Nature Conservancy lands state grant for Yampa River bank improvements west of Steamboat Springs

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— A chronically eroded stream bank along the Yampa River where it flows through the Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch east of Hayden will be restored and revegetated with the help of a $30,000 Wetlands Program Award from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Nature Conservancy Yampa River Director Geoff Blakeslee confirmed Tuesday that the 500 feet of river bank was damaged during a high spring runoff that happened three decades ago.

“It was subject to a big erosion event in 1983,” Blakeslee said. “We didn’t own the ranch at the time. There’s still no vegetation on the bank of the river. It’s one of the few spots on the Carpenter Ranch that doesn’t have good native vegetation.”

A stretch of river bank devoid of native plant communities at the Carpenter Ranch is significant because it is the rare combination of trees and shrubs along the Yampa there that led the Nature Conservancy to acquire the ranch in 1996.

The ranch is one of the world’s large remaining examples of a riparian forest (along a river) where narrow leaf cottonwood trees, box elder and red-osier dogwood thrive. A relative few locations in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming in addition to Colorado are the last places where this plant community still exists, according to the Nature Conservancy.

The total estimated cost of the river bank improvement project is $82,623, and the Nature Conservancy will provide the balance of $52,623 to complete the work, according to Parks and Wildlife.

The grant is one of 18 totaling $700,000 announced this week that will benefit riparian habitats and wetlands across Colorado, according to a news release from Parks and Wildlife. When contributions of $834,000 from participating agencies are added, the total value of the projects is more than $1.5 million.

The Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area just south of Steamboat Springs benefited from a smaller Wetlands Program Award in 2012 that repaired ditches and a pipeline that channels water into a wetland.

The improvements at the Carpenter Ranch should help to support bald eagles and sandhill cranes that nest and migrate through the area. Blakeslee added that it also should improve fish habitat in the Yampa.

Blakeslee said a consultant will be retained to ensure that the bank stabilization project is done in a way that takes into account the natural flooding of the river and won’t alter the flow regime of the river. Care also will be taken to make sure the work is done in a way that won’t impact stream banks along the river where it flows through neighboring properties.

“Like Newton said, every action has a reaction, and you want to make sure it’s not problematic for someone else,” Blakeslee added.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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