California Park still recovering from early cattle drives | SteamboatToday.com

California Park still recovering from early cattle drives

Where mountain bison once roamed

Colorado Parks and Wildlife employee Kelli Poole took this photo of a Colombian sharp-tailed grouse, which utilizes the habitat in California Park.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — California Park represents the most biologically diverse region for native animals in the Routt National Forest, which virtually rings Steamboat Springs. And this month, the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District is seeking public comment about its newest five-year project to restore First Creek.

Fisheries biologist and project co-leader Rick Henderson describes California Park as a unique landscape and added that the First Creek Restoration Project is a critical component of an ongoing effort to improve conditions in the riparian zone along the stream as well as upland habitat.

First Creek is northeast of Hayden and due north of Quaker Mountain in West Routt County. The creek drains the west side of Sand Mountain.

"The project would improve wetland and riparian areas, water storage, water quality and the habitat of a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife such as Colorado River cutthroat trout, boreal toad and many bird species,"  Henderson said in a news release.

The ranger district in Steamboat keeps an early mountain bison skull, that was collected in California Park, on its front desk. 

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Hahn's Peak Ranger District wildlife biologist Missy Dressen said Monday other species that utilize California Park include  Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and sandhill cranes. One of the goals there, she said, is to restore upland sage grouse leks.

And, "thousands of cow elk come through there to calve every spring," Dressen said. 

But California Park also has a fascinating history dating to the late 19th and early 20th century, before the U.S. Forest Service was established, Dressen said. In that era, the park was a major cattle drive route, and the thousands of head of cattle took their toll on the natural environment. Researchers are trying to determine how best to restore soil conditions.

Steamboat Today reported in 2016 how the nonprofit conservation group, Trout Unlimited, which has a chapter in Steamboat Springs, had collaborated with the Forest Service on several stream improvement projects in California Park, including Armstrong Creek, another tributary of Elkhead Creek.

The latest work on First Creek will affect about 4.5 miles of stream and surrounding valley bottom from California Park Road/Forest Road 150 to the creek’s confluence with Elkhead Creek.

The comment period for the Forest Service's draft environmental assessment of the planned restoration along First Creek will last for 30 days until Oct. 17. Comments will be considered in the final assessment and decision notice and become part of the public record.

The draft environmental assessment can be read on the project website.

There will be no other formal opportunity to comment.

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

How to comment:

The public comment period, which started Sept. 17, will last 30 days. The draft environmental assessment and additional information is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50685.

Specific, substantive comments would be most useful if received by Oct. 16. They can be submitted via email to comments-rm-medicine-bow-routt-hahns-peak-bears-ears@fs.fed.us with “First Creek Restoration Project” in the subject line.

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