About the Project
Wet meadows and riparian areas occupy a small proportion of the sagebrush ecosystem in the Gunnison Basin, yet provide critically important habitat for many species. These mesic areas, in an otherwise semi-arid climate, are vital to the life cycle of the federally threatened Gunnison sage-grouse, providing important brood-rearing habitat for the grouse to raise their young chicks. These meadows also provide important food and cover for insects, pollinators, neo-tropical migratory birds, mule deer, elk, and forage for domestic livestock.
Wet meadows and riparian areas also serve as natural sponges to hold water in the soil, slowly releasing it after runoff events, ensuring continued base flows and maintenance of water tables throughout the growing season. Holding water in these systems later into the summer season and during droughts benefits plants, wildlife, and ranchers.
Many riparian areas and wet meadows in the Gunnison Basin have been degraded by erosion and past land uses, resulting in incised gullies and lowered water tables. Intense episodic droughts, such as the one in 2002 and 2018, have exacerbated these problems. As our temperatures continue to rise, droughts and intense runoff events that increase erosion are likely to become more frequent. If these already uncommon habitats degrade further, the many plants and animals that depend on them will suffer, including the Gunnison sage-grouse. Since only about 5,000 of these birds remain in the world, they cannot withstand more loss of this important habitat. Degraded riparian areas and wet meadows also pose challenges to ranchers, who are already experiencing other pressures. To help both wildlife and ranchers, we need to restore these habitats and make them better able to withstand change.
What We do
To address these challenges, the Gunnison Climate Working Group (GCWG), a public-private partnership preparing for change in the Gunnison Basin, has been working since 2012 to enhance ecosystem resilience of riparian areas and wet meadows by restoring their hydrologic and ecological function. The group uses a variety of restoration techniques to help slow down water during flow events, raise water tables, reduce erosion, stabilize head cuts, reduce impacts of wildlife and cattle trailing, reconnect channels to floodplains, and increase cover of wetland plants. The wet meadow restoration coordinator position is financially supported by the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), funds from land management agencies, and grants. The restoration coordinator is an independent contractor position that funds, plans, and implements restoration work throughout the Gunnison Basin and select areas of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in western Colorado.