Community Agriculture Alliance: Recent land purchase will positively impact Yampa Watershed health | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Recent land purchase will positively impact Yampa Watershed health

Aaron Voos/For the Steamboat Today

The U.S. Forest Service has the privilege of managing public lands for multi-use, and a key indicator as to the overall condition of those lands is the health of the watersheds on National Forest. Watershed health has many public benefits, including importance for drinking water, agriculture and recreation, to name a few.

Management of public land and their associated watersheds is complex to begin with and can be made even more so when privately-owned inholdings within forest boundaries add another layer of complexity.

The USFS thinks that contiguous land ownership lends itself to consistent management, and so the agency's lands program works to consolidate blocks of public lands whenever opportunities arise. Management becomes less complicated when land ownership is not fragmented, and thus implementing on-the-ground projects — which benefit overall watershed health — is easier and more efficient.

At first glance, a recent land purchase in Routt County by Western Rivers Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management and the USFS, at the confluence of the Yampa River and Sarvis Creek, has mainly recreational benefits.

The 45-acre property was an inholding and an edgeholding in the Routt National Forest. It also is adjacent to the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area, BLM lands and the Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area.

The parcel lies 3 miles downstream from Stagecoach Reservoir on the banks of a classic tailwater fishery. According to local anglers, this stretch of the Yampa River is coveted for its large rainbow and brown trout as well as native mountain whitefish. It was previously closed to the public and now offers access for people to fish, hunt and hike.

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However, the benefits of this land purchase to area residents don’t just stop with the apparent recreation impacts.

There now is more certainty in the future management of this parcel, and the BLM and USFS now will be able to more easily address any future water quality concerns that may arise. Habitat in the newly-acquired riparian area now can be proactively managed to maintain the naturally-occurring water filtration system, which keeps banks stable and the water cool and clean.

This management approach is lock-step with the recent State of the Watershed Report and subsequent collaborative action plan, produced by the Upper Yampa River Watershed Group. It recognizes the conservation importance of all areas along a watershed and looks to address non-point source water quality impacts early on and through a variety of methods.

Ultimately, by putting this section of land in public hands, the mission of the U.S. Forest Service is recognized, which is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

To learn more about the newly purchased property and the surrounding Routt National Forest, contact USFS Ranger Districts in Steamboat Springs and Yampa at 970-870-2299 and 970-638-4516, respectively, or visit our website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/mbr.

Aaron Voos is the public affairs specialist for Routt National Forest.