Mar 8, 2021

Western Rivers Conservancy: Winter 2021 Report

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                    

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy has:     

  • Protected Nursery Grounds for Idaho’s Hells Canyon Bighorn Sheep
  • Conserved Another Mile Along the Gunnison River in Colorado

Idaho’s Snake River:

Stately and sure-footed, bighorn sheep are a sight to behold in river canyons across the western United States. Yet their survival depends on the West’s ability to preserve what remains of the region’s outstanding sheep habitat, and in eradicating disease that has taken a toll on bighorns for decades. To address both of these challenges, Western Rivers Conservancy completed a two-year conservation effort on Idaho’s Snake River that will preserve some of the finest nursery grounds and range habitat for bighorns in the Pacific Northwest.

Downstream of Hells Canyon, near Lewiston, Idaho, WRC has permanently conserved the 2,920-acre Ten Mile Creek Ranch, an intact property that is critical to the survival of Idaho’s northern Hells Canyon herd of Rocky Mountain bighorns.

Once ubiquitous in Hells Canyon, bighorns have seen steady declines since the mid-1800s, and today the Idaho Hells Canyon herd numbers only about 150 head. That’s where Ten Mile Creek Ranch comes in. With its steep breaks and rugged cliffs, the property offers sheep protection from predators and ideal lambing grounds for birthing and raising their young.

Remarkably, over half of the lambs on the Idaho side of the herd are born on this property. The ranch also provides an expanse of habitat that helps keep bighorns distanced from domestic sheep and goats, which can spread infectious disease.

To remove the potential of a 24-lot subdivision and protect this critical property, WRC purchased Ten Mile Creek Ranch in 2018. While we held the land, we worked with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to place a conservation easement on it. Once the ranch was protected, we sold the land to a private conservation buyer, who will partner with the state to keep the land forever wild and unbroken for the sake of its sheep and other wildlife.

In addition to its bighorn habitat, the ranch spans four miles of the Snake River, a reach that includes Chinook salmon spawning redds and migration habitat for sockeye salmon, Chinook and steelhead. With its proximity to Hells Gate State Park to the north and the 78,000-acre Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area to the south, the property will help unify a block of wild lands along the lower Snake River where bighorns, bears, elk and other wildlife still roam free, and where more than 100 species of birds are found.

With victories like this one at Ten Mile Creek, we hope the mighty bighorn will forever roam the river canyons of the West. They’re a great reminder that rivers are critical not just for fish, but for wildlife everywhere.

Colorado’s Gunnison River:     

WRC has protected another prized mile of Colorado’s lower Gunnison River by adding 150 acres to the Bureau of Land Management’s Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area!

The lower Gunnison is one of the West’s great geologic sculptors, carving dramatic sandstone formations and deep river canyons before meandering down to its confluence with the Colorado River at Grand Junction.

A haven for rare desert fish, the lower Gunnison is protected along much of its length, including within the Dominguez Escalante NCA. Yet even within the boundaries of the NCA, 16 miles of the river remained undesignated and therefore vulnerable to development.

To help fill that gap, WRC has been working to purchase strategic Gunnison River frontage for over a decade. Our first success came in 2012, when we conserved 400 acres at the entrance to the NCA and prevented a gravel mine on the banks of the river. A year later, we purchased 150 acres directly across the river, including another critical mile of Gunnison frontage and prime campsites for boaters. In September, we successfully added this property to the NCA, utilizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund to convey it to the BLM. The cooperation of the Colorado West Land Trust was crucial to the success of the project.

In all, we have conserved more than 8 miles of river frontage along the lower Gunnison within both the NCA and the Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area, downstream. Our efforts are helping to secure a healthy future for four rare species of Colorado Basin warm-water fish, including razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. The projects also benefit desert bighorn sheep, river otter, bald eagle and Rocky Mountain elk, not to mention the many human visitors who have the opportunity to canoe, camp and otherwise explore this spectacular slice of the Colorado Plateau.

Conclusion

The Snake and Gunnison River projects are just some of our recent projects. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.


Attachments:
Nov 9, 2020

Western Rivers Conservancy: Fall 2020 Report

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                  

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy has:     

  • Conserved a river in the redwoods at the heart of California’s Big Sur coast
  • Protected 172 acres along Washington’s Nisqually River

California’s Little Sur River:

The majestic Big Sur Coast has a new sanctuary for fish and wildlife along a mile of the Little Sur River, the result of our recent accomplishment in partnership with the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County.

In July, Western Rivers Conservancy transferred 1,199 acres of old-growth redwoods, rolling oak woodlands, chaparral forest and redwood-shaded riverbanks to the Esselen Tribe. Located just beyond earshot of Big Sur’s crashing waves, and with sweeping views of the sea, the property is the first land returned to the Esselen people since the Spanish displaced their ancestors 250 years ago.

Our efforts protected a critical stretch of the Little Sur River, which is considered one of the most important summer steelhead streams remaining on California’s Central Coast. Historically, steelhead returns on the Central Coast numbered in the tens of thousands, but today it is likely that fewer than 100 fish return to the Little Sur River each year. Protecting healthy, functioning streams like the Little Sur, which are the last real refuges for these powerful, ocean-going fish, is critical to their longterm survival as a species.

The ranch also has ideal terrain for endangered California condors, which were recently reintroduced to Big Sur and depend on ridgetop grasslands and old-growth redwoods for feeding and nesting.

As throughout Big Sur, the redwoods on the property are some of the southernmost stands on Earth. These resilient trees are uniquely adapted to Big Sur’s warmer, arid climate and, in the face of climate change, may hold the genetic key to sustaining groves up north, where redwoods are more vulnerable to hotter, drier weather. At the landscape scale, the property fills a significant habitat link between protected U.S. Forest Service land on the coast and the main body of Los Padres National Forest inland.

With the completion of the project, the Esselen people now have nearly two square miles of Big Sur, at the heart of the tribe’s ancestral homeland, to call their own. Although this is a fraction of the tribe’s former territory, it is enough to allow the Esselen to rebuild a traditional village site, reinvigorate tribal culture, conduct traditional ceremonies, provide educational opportunities to tribal members, and host events to teach visitors about tribal culture and history. The property faces Pico Blanco, a mountain in the Santa Lucia Range that the tribe holds sacred.

In this magnificent place, where condors soar over ancient redwoods and some of the last pristine steelhead streams still flow freely to the sea, WRC’s and the Esselen’s partnership is a landmark accomplishment. The completion of this project will benefit wild steelhead, Big Sur’s imperiled wildlife and the tribe’s own cultural resurgence for generations to come.

Washington’s Nisqually River:     

Just 20 miles southeast of Olympia, Washington, WRC and the Nisqually Land Trust have completed an effort to conserve a beautiful and critically important stretch of the Nisqually River.

The Nisqually is a vital salmon and steelhead river and one of the least developed streams flowing into the south Puget Sound. Bookended by two federally protected areas—Mount Rainier National Park at its headwaters and the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at its mouth—the Nisqually supports an impressive seven native salmonid species, including threatened fall Chinook, winter steelhead and bull trout, runs that all remain very fragile.

While the Nisqually is protected along much of its length, the lower river is pressured on all sides by residential growth. When one of the largest private reaches of the lower river was listed for sale in 2019, WRC negotiated its purchase and eliminated the risk of 34 homes being built along the river.

The Nisqually Tribe, which has lead salmon recovery efforts throughout the basin, and the Nisqually Land Trust, which owns land upstream and downstream of the property, have sought to conserve this parcel for years. It’s one of the most extensive intact stretches of river bank along the lower river and features side channels for rearing salmon and a healthy riverside forest. In late August, that vision became a reality when we successfully transferred the land to the trust for permanent protection.

That the Nisqually remains largely intact is a testament to the tribe and generations of river guardians, like tribal activist Billy Frank Jr. himself, who have stood up for the river and its salmon. WRC is proud to build on that legacy of stewardship with the completion of this effort.

Conclusion

The Little Sur and Nisqually River projects are just some of our recent projects. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.


Attachments:
Jul 13, 2020

Western Rivers Conservancy: Summer 2020 Report

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy is:

• Returning perennial flows to an outstanding Colorado trout stream

• Expanding public lands and protecting habitat along the wild and scenic John Day River in eastern Oregon

Colorado’s Little Cimarron River:

In Colorado’s Southern Rocky Mountains, Western Rivers Conservancy just completed a groundbreaking effort to return much-needed water to the Little Cimarron River, one of the Centennial State’s topnotch trout streams.

Beloved by fly anglers, the Little Cimarron tumbles from the Uncompahgre Wilderness, an alpine wonderland of jagged peaks and wildflower-dotted tundra in the San Juan Mountains. Leaving public land, the river flows north through a high agricultural valley where farms and ranches draw the stream down, sometimes to nothing, before it joins the Cimarron River.

The main Cimarron then meets the Gunnison River in the spectacular Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Little Cimarron’s forested upper reaches contain superb habitat for brook and cutthroat trout. Downstream, though, the Little Cimarron encounters irrigation ditches that pull water from the stream for hay and cattle. In the summer, this can leave the Little Cimarron River running low and warm—or dried up altogether—cutting off access to the colder, healthier habitat of the upper river for downstream fish.

To keep the river running cold all year, Western Rivers Conservancy bought a former dairy farm in 2012 that diverts substantial water from the Little Cimarron. Targeted for development, the farm had gone into foreclosure but remained a valued piece of the valley’s agricultural heritage. WRC purchased the property, along with its water rights, and, in partnership with Colorado Water Trust, spearheaded a community solution that would allow water for fish and farms both.

While holding the land, we conveyed the water rights to Colorado Water Trust in 2014. Working alongside the trust, we established a split-season irrigation agreement that helps ensure adequate flows for fish during the driest summer months, while allowing the farm to draw water at other times.

With the water-sharing regime firmly established, WRC sold the land in March 2020 to a neighboring farmer, who has embraced the irrigation arrangement to demonstrate that agriculture and rivers can coexist in Colorado. The farm can now remain a productive part of the local economy, while the stream remains connected year-round for the sake of the Little Cimarron’s fish. Consistent flows will help decrease water temperatures in the lower river and allow trout and other native fish to reestablish the de-watered reach of the stream.

The project’s innovative split-season approach is the first of its kind in Colorado. WRC and the new landowner are demonstrating the viability of cutting-edge solutions like this--solutions that will be critical to meeting the goals laid out in Colorado’s Water Plan. A unique collaboration of agricultural and conservation partners made this possible, including WRC, Colorado Water Trust, local farmers and ranchers, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. We hope this groundbreaking effort paves the way for similar solutions to Colorado’s water challenges, keeping rivers, fish and local farming economies healthy for the long run.

Oregon’s John Day River:

Deepening our work on Oregon’s John Day River, Western Rivers Conservancy is poised to acquire a critical three-mile stretch of the lower John Day, at McDonald’s Ferry. The effort will protect a key boater take out, create new river access, preserve a historic segment of the Oregon Trail and improve crucial spawning and rearing habitat for John Day steelhead.

This summer, WRC hopes to purchase the 4,100-acre McDonald’s Ferry property, named for the historic ferry that settlers used to cross the John Day River on their journey west. Wagon ruts from the 1800s can still be seen on the ranch, carved into the desert floor by the thousands of wagons heading west to the Willamette Valley. Today, the property is critical for boaters as the last take-out before the river winds into a 10-mile roadless reach and then careens over the un-runnable Tumwater Falls.

Until now, public access to the John Day River at McDonald’s Ferry has been uncertain. To guarantee permanent river access, WRC plans to purchase the property and convey it to the BLM for protection within the John Day Wild and Scenic River corridor. Our efforts will also create new access to three miles of the John Day River.

Conservation of the ranch presents an exciting opportunity to restore a stretch of Grass Valley Canyon Creek, a tributary to the John Day that flows through the property. The stream once provided prime spawning habitat for summer steelhead, but years ago its confluence with the John Day was moved to make way for cultivation. This and water withdraws upstream severely limit fish passage. Habitat restoration on the property would be a significant step toward making this crucial tributary a viable spawning stream for steelhead once again.

Conclusion

The Little Cimarron and John Day River projects are just some of our recent projects. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.


Attachments:
 
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