Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

by Western Rivers Conservancy
Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

Project Report | Sep 27, 2017
Western Rivers Conservancy: Fall 2017 Report

By Anne Tattam | Grants Manager

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:   

  • Protecting more habitat for fish and wildlife on Oregon’s John Day River
  • Creating new access to a hidden gem in southern Colorado

Oregon’s John Day River:   

Forty-four miles upstream from Cotton­wood Canyon State Park, Thirtymile Creek enters the John Day River at the heart of a spectacular river canyon. As the larg­est tributary to the lower river, the creek provides reliable, cold water and crucial spawning and rearing habitat for wild sum­mer steelhead, producing more of these threatened fish than all other tributaries to the lower river combined. Simply put, without Thirtymile Creek, lower John Day steelhead—a unique Columbia Basin run— would be hard pressed to survive.

Thirtymile Creek is a key component of Western Rivers Conservancy’s long-term commitment to the John Day River. In 2014, we acquired the creek’s lower four miles when we purchased the Rattray Ranch. We are now working with the BLM to conserve this reach of the stream and secure a rare public access road to the spectacular and largely inaccessible river canyon. Last month, we expanded our efforts when we signed a contract to acquire 3,093 acres of the Campbell Ranch, which spans five additional miles of the creek, immediately upstream.

Like the Rattray Ranch, this property will be the site of extensive habitat resto­ration to benefit the John Day’s imperiled fish and wildlife, and it includes riparian stands, native grasslands and excellent sagebrush steppe habitat. More than 2,000 acres of upland agricultural lands will remain with the Campbell family, who will continue to work the land.

Together, the Rattray and Campbell properties will allow for meaningful protec­tion and restoration of the lower nine miles of Thirtymile Creek—a big win not just for the John Day’s steelhead, but for everyone.

Colorado’s Rio de los Piños:

Nestled in the eastern foothills of the South San Juan Mountains, just a dozen miles from Chama, New Mexico, the Rio de los Piños is often overshadowed by the nearby Conejos River when it comes to fishing. This is partially due to the fact that accessing the river’s most attractive fly water is a challenge along most of its length. That changed this summer when Western Rivers Conservancy acquired 368 acres along the Los Piños, just off Highway 17, near Cumbres Pass. WRC then conveyed the land to the Rio Grande National Forest, creating new access to an angler’s paradise and ensuring perma­nent protection of this important stretch of the Los Piños River.

Born at 10,000 feet in a series of pristine, alpine lakes near the Continental Divide, the Rio de Los Piños tumbles several thousand feet over a stretch of 40 miles, crossing the Colorado-New Mexico Border twice before meeting the Rio Grande in the scenic San Luis Valley. Below Cumbres Pass, the river’s rapid decent slows to a meander across the valley floor, hemmed by lush, open meadows and forests of spruce and fir. A historic narrow-gauge steam train trundles along the river, offering passengers picture-perfect views and adding to the valley’s charm.

Like many near-pristine slices of the West, portions of the valley have been subdivided for second home development. However, the majority of Los Piños frontage remains undeveloped. WRC is buying this land to preserve the remainder of the valley’s unbroken, natural beauty while ensuring that its tremendous recreational opportunities remain a public resource for all.

WRC purchased the 368-acre property from a family with deep, multi-generational ties to the San Luis Valley who wished to see their former summer pasture lands permanently preserved as open space. The family found a solution working with WRC, which will ensure the lands are protected in perpetuity. Directly to the north, WRC is also negotiating purchase of a second parcel from the family. Together, these holdings will protect nearly 650 acres and more than a mile of the Rio de los Piños, including one of the most accessible reaches of the river. The properties include high-altitude wetlands and a natural pond, which host migratory waterfowl in the spring and fall. The land is also home to Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, mule deer and mountain lion.

While some anglers know the Los Piños for its abundant brown and rainbow trout, the river also has excellent habitat for native Rio Grande cutthroat, which once thrived here. Several of the Los Piños’ remote tributaries serve as refuges for populations of these native fish. Conservation efforts provide new hope that this endemic cold-water species may once again inhabit the Rio de los Piños.

Our work on the Los Piños is part of WRC’s larger strategy in the San Luis Valley, where we are preserving thousands of acres of meadows, oxbows, riparian corridors and prime habitat for several imperiled fish species and more than 200 species of birds. Taken together, these efforts will preserve important tributaries to the Rio Grande in areas where precious little riverfront is accessible to the public.


The John Day River and the Rio de los Piños projects are two of our recent successes. WRC currently has 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 for further information. Thank you.

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Jun 28, 2017
Western Rivers Conservancy: Summer 2017 Report

By Anne Tattam | Grants Manager

Mar 30, 2017
WRC Makes Final Purchase to Save Blue Creek

By Danny Palmerlee | Communications Director

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Organization Information

Western Rivers Conservancy

Project Leader:
Anne Tattam
Administrative and Development Associate
Portland , OR United States
$6,741 raised of $100,000 goal
88 donations
$93,259 to go
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