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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:
Mar 16, 2020

Western Rivers Conservancy: Spring 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:   

  • Expanding Oregon’s Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge by purchasing a 2,200-acre ranch.
  • Protecting Critical Salmon Habitat at the Headwaters of the Middle Fork Salmon River.

Oregon’s Williamson River:

Every year, millions of birds—ducks and geese, songbirds and swans, herons, grebes and others—take to the skies along the Pacific Flyway, an aerial super-highway stretching from Patagonia to Alaska. Along the way, fully two-thirds of them descend on the upper Klamath Basin, where six national wildlife refuges protect a freshwater mosaic of lakes and meadows that draw more than 350 bird species throughout the year.

Western Rivers Conservancy has the rare opportunity to expand one of these refuges— the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge— with vital wetlands and stream flows that will rejuvenate a watery paradise for birds and bird-lovers.

Our new effort centers on the Williamson River, a renowned trout stream that winds through the 40,000-acre Klamath Marsh and then provides much of the inflows to Upper Klamath Lake, the source of the Klamath River.

Where the Williamson enters the wildlife refuge, WRC purchased the 2,200-acre Timmerman Ranch, which holds significant water rights along the river. Three miles of the Williamson meander through the property and feed a series of wet meadows that provide excellent feeding and nesting habitat for waterfowl and crucial water for the adjacent refuge. We plan to convey the land, along with the ranch's water rights, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the wildlife refuge.

Run as a cattle ranch since the 1900s, the property was largely drained for pasture, and the river was channelized and diverted. Once we transfer the property to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency can recreate the river’s natural meanders along this reach and ensure that the Williamson’s consistent, spring-fed flows help sustain these vast wetlands.

Each season, tens of thousands of birds arrive on the property, including sandhill crane, Foster’s tern, dowitchers, sandpipers, trumpeter swans, gadwall, cinnamon teal and dozens of others. Some 200 pairs (roughly half of the West’s breeding population) of the secretive, rarely-seen yellow rail, a tiny marsh bird, nest in the Klamath Marsh. Deer, elk, antelope and the state-sensitive American fisher all rely on the property’s ponderosa pine forests. The project will also benefit the Williamson’s scale-tipping native redband and rainbow trout, as well as two endangered sucker fish and the state-sensitive Miller Lake lamprey.

Our efforts at Timmerman Ranch will improve water conditions in the upper Williamson and Klamath Marsh, benefitting the Klamath River system as a whole. By delivering increased headwater flows and better water quality, this project will bolster the efforts of all who depend on a healthy Klamath River: the Klamath Tribes, the agricultural community and recreationists alike. Most of all, we’ll improve conditions for the fish and wildlife of this remarkable river system, which sustains some of the most diverse bird life and greatest salmon runs in the West.

Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon:     

Some of the West’s best salmon runs have gained newly protected habitat and desperately needed water for spawning and rearing fish, thanks to WRC’s recent success at the source of the Middle Fork Salmon River. In September, WRC transferred the 158-acre Cape Horn Ranch to the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The ranch is tucked between the Sawtooth and Frank Church/River of No Return wilderness areas, and the property’s streams and wetlands are prime cold-water fish nurseries at the Middle Fork’s headwaters. The ranch controls water rights along a half-mile of Knapp Creek, which feeds Marsh Creek. Below the property Marsh Creek flows into Bear Creek, and there, the famed Middle Fork begins.

The project is of special importance when it comes to water and fish. Cape Horn Ranch historically used up to 75 percent of Knapp Creek’s water, severely limiting habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout. WRC was able to transfer those rights to the state of Idaho, ensuring this water stays permanently in-stream for fish.

Both streams contain Critical Habitat for Snake River Chinook salmon and steelhead, as well as sockeye, westslope cutthroat and bull trout. The property’s forests and grasslands are home to Rocky Mountain elk (which calve on the property), mule deer and pronghorn, and its wet meadows draw multitudes of Rocky Mountain sandhill cranes in the spring.

We were also able to guarantee permanent recreational and management access to the Cape Horn Guard Station, a popular destination for hikers and cross-country skiers

Conclusion

The Williamson and Middle Fork Salmon 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:
Dec 17, 2019

Western Rivers Conservancy: Winter 2019 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 a steelhead stronghold in the heart of the sagebrush-steppe on Oregon’s John Day River
  • Created a new wellness park for the City of Alamosa on the banks of Colorado’s Upper Rio Grande     

Oregon’s John Day River:

On Oregon’s Wild and Scenic John Day River, WRC has wrapped up a major accomplishment at Thirtymile Creek that will benefit the river’s critical run of wild steelhead, conserve prime habitat for wildlife and improve public river access at the heart of a spectacular river canyon.

After a five-year effort, we completed transfer of the Rattray and Campbell ranches to the Bureau of Land Management, forever protecting the lower nine miles of Thirtymile Creek, right where it flows into the John Day. The effort protected 10 miles of the main-stem John Day and 22,032 acres of prime wildlife habitat. At the same time, we secured prized public boating access to a prime stretch of the river and created a new recreational gateway to 78,000 acres of rugged sagebrush country—public land that was previously impossible to reach without a boat. Now open to the public, these lands deliver the only public river access on a remote, 70-mile stretch of the John Day. Boating this reach—one of the most scenic multi-day wilderness floats in the Pacific Northwest—previously required a five-day float from the upstream put-in at Clarno Bridge, unless you paid to drop your boat in (or take it out) at Rattray Ranch. Now, this mid-way access point is open to all, free of charge.

Beneath brick-red cliffs, Thirtymile Creek feeds the lower John Day with its largest source of cold water. When the John Day runs low and warm in summer and fall, Thirtymile Creek comes through with reliable, cold flows just when wild salmon and steelhead need them most. The creek contains key spawning and rearing habitat that will keep lower-river steelhead—one of the healthiest wild populations in the Columbia system—going strong. Thirtymile Creek is also vital for Chinook salmon and for the John Day’s diverse wildlife, including Oregon’s largest herd of California bighorn sheep.

Throughout the project, we worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, BLM and Gilliam County Soil and Water Conservation District to remove four fish-passage barriers in Thirtymile Creek and transform two former cattle ranches into thriving fish and wildlife habitat. With the land in BLM hands, the restoration work will continue with a number of local partners.

While this chapter is complete, WRC continues its efforts to improve the health of the Wild and Scenic John Day River—and to keep its water flowing for fish and wildlife and its unique outdoor adventures open to all.

Colorado’s Upper Rio Grande:     

On the banks of the upper Rio Grande, we’ve added a stunning new riverfront park to the city of Alamosa. In October, we cut the ribbon on Alamosa Riparian Park, which now protects more than a mile of open space along the Rio Grande. Long-anticipated by the community, the park joins the city’s growing green-space offerings, which connect residents to their backyard river. The park itself adds more than five miles of nature trails where people can stay active and reconnect with the outdoors.

Beneath the shade of tall cottonwoods (or alamosas, in Spanish), visitors can walk, run, bike and view birds and wildlife year-round. The park is also a de facto sanctuary for creatures like endangered southwest willow flycatcher, river otter and bald eagle.

Before October, access to the Rio Grande was limited, even though the river winds along the edge of town. The community has wanted better access to the river for years and, in 2017, we partnered with the city to make this a reality. WRC purchased two adjacent properties from families who, like WRC, wanted to keep the land undeveloped as public open space. This fall, we conveyed the land to the city, and now Alamosa Riparian Park is open for all.

Creation of this outstanding public resource inspired broad local support, including from the city, Alamosa County, San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, the Gates Family Foundation, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many others. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), which is funded by the Colorado Lottery, ranked Alamosa Riparian Park as its top Open Space Project in 2018 and awarded a major grant to the project so the city could buy the land.

WRC’s efforts in Alamosa are part of our broader work in the San Luis Valley, where we are conserving tens of thousands of acres of key habitats and providing new public access to the Rio Grande and its tributaries. In 2015, we established the San Luis Valley Conservation Fund together with the LOR Foundation, Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and Colorado Open Lands, with the goal of accelerating conservation efforts

Conclusion

The John Day and the Alamosa Riparian Park 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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