Conservation planning for the Colorado River in Utah

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Abstract

Strategic planning is increasingly recognized as necessary for providing the greatest possible conservation benefits for restoration efforts. Rigorous, science-based resource assessment, combined with acknowledgement of broader basin trends, provides a solid foundation for determining effective projects. It is equally important that methods used to prioritize conservation investments are simple and practical enough that they can be implemented in a timely manner and by a variety of resource managers. With the help of local and regional natural resource professionals, we have developed a broad-scale, spatially-explicit assessment of 146 miles (~20,000 acres) of the Colorado River mainstem in Grand and San Juan Counties, Utah that will function as the basis for a systematic, practical approach to conservation planning and riparian restoration prioritization. For the assessment we have: 1) acquired, modified or created spatial datasets of Colorado River bottomland conditions; 2) synthesized those datasets into habitat suitability models and estimates of natural recovery potential, fire risk and relative cost; 3) investigated and described dominant ecosystem trends and human uses, and; 4) suggested site selection and prioritization approaches. Partner organizations (The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Utah Forestry Fire and State Lands) are using the assessment and datasets to identify and prioritize a suite of restoration actions to increase ecosystem resilience and improve habitat for bottomland species. Primary datasets include maps of bottomland cover types, bottomland extent, maps of areas inundated during high and low flow events, as well as locations of campgrounds, roads, fires, invasive vegetation treatment areas and other features. Assessment of conditions and trends in the project area entailed: 1) assemblage of existing data on geology, changes in stream flow, and predictions of future conditions; 2) identification of fish and wildlife species present and grouping species into Conservation Elements (CEs) based on habitat needs, and: 3) acquisition, review and creation of spatial datasets characterizing vegetation, fluvial geomorphic and human features within the bottomland. Interpretation of aerial imagery and assimilation of pre-existing spatial data were central to our efforts in characterizing resources conditions. Detailed maps of vegetation and channel habitat features in the project area were generated from true color, high resolution (0.3m) imagery flown September 16, 2010. We also mapped channel habitat features at high flow on 1.0-m resolution, publicly available, true color imagery. We obtained additional layers such as land ownership, roads, fire history, non-native vegetation treatment areas, and recreational use features from public sources and project partners. Habitat suitability models were created for groups of terrestrial species by combining spatial datasets with the habitat needs of conservation elements, guided by literature, where available, and extensive use of expert knowledge. Conservation elements for endangered fish species life stages were identified but not modeled. Terrestrial CE’s included: • Riparian Overstory -yellow-billed cuckoo, Bullock’s oriole, black-headed grosbeak, blue grosbeak, warbling vireo, Cooper's hawk, screech owl, saw-whet owl, and bald eagle, (best: tall trees, dense canopy, diverse shrub understory, no tamarisk); • Riparian Understory - southwestern willow flycatcher, common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, yellow-breasted chat, beaver, northern river otter, black-necked garter snake, (best: dense mesic shrubs near still water, no tamarisk); • Bat Feeding - Allen's big-eared bat, Townsend's big-eared bat, fringed myotis, Yuma myotis, big free-tailed bat, spotted bat (best: diverse vegetation, close to still water); • Bat Watering - big free-tailed and spotted bats (best: still water with no tall vegetation); •

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Title Conservation planning for the Colorado River in Utah
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Colorado Mesa University
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 94 p.
Country United States
State Utah
Other Geospatial Colorado River