Tributaries to the Colorado River get a funding boost 

Photo by Omar Salmon

Forever Our Rivers is excited to announce grants totaling $169,591 to support the restoration efforts in the Dolores, Escalante, Verde and Gila rivers spanning Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Restoration will focus on removing thick stands of invasive trees and bushes.

Invasive species wreak havoc on river systems. Some plants, like tamarisk, form dense thickets and grow to 20 feet. They bring fire danger to the river because their growth includes high levels of dead leaves and branches. And that’s not all! They make themselves at home by aggressively colonizing. Their leaves deposit salt above and below the soil, making it difficult for native species to survive. 

Tamarisk is not the only problem; Russian olive, tree of heaven, Siberian elm and many more species absorb large amounts of water, create dams that block water flow and destroy native vegetation. Plus, thickets of invasives make it difficult for recreationists to access the river.

Without native species, a river runs down a slippery, unhealthy slope that reduces its ability to function and deliver ecosystem services properly. What does that mean? Well, to start, both water quality and quantity decline.

Plus, native species, from bugs to butterflies, fish and frogs, even elk and beaver cannot survive or breed without their appropriate, native food and nesting sites. 

More than 4,988 acres across these Colorado River tributaries have been treated and thousands of the nasty invasive plants have been destroyed due to a long-standing partnership between Forever Our Rivers, the Walton Family Foundation and Conservation Legacy. 

Ann Johnston, the executive director of Forever Our Rivers Foundation, aptly observed, “Restoration is a process that happens over time, almost always extending beyond the timelines of individual projects. That is one reason this award is so important”. 

Included in the grant award are funds for strike teams. These teams check out the four river areas annually to see how things are going. “One of the most important tasks for strike teams is to collect data about previous years’ noxious plant treatments and native regrowth,” said Johnston. “Think of the strike teams as nature detectives, collecting the past data, identifying which treatments are most successful and altering processes going forward to reflect that.” 

On-the-ground restoration is accomplished by RiversEdge West of Grand Junction, CO, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners of Escalante, Utah, and in Arizona, the Friends of the Verde River and Gila Watershed Partnership.

Preserving Private Ranchland for Public Benefit

Private landowners and The Colorado West Land Trust built a coalition to protect a mile of the Uncompahgre River and 214 acres of adjacent habitat.

The Uncompahgre River weaves through the protected bottomlands of a working farm in Montrose County, Colorado. Photo Credit:  Robb Reece Photography


The Colorado West Land Trust collaborated with private landowners, Great Outdoors Colorado, and Forever Our Rivers Foundation to conserve 214 acres on a working farm. Over a mile of the Uncompahgre River runs through the property, located south of Olathe in Montrose County, Colorado. Wetlands, large cottonwood galleries and a diverse assemblage of vegetation create a mosaic of wildlife habitat types across the landscape, providing food and refuge for resident species and those that move through the area. 

Bald eagles, Canadian geese, and Gambel’s quail frequent the property, and this stretch of the Uncompahgre River supports Brook trout. Since wild animals don’t respect property boundaries, they move freely between public and private lands, particularly during migration events. Islands of habitat across our mixed-used landscapes helps them find safe harbor along their journey. This one is now protected in perpetuity. 

Private Landowners for Public Benefit

Preserving healthy ecosystems on private lands provides public benefit beyond supporting robust wildlife populations, as outlined by the Land Trust Alliance and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in their report Investing In Nature, The Economic Benefits of Protecting Our Lands and Waters. 

For example, healthy riverside bottomlands filter rainwater as it travels downhill, allowing sediment and pollutants to settle out before each drop of rain joins the downstream current. The river then delivers that clean water to the rest of the watershed. This same process slows the flow of water during extreme weather events, mitigating flooding impacts. And all that gorgeous foliage pulls carbon out of the air and captures it in the soil and in the plants themselves. 

It’s remarkable that intact natural landscapes do so much work for us free of charge. Thanks to the community spirit of the farm’s owners, this one will keep doing so for a long time yet. 

The landscape provides valuable habitat for species that head south for winter and for those that hunker down through the cold months. 

Partnering for Land Protection 

By partnering with a number of organizations to preserve this farmland, the Colorado West Land Trust helped ensure the project’s longterm success. Collaborative projects create a network of resources to draw from and foster a culture of collaboration where each organization roots for the others to succeed. Forever Our Rivers Foundation is certainly rooting for this project and for the groups involved.

Mary Hughes, Development Director for the Colorado West Land Trust, is routing for the foundation. “I just think it’s wonderful that people have the vision to create a funding mechanism for rivers and the habitats along them,” Hughes says. 

“The generous support of Forever Our Rivers Foundation helped preserve this beautiful farm along the Uncompahgre River,” she continues. “We are really proud and pleased to be chosen for our work. And to be one of the first groups to receive funding, that was really special.”

About Colorado West Land Trust — The Colorado West Land Trust works to protect and conserve agriculture land, its rural heritage, wildlife habitat, recreational areas and scenic lands in western Colorado. The organization’s goal is to enrich lives by enabling outdoor recreation opportunities and to make space for people to connect to the land for generations. More information about the conservation of this property will be available in the Colorado West Land Trust’s annual report.