Conference deals with rivers’ problems

Broad-based partnerships have proven to be an effective means of tackling common foes such as tamarisk and Russian olive trees on area rivers, speakers at a conference at Colorado Mesa University said Wednesday.

Panelists at a session at the River Crossings Conference and Workshop this week described their successes in uniting to restore habitat along the Colorado, Dolores and Escalante rivers in Colorado and Utah.

“Our progress has been little short of astounding. It’s been a real amazing effort,” panelist John Spence, a National Park Service ecologist in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, said of work on the Escalante River in Utah.

A documentary created by the Bureau of Land Management, which was shown during Wednesday’s session, examines the work on area rivers. In it, Spence recalls when the Park Service and Nature Conservancy held a public workshop in Boulder, Utah, on river restoration.

“We realized at that stage that everyone hates Russian olive, so it was a really good rallying point to work around,” Spence says in the documentary.

Brian Keating, with the BLM field office in Moab, said the office has spent more than $700,000 to treat 120 campgrounds and other sites totaling more than 400 acres, and benefited from the help of youth corps, nonprofits and others.

“There’s a lot of collaboration going on,” he said.

Amanda Clements, a BLM ecologist in Montrose, said the field office there had viewed the Dolores as “one messed-up river.”

Now restoration there is one of the most exciting things she gets to work on, which speaks to the power of partnership, she said.

“I wouldn’t have known where to start, really,” Clements said.

Mike Wight works for the Durango-based Southwest Conservations Corps, which helped on the Dolores project, doing everything from herbicide treatments to plantings of native species.

He said such work provides participants with job skills and helps create a conservation mindset in the next generation.

In addition, “they leave with a sense of satisfaction that they’ve accomplished something,” he said.

The documentary includes footage of Grand Junction BLM employees Mark “Sparky” Taber and Troy Schnurr showing where a partnership has removed tamarisk and Russian knapweed along the Colorado River in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. The work has allowed grasses, cottonwoods and other native vegetation to take hold.

“When we remove that competition, that’s what it’s all about ...” Taber says in the film.

This week’s conference on river restoration and management is being presented by the BLM along with the River Management Society, the Tamarisk Coalition, the Water Center at CMU and the International Submerged Lands Conference. It features field trips including a float through Ruby-Horsethief Canyons on the Colorado River.


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