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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

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Water Education Colorado

Species Recovery Starts at Home

By Kevin Darst

State-landowner partnerships strive to keep species from threatened or endangered status

At an Endangered Species Act hearing last summer in Greeley, Jim Sims didn't mince words explaining how some private landowners handle endangered species on their property.

‘Shoot, shovel and shut up,’ said Sims, executive director of Partnership for the West, an advocate for business, oil and gas and timber industries, according to the Longmont Daily Times-Call. ‘Most people hope they don't find these birds, because they won't be there the next day.’

There are 31 plants and animals on the endangered and threatened species list in Colorado, including the Canada lynx, gray wolf, black-footed ferret and Preble's meadow jumping mouse. Discovery of endangered or threatened species—or designation of critical habitat for those species—can force changes in farming practices or necessitate lengthy reviews for water projects or other construction ventures.

Sims and other critics of the Endangered Species Act say the law doesn't work because few of the species who make the endangered or threatened list ever recover enough to be taken off the list. In addition, although it is estimated that some 85 percent of endangered species have significant habitat on private land, the act doesn't give private landowners sufficient incentives to conserve species on their property, critics say. Advocates of the ESA, however, say it's a vital safety net that prevents extinction of struggling species.

A mix of all three of those philosophies spurred development of a Colorado Division of Wildlife program to start paying landowners to preserve existing habitat or create new habitat for imperiled species. The Colorado Species Conservation Partnership, created in 2001, is designed to stave off more listings of plants and animals in Colorado, keep other species from declining, and recover species already on the threatened and endangered list, or labeled as state species of special concern.

‘When a species becomes listed, it's that much more difficult to manage,’ says Ken Morgan, a private lands habitat specialist with the DOW.

The DOW runs the Colorado Species Conservation Partnership in partnership with the Great Outdoors Colorado trust fund, private landowners, non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Department of the Interior. More than 30 landowners applied to the CSCP during 2003-2004, leading to the protection of 25,000 acres in six projects. Six more projects this year will encompass 8,300 acres. Any landowner, land trust or conservation organization can apply to the program. DOW biologists evaluate the applications.

Landowner payments are based on an appraisal which takes into account development pressure on the land. Landowners may receive as little as a few dollars per acre or as much as $1,000 per acre, Morgan says. The most important part of the program is its ‘ability to manage for species of concern while keeping people on the land,’ he explains.

Preserving habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse and greater sage grouse, two candidates for listing as threatened or endangered, has been a priority of the program, Morgan says.

Historically, Gunnison sage grouse were found throughout southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. Today, the species exists in eight isolated populations with a total estimated breeding population of less than 4,000 individuals with the largest population (~2,500) in the Gunnison River Basin (Gunnison and Saguache counties).

The more common greater sage grouse can be found in 11 Western states. In Colorado, the grouse populate northern Eagle/southern Routt counties, and the Middle and North Park areas. Recent studies by the DOW have found that the number of active greater sage grouse leks, or mating grounds, and numbers of males per lek are maintaining at or above historical averages in these locations.

Perhaps due in part to the success of local studies and conservation efforts, in December 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife said it would not propose the greater sage grouse for listing at this time. All six CSCP projects for 2005-2006, which will cost about $6.5 million once they're approved by a GOCO subcommittee, deal with grouse habitat.

‘It's all sage grouse this round,’ Morgan says. ‘They're of primary concern due to changes in the landscape. Where the Gunnison sage grouse lives is under a great deal of pressure from development.’

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