits a diversion dam built in the early 1900s. It blocked fish from traveling upstream for nearly 100 years, until Ryden said, they put a fish ladder on the dam.

“It goes up and around the Redlands Dam and provides upstream fish passage for native and endangered fish.”

The ladder is a selective passage. Biologists use it to trap fish traveling upstream. Then they hand-sort them so only native fish can continue up the Gunnison River. Two similar ladders have been installed along the Colorado and another is in the works on the Green River in Utah.

Fish ladder at the Redlands diversion dam via KVNF
Fish ladder at the Redlands diversion dam via KVNF

The ladders might help fish get to their upstream habitats, but water levels also matter.

Brent Uilenburg with the Bureau of Reclamation said there is some recognition that “the dams and canals we operate that take water out of the Colorado River Basin have contributed to the decline of the species.”[…]

The bureau is also the largest single source of funding for the conservation program. States, water developers, and hydropower associations also contribute, totaling more than $350 million over the past 25 years.

That funding helped the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Grand Junction optimize its system. Before, said Kevin Conrad, the association’s operations manager, they diverted more water than necessary.

“Whatever they weren’t using, it went out through spillways on the canal back to the river, but it was below a point where the fish couldn’t benefit from it.”

Conrad said the upgrades also help conserve water and keep it in place for the fish.

The ultimate goal of the recovery program is to remove the fish from the endangered species list. Biologist Dale Ryden said habitat restoration, water flow improvements, hatchery programs, and invasive fish removal are helping the fish rebound.

“Probably the biggest star in terms of recovery prospects is the razorback sucker,” said Ryden. “Bonytail are really doing much better with the really robust stocking program.”

Humpback chub seem stable, but Ryden said questions remain about the Colorado pikeminnow.

This story comes from ‘Connecting the Drops’ – a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Find out more at http://cfwe.org.

USGS Webinar: How to Prioritize Key Areas for Conservation Efforts in a Changing Climate — A Look at “Climate Refugia”

Ground Squirrel photo credit Toni Lyn Morreli (Northeast Climate Science Center)
Ground Squirrel photo credit Toni Lyn Morreli (Northeast Climate Science Center)

Speaker(s): Toni Lyn Morelli, Northeast Climate Science Center

Presentation Date: Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Presentation Time: 3:00 PM EST

Registration: Registration is required for this webinar.

Please Register Here
(Video will be posted online one to two weeks after the presentation date.)

Documents & Resources
Speaker Bio
Ground Squirrels & Drought
Refugia in the Northeast (Related Project)

Project Summary
When making important resource management decisions in the face of accelerating impacts from climate change, managers and conservation practitioners must prioritize areas for adaptation actions. “Climate refugia” are often highlighted as potential target areas for conservation because they are buffered from climate change and therefore can help to ensure greater protection of wildlife and resources.

In this presentation, Toni Lyn Morelli will summarize the physical processes that create climate refugia, discuss a new framework for locating and managing them, and use examples to illustrate ways to identify and verify climate refugia. She will highlight her research using historical comparisons, genetic data, and surveys of Belding’s ground squirrels in the Sierra Nevada to conduct a rare test to determine which montane meadows are acting as refugia to buffer wildlife populations from climate change. Focusing on climate refugia could be an important strategy to help managers prioritize habitats for conservation in a changing climate.

This research was supported by the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the Northeast Climate Science Center.

Protecting large swaths of land requires perseverance and creativity — The Nature Conservancy

Roan Cliffs Aerial via Rocky Mountain Wild
Roan Cliffs Aerial via Rocky Mountain Wild

This link popped up yesterday in the Nature Conservancy’s Twitter feed (@Nature_Colorado):

Colorado’s landscapes are spectacular, but areas that are important to people and nature are at risk.

In the Yampa River Basin in northwest Colorado, sage grouse, elk and ranchers all share one thing in common: they depend on large, unbroken tracts of land. Development in the region threatens to divide this landscape into pieces. The result? Habitats and water supplies are stretched thin.

In eastern Colorado’s grasslands, you’ll find one of the largest expanses of intact prairie left in the United States. Pronghorn, migratory birds, fossils, Native American history—they’re all part of this spectacular landscape. So, too, are the ranchers, farmers and communities that depend on the landscape for their way of life.

At The Nature Conservancy, our long-term vision is to protect important places that are large enough to sustain nature and resilient enough to withstand climate change and ongoing development.

Click here to go to the website and learn more about the Nature Conservancy’s successes in Colorado.

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

BLM issues proposed plan for drilling, recreation around Roan Plateau — Denver Business Journal

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Protor):

Nearly a year after settling long-running legal battles over oil and gas drilling on the Roan Plateau in western Colorado, the federal government on Tuesday issued a draft plan for how to manage recreation and drilling in the area.

The federal Bureau of Land Management issued a new plan to implement the agreement and announced it would be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 20, which will kick off a 90-day public comment period.

The document is called the “Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan Amendment.”

“For many years the Roan Plateau was a symbol of conflict in the American West,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze, in the BLM’s announcement.

Kornze credited local groups, state and industry representatives, as well and environmental and wildlife advocates for working to create a new future for the plateau.

“This draft document moves that vision forward and protects some of the state’s most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for oil and gas development in places where it makes sense,” Kornze said.

Last year’s agreement canceled 17 of the 19 existing oil and gas leases that allowed drilling on top of the plateau, and refunded about $47.6 million that Denver’s Bill Barrett Corp. (NYSE: BBG) had paid for those leases.

The remaining two leases on the top of the plateau, as well as 12 leases around the base of the plateau, would remain in place.

Following the outline of last year’s agreement, the new plan bars drilling on top of the plateau, while retaining the others, the BLM said Tuesday.

The new draft plan also included two elements — “more robust” air quality analyses and an analysis of the request by nearby communities to require natural gas buried under the plateau to be accessed via wells started on private land or areas below the plateau. The second element was part of a 2012 order from federal district court…

Sportsmen’s groups said they were reviewing the draft EIS, but they hailed the BLM’s designation of last year’s settlement as its “preferred option” to manage the plateau’s resources.

“This keeps us moving toward a balanced, fair solution to protecting the Roan Plateau,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, in a statement.

“We’re hopeful that the final management plan will preserve last year’s settlement, which protects the Roan’s best hunting and fishing habitat while allowing careful, responsible development of its energy reserves. Done right, we can meet both goals,” Nickum said.

This plan can protect the roan for all Coloradans,”

Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement that the plan could protect the plateau “for all Coloradans.”

“We were very happy to reach a settlement last fall and seeing this plan move forward is a highly anticipated and encouraging next step to protect this amazing area,” Maysmith said.

The BLM said it plans to hold two public meetings in January 2016 to answer questions and accept written comments…

Public comments on the Draft SEIS need to be received by February 18, 2016.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program J-2 regulating reservoirs project on hold

From the Kearney Hub (Lori Potter):

A report at the Sept. 9 meeting of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Governance Committee in Kearney estimated the current cost at $170 million. Neither figure includes property acquisition.

“Much of the work is on hold, in particular the negotiations with landowners,” said Mike Drain, Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District Natural Resources Manager told the Hub Friday.

The Holdrege-based district would build, own and operate the two shallow reservoirs along the south side of the Platte River between Lexington and Overton that would temporarily hold excess water for later releases back to the river when needed to meet habitat target flows for threatened and endangered birds.

CNPPID’s major benefit would be to operate the upstream J-2 hydropower plant more efficiently.

The Platte Program, which involves the U.S. Department of Interior, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, would pay the majority of the costs and get the majority of river benefit credits.

Nebraska would pay for 25 percent of the credits, with the Grand Island-based Central Platte Natural Resources District and Holdrege-based Tri-Basin NRD each participating for 20 percent of the Nebraska share.

At Thursday’s CPNRD board meeting in Grand Island, the NRD’s biologist and Governance Committee representative, Mark Czaplewski, was asked what factors had caused the two project estimates to be so far apart.

“The biggest one by far was underestimating what it would take to line the reservoir,” Czaplewski said, explaining that RJH Consultants Inc. of Englewood, Colo., the engineering consultant hired by CNPPID, based the original figure on surveys of off-site areas, while the new number applies to what is known about the actual J-2 project site.

“There were a number of things,” he added, including some redesign on the reservoirs’ ring dikes and that contractors were “a little hungrier” for jobs when the first estimate was made than they are now.

Czaplewski said the J-2 project is an important part of the Platte Program’s first-increment goal to reduce annual Platte River depletions by 130,000-150,000 acre-feet. The J-2 project benefits have been estimated at 48,000 a-f…

The J-2 Regulating Reservoirs project already was behind on several schedule targets. Drain said CNPPID officials had hoped to have full access or ownership of all land within the project footprint by the end of this year, which isn’t going to happen.

“There isn’t any way that we haven’t at least delayed the project now,” he added.

Bureau of Reclamation Seeking Ways to Measure Food for Threatened and Endangered Fish

driftinvertabratesprizechallengeusbr10072015
Drift Invertebrates Prize Challenge

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Lauren Meredith):

The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a $30,000 prize competition seeking improved methods to measure the food resources available for threatened and endangered fish. Advancing technology for monitoring how food is available for fish species can lower the cost and improve the effectiveness of fish recovery efforts.

“Protecting and restoring river systems are vital to ensuring that watersheds are healthy and can continue to meet the West’s water needs,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “Encouraging innovation and collaboration between the federal government and the private sector allows us all to do our jobs better.”

Millions of dollars are spent annually on restoration activities like changing flow regimes, reconstructing wetlands and adding natural structural elements. These efforts to improve and restore habitats are key to the recovery of salmon, trout and other critical fish species. A critical way to learn the effectiveness of habitat recovery is to measure the food resources available to fish species targeted for recovery and protection. Despite its importance, measuring food resources has proven difficult.

The top one to three submissions will receive $10,000 to $15,000 in prize money, totaling no more than $30,000. The winning solutions will help fish recovery managers evaluate the food available to impacted fish species under various habitat restoration strategies.

Reclamation is collaborating with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lead this competition.

The prize competition closes on November 16, and winners will be announced by January 29, 2016. To submit your ideas, please visit https://www.innocentive.com/ar/challenge/9933647. Learn more about the prize challenges at http://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/.

On October 7 and 8, the Obama administration is celebrating the five-year anniversary of Challenge.gov, a historic effort by the federal government to collaborate with members of the public through incentive prizes to address our most pressing local, national, and global challenges. True to the spirit of the President’s charge from his first day in office, federal agencies have collaborated with more than 200,000 citizen solvers—entrepreneurs, citizen scientists, students, and more—in more than 440 challenges, on topics ranging from accelerating the deployment of solar energy, to combating breast cancer, to increasing resilience after Hurricane Sandy. Read more here.

The latest “The Current” newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Eagle River Watershed Council has teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service for the inaugural year of our Citizen Science program. This program aims to identify creeks and streams on Forest Service land that currently house populations of native cutthroat trout or could in the future. Participants were trained to collect Environmental DNA samples and assess the physical habitat of streams.

We are no longer accepting new volunteers for the Citizen Science program this year, but there will certainly be ways to get involved in 2016! Email burchenal@erwc.org to sign up for next year or simply to find out more.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin