Giant reed a massive menace along the Verde River

“Before” – Friends of the Verde River

One of Arizona’s few remaining perennial rivers, the Verde, is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife. Nearly half of the state’s bald eagle nest territories are located along the river. Roughly 10 percent of Arizona’s rarest forest type—the species-rich Fremont Cottonwood/Goodding Willow habitat—can be found along its banks.

The upper Verde is still relatively remote and isolated. As is flows south, it winds its way through the beautiful and arid landscape southwest of Sedona, Arizona. Its flow provides a lush, green corridor of plants and is home to at least 270 species of birds, 94 species of mammals and 76 species of native amphibians and reptiles. Over 60 miles of the river is federally protected under the Wild & Scenic Act.

Yet the Verde River is in danger of running dry.

For the second year in a row, Forever Our Rivers provided a grant to Friends of the Verde River to help them remove giant reed (Arundo donax), along Oak Creek, which flows into the middle Verde from the east.

One of the fastest-growing terrestrial plants in the world, giant reed competes with native cottonwood and willow for moisture, suppressing the success of native seedlings. Giant reed’s stem and leaves contain a variety of nasty chemicals, rendering it unsuitable as food or nesting habitat for wildlife. It offers less shade than cottonwood and willows, contributing to higher water temperatures. And even worse, dense, woody stands of giant reed are very susceptible to high-intensity wildfire.

“Wildfire is typically rare along rivers. However, it is becoming more common around the state,” said Willie Sommers, invasive plant program coordinator of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, who partners with Friends of the Verde. “Removing giant reed checks a lot of boxes—improved wildlife habitat, reduced risk of wildfire and improved access for recreation,” Sommers said.

Neighboring landowner Dean Bowen agrees. “We had a fire across the creek in Cornville that exploded to about 1,500 acres in a matter of three or four hours,” said Bowen. Shortly thereafter, he and his neighbors instituted a community evacuation call system, just in case.

Friends of the Verde collaborates with the department and Arizona Conservation Corps, Verde Earth Technologies and Conservation Legacy field crews. Together they monitor previously infested areas of the watershed and treat any resprouts, leveraging previous investments of $4.5 million and months of efforts on more than 10,500 riparian acres.

Forever Our Rivers funding will support treatments on 15 river miles of Oak Creek. “There is very limited water—and every drop is important,” said Tracy Stephens, program director for Friends of the Verde River. “There is no room for noxious plants.”

“Removal of Giant Reed” – Friends of the Verde River

Collaboration Creates Big Win for Rivers

Photo by Alex Cogbill @local_color_studio_gallery

River enthusiasts across Colorado celebrated National River’s month with an “Outstanding Waters” protection for the headwaters of Taylor River and lower Soap Creek, which feeds into Blue Mesa Reservoir.  

The designation was awarded by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in June, following a rigorous three-year process. The Southwest Colorado Outstanding Waters Coalition put forth the proposal, in collaboration with local, state and national water conservationists.  

An impressive total of 520 river miles in the Gunnison, Upper Dolores, San Juan, San Miguel and Animas watersheds were permanently protected.

The Outstanding Waters award is focused on water quality. Among other criteria, water must be of “exceptional recreational or ecological significance”. While downstream users benefit from the high-quality water, the designation does not affect their water rights.    

More information can be found in this article published by the Gunnison Country Times.

Forever Our Rivers grants $200,000 to key tributaries of the Colorado

Rivers are easy to exploit and it’s not just plastic and fertilizers that are damaging rivers across the Southwest. Invasive species are also particularly troublesome. 

One path to keep our rivers flowing is to remove invasive species and nurture native species back to their home.

Burn, cut. Poison. Dig and pull. Repeat. If only it was that easy.

Forever Our Rivers is pleased to announce its spring grant awards of $200,000 given to four nonprofits hard at work removing invasive plants in key tributaries to the Colorado: the Dolores, Verde, Gila and Escalante rivers that flow through Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

The invasive tamarisk tree is one of the biggest challenges to healthy rivers. Native to Europe and Asia, this ornamental was brought to the US in the 1800s, valued for its pretty, delicate flowers and the filtering shade it brings on a hot afternoon in the desert. Today, it has taken over nearly one million acres in the Southwest.

Crews of youth and veterans spend long days in rugged terrain under the hot desert sun working to eradicate invasives. Burn, cut. Poison. Dig and pull. Repeat—for years.

Tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, is problematic because it pushes out native species like cottonwood trees, which have palatable seeds and thick limbs which are perfect for large birds like raptors and woodpeckers.

Tamarisk poisons the soil with salt which accumulates in its tissues and then seeps into the ground, so even after it is removed, native plants have trouble getting re-established. And, tamarisk uses more water per acre than the natives, dwindling surface- and ground-water along rivers and wetlands.

The consequences of not protecting rivers are very real and challenging—polluted waters, lack of protection from floods and less flows for wildlife and household use.

Fortunately, Forever Our Rivers and our partners are dedicated to making a difference. Through grants from our Southwest River Stewardship Fund we amplify the work of RiversEdge West, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Gila Watershed Partnership and Friends of the Verde River.   

Crews are making progress removing invasive species and, in conjunction with the University of Utah, we’re collecting and analyzing data to help determine, and share, the most effective treatments. This not only helps with future efforts but leverages the tens of millions of dollars already spent on river restoration in the Southwest.

Costs to monitor and maintain native species have escalated significantly this year. If you’d like to help us get this important work accomplished, donate here or contact Ann Johnston, executive director of Forever Our Rivers, for more information.

Why do native species matter?

Along the lower Colorado, thickets of invasive species have crowded out native trees including one of the rarest and most threatened forests in the US—the cottonwood/Gooding willow forest.

Cottonwood-willow habitat is species rich—meaning that hundreds of birds, mammals and amphibians rely on it for food, shelter and breeding. Without it, many of these species may not survive.

Birds, including the Gila woodpecker, rely on the dense, high foliage of cottonwoods and willows for food and breeding, neither of which is provided by the tamarisk.

A medium-sized noisy extrovert, the Gila’s flight is typical of most woodpeckers, with bursts of quick flapping followed by short glides. In flight, you can identify them by an obvious white patch on their wings. Their bellies are a beautiful golden yellow and the males sport a delightful bright red cap.

Cottonwood-willow forests are also a key source of food for beavers. Known as ecosystem engineers, they increase biological diversity where they live. For example, using willow branches they build dams to spread and direct water. They also clear obstacles and create trails, which helps them transport materials to their lodges or escape from predators.

Give Back to Rivers, Get Great Gear

We’re celebrating the end of Summer with great deals from two of our business partners, SOL Paddle Boards and Map the Xperience

When you donate to Forever Our Rivers, you’ll get,

  • 15% off all SOL Paddle Board products, and 
  • Access to a free digital map of the South Platte River from Map the Xperience

The map can lead you to golden cottonwood fall foliage, help you scout future adventures, or just introduce you to Colorado’s incredible South Platte River. SOL’s top-of-the-line paddling gear could get you out on an end-of-season adventure or ready to hit the water next spring. And don’t forget the holidays! Give the gift of time on the river while helping rivers stay healthy.

The donation minimum is $25, and the Promotion funs from September 22 through October 6, 2021.

Give through our donation webpage or send a check to Forever Our Rivers Foundation, PO Box 3492, Grand Junction, CO 81502. We’ll send you a receipt and all applicable promotion deals in a confirmation email.

Bring us along on your adventures by tagging @foreverourrivers and using the hashtags #gearforrivers #weareforrivers #hereforrivers.

Congratulations Shauna Holden!

High fives to Shauna Holden, who bested the competition in our fly counting contest to win our custom Abel Reel and SaraBella Fishing fly rod!

When we asked her where she would take her new setup she said, “I am stoked about getting out to fish the Tulpehocken Creek with my new rod and reel.” 

If you want your own Forever Our Rivers rod, keep reading this newsletter! We’ll announce when it’s released for sale to the public.

Shauna is a Pennsylvania angler who understands the importance of healthy rivers, saying,

I reside in Pennsylvania where we are very lucky to have some amazing places to fish. Unfortunately due to pollution and climate change, many of our rivers and creeks are having a hard time sustaining fisheries. 

Clean viable water is a right for all living things and organizations like Forever our Rivers are helping us be better custodians of the earth.

Shauna Holden

You can follow Shauna’s adventures with the hashtags #gearforrivers, #ourriver,  and #hereforrivers.

Contest proceeds benefited the Eagle River Watershed Council‘s drought relief program.

Connecting Kids to Rivers

One of our 2020 Grantees, Friends of Youth and Nature, successfully involved 1,249 youth and adults in water education in 2020 and 2021.

Activities ranged from facilitating a Youth Water Summit to river instruction with the 5th grade at North Fork School of Integrated Studies, trips to the Eureka Science Colorado River exhibit for students from Montrose and Delta Colorado, and helping 4th graders from Montrose School District participate in the Natural Resource Festival.

Friends of Youth and Nature definitely made the most of their grant award! We are so proud to partner with them to make a difference in river health, community connection, and access. As they put it, 

Water – our most precious resource – is often taken for granted. With increasing pressure from climate change and cumulative drought conditions, learning about our local watersheds, how we use water in our daily lives, and how we can help conserve clean water are vital lessons in today’s world!

Win a Fly Rod & Reel (And We’re Still Hiring)

Counting Flies for Flows, Helping A Western Community Address the Drought

Monsoon season brought some relief to areas of the parched Southwest While welcome, they are unlikely to end this massive and unprecedented drought. And, if climate experts are correct, it may be here to stay.

Now we need to figure out how to adapt. Many such decisions will be made at the local level. Some will be executed by river-focused nonprofits working on the ground. Our job is to help them succeed. We believe that communities are the best stewards of their rivers. That’s why we raise funds to support our nonprofit partners as they seek and implement solutions on their rivers. 

The Eagle River Watershed Council is one such nonprofit. In response to this summer’s water shortage, they’re launching a drought mitigation program. It will raise awareness about the drought, water conservation methods, and water quality concerns driven by stormwater runoff and post-fire erosion. They’ll redouble efforts to alert local anglers of dangerously high water temperatures and plant shade-giving, water-cooling trees by the Eagle River. 

We’re honored to lend a hand. We worked with SaraBella Fishing and Abel Reels to create a Forever Our Rivers fly rod and reel package, and we’re giving one away to help raise money for the effort. 

Together, we can make a difference for our communities, for our fish, for our wildlife, for our rivers, and everyone downstream. It’s past time that we make every drop count. 

Enter to win the SaraBella 9’ 5 weight medium-fast action custom graphite fly rod with metallic charcoal paint, hand wrapped deep blue, metallic gold, and white threads, a Colorado-harvested, hand lathed invasive Russian Olive reel seat attached to a custom-designed, high-end Abel Reel, and Flor-grade cork handle emblazoned with our simple mission, ‘Rivers Give, We Give Back.’

Work with Us!

We are searching for a driven and creative Executive Director to lead our movement, galvanizing customers, businesses, and nonprofits to come together to conserve and restore America’s rivers. The ideal candidate will demonstrate expertise in marketing (preferably cause-marketing), conservation finance, including long-term conservation fund growth, and an understanding of river ecology and restoration practices. They will also have deep business acumen, an understanding of the culture of prospective corporate partners, and an exceptional ability to cultivate in-person relationships. The position is remote with frequent travel expected to cultivate in-person relationships. Familiarity with and networks and relationships in the Southwest United States are preferred.

Forever Our Rivers is an equal opportunity employer.

Visit our job application page for more details. 

Show Notes – Rivers Through Canyons, Recreating Responsibly in Western Colorado

McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

In this episode, we sit down with Collin Ewing, manager of the McInnis Canyons, and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Areas for the Bureau of Land Management.  These public lands are stunning, featuring dramatic desert landscapes with towering red rock canyons and two beautiful sections of the river, the Ruby Horsethief section of the Colorado, and the lower Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colorado.

Listen now!

As COVID-19 encourages people to get outside, the Bureau is working to manage the increased pressure on the landscape. We talk to Collin about how to recreate responsibly to preserve the wilderness experience for visitors and protect habitat as the crowds swell.

In 2016, the Bureau launched a permit system on Ruby-Horsethief. It helped preserve the area’s wilderness feel, protect the landscape from overuse, and raise funds to keep restrooms clean, build infrastructure like boat ramps, and restore habitat. The Bureau is currently working on a similar system for the Lower Gunnison River. Collin would love to hear your comments and suggestions.

We also hit the highlights of a few Leave No Trace practices, like reading about the rules and regulations for your destination before you go. The Colorado Canyons Association has some handy resources for McInnis Canyon specifically. Check out their “Know Before You Go” video for the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River. And don’t forget to,

  • Stay on designated roads and trails
  • Camp in designated campsites
  • Use designated fire rings
  • And have a plan for your poo

Collin is also heading down the Grand Canyon this summer and walks us through his plan to mitigate Covid risks. These conversations will help you recreate responsibly on any public lands trip you’re planning this summer.

Additional Resources –

  1. Learn more about our National Conservation Lands and National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and the stunning Dominguez-Escalante and McInnis Canyon NCAs.
  2. Research the current water level in the river you want to explore.
  3. Check out the Mesa County Health Department’s Covid guidelines if you’re planning to visit McInnis Canyons or Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Areas.
  4. Here are some National Park Service  tips to recreate responsibly in Covid-times
  5. And here are more resources to help you recreate responsibly

Email topics, comments, and suggestions to [email protected]. Or leave us a river question at ‪(724) 343-1769 to have your question air in an episode.