by Steve Johnson and Tom Slabe
The October conference held in Breckenridge, “Sustaining Colorado Watersheds: Science and Restoration through Collaboration,” hosted in partnership with The Colorado Watershed Assembly, The Colorado Watershed Network, and The Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, was an unequivocal success. Riparian and other wetland habitats may occupy, on average, less than two or three percent of any given watershed within Colorado; yet, they provide essential habitat for more species than any other land cover type. Physical and biogeochemical processes constantly taking place in riparian and wetland habitats support a stream of valuable ecosystem services essential for the health and vitality of both natural and human communities. Consequently, CRA’s mission, “to promote the conservation, restoration, and preservation of Colorado’s riparian areas and wetlands,” is also a concept that organizations and individuals with widely diverse missions and interests can readily embrace.
As a headwater state, Colorado is the source water area for four major river basins: the Colorado River, Platte River, Arkansas River, and the Rio Grande, and, judging by the conference turn-out, there is no shortage of concern over Colorado’s aquatic resources. Topics at the conference ranged from protecting community drinking water sources to quantitative modeling to guide invasive species eradication efforts. However, an overall assessment of the Conference indicates a trend towards greater grass roots involvement in watershed planning, increasing collaborative efforts, and leveraging scarce resources for optimal results.
In the west, a common threat to riparian areas is the foraging activities of ungulates. Historically, riparian areas often supported large stands of willow, which, in turn, supported colonies of beaver that maintained high water tables in valley bottoms. Before the mass extirpation of large carnivores, such as the grey wolf and grizzly bear, herbivory was minimized in riparian areas when the “ecology of fear” existed (Ripple and Beschta, 2006). After more than two centuries of settlement, many of Colorado’s riparian areas have been significantly degraded by many factors. With greater understanding of the importance and value of riparian areas, efforts are underway to restore willow stands along Colorado streams. Read the article in this issue by Greg Auble, James Roelle, and Ann Timberman about one current willow restoration effort in the Arapaho National Wildlife Area near Walden.
A relatively new threat to Colorado water bodies has arrived, the herbaceous aquatic nuisance weed Eurasian watermilfoil. We have included an article by Eric Fairlee about the occurrence of this noxious weed in Colorado, along with observations of the effects that the linkage between the riparian zone and stream channel has on its growth and distribution in Boulder Creek and St. Vrain Creek.
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Ripple, W.J. and Beschta, R.L. 2006. Linking wolves to willows via risk-sensitive foraging by ungulates in the northern Yellowstone ecosystem. Forest Ecology and Management 230: 96-106.