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Dolores River Restoration Partnership
The Dolores River Restoration Partnership (DRRP) is a public-private collaboration of local, state, and federal agencies, universities, not-for-profit organizations, landowners, foundations, and citizen volunteers that share a common set of goals and principles for restoring the riparian habitat of the Dolores River. Created in 2009, the DRRP is working on nearly 200 miles of the Dolores River across two states to shift the riparian corridor towards a more self-sustaining, diverse, and resilient trajectory.
As an informal network of individuals, organizations, and agencies, the DRRP represents a broad and continuously growing collaborative partnership. Trust and good working relationships tie the collaboration together and provide the foundation in which we work. This work includes not only restoring the riparian habitat on the Dolores River to a more naturally functioning state, but educating the public, conducting monitoring and scientific research, and adapting management efforts based on new information, lessons learned, and emerging challenges.
The DRRP represents a set of stakeholders working to address a major concern in the watershed: invasion of tamarisk and other aggressive, invasive plants along the Dolores River. The extensive growth of these invasive plants has significantly displaced native vegetation, impaired wildlife habitat and forage, and impaired recreational opportunities.
As with so many other rivers in the arid West, the Dolores River has also seen increasing concerns from user groups about management of its flows. Farmers relying on flows to grow alfalfa and barley are sitting down along with agency staff worried about declines in several native fish species populations, and rafters concerned with recreational opportunities to identify a shared way forward for managing the flows of the Dolores River.
The overarching vision of the Dolores River Restoration Partnership is a thriving Dolores River system that is ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable in a multiuse context. Work towards this overarching vision is guided by four sets of partnership goals:
Ecological: Increase the number of acres of sustainable, healthy riparian and floodplain plant communities in the watershed while reducing those dominated by tamarisk and other invasive, non-native plant species.
Social: Increase opportunities for the next generation of stewards with regional conservation and youth corps programs that support underserved young adults; improve aesthetic enjoyment; and increase public safety.
- Economic: Increase employment opportunities for contractors and youth in the Dolores River area; invest in the local economies of the Dolores River Area; improve effectiveness and financial efficiency of our riparian restoration; enhance visitor experience for recreation; and leverage funds from local, state, federal, and private sources to advance funding strategies.
- Management: Facilitate communications between land managers and partners to help coordinate treatments, share lessons learned and increase treatment effectiveness/efficiency; incorporate educational and interpretative practices to enhance public understanding and appreciation of riparian restoration actions.
There are many individuals, organizations, and agencies that have played an integral part in the DRRP’s progress towards its shared goals.These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Bird Conservancy of the Rockies
- Bureau of Land Management: Tres Rios, Grand Junction, Uncompahgre and Moab Field Offices
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Colorado Department of Agriculture
- Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife
- Colorado State University
- Counties of: Dolores, San Miguel, Montrose, Mesa, Colorado; Grand County, Utah
- Department of Energy
- Dolores River Dialogue
- Dolores Tamarisk Action Group
- Dolores Water Conservancy
- Four Corners School/Canyon Country Youth Corps
- Gateway Canyons Resort
- Natural Resources Conservation Service
- Private land owners & citizen volunteers
- Southeast Utah Riparian Partnership
- Southwest Conservation Corps
- Tamarisk Coalition
- The Nature Conservancy
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Partners for Fish and Wildlife
- University of Utah – Rio Mesa Center
- Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
- Walton Family Foundation
- Western Colorado Conservation Corps
Watershed Plan & Description of Work to be Accomplished
In 2010, stakeholders completed the Dolores River Riparian Action Plan (DR-RAP) to articulate the science-driven vision, goals, and site selection criteria of the DRRP as well as to facilitate increased collaboration, adaptive management, and information exchange across the Dolores River for the ultimate goal of achieving large-scale meaningful success.
Given the variety of public agencies and private landowners engaged in restoration work within the partnership, DR-RAP was felt to be—and remains today—an important guiding tool that effectively established shared goals and a level of consistency for restoring riparian plant communities along the Dolores River across six counties, four Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Offices, and two states. This consistency was established through a set of prioritization criteria, dictating where restoration should occur, as well as with an outline of restoration methods that extended from initial treatments to short and long-term monitoring and maintenance.
DR-RAP identifies approximately 1,900 acres of riparian habitat along the Dolores River that have been prioritized for active treatment; this includes a variety of treatments, including control of invasive plants (e.g. tamarisk, Siberian elm, and Russian knapweed), planting and seeding select sites with native species of grasses, shrubs, and trees (e.g. coyote willow, cottonwoods, inland salt grass, and four-wing saltbush), and installing cattle guards and other infrastructure as part of ongoing grazing management efforts in the riparian corridor.
Looking ahead, the DRRP expects to complete initial tamarisk treatments on public lands by the end of 2018, with heavy lifting (e.g. tamarisk resprouts, secondary weeds, active revegetation) continuing for the next three to four years. While a few sites have already transitioned into less-intensive maintenance mode, we anticipate that most project sites will make this transition by 2018.
To date, the DRRP has invested over $7 million in the Dolores River and communities in and near the watershed. These investments have supported a variety of activities (e.g. restoration work, training & educational events, important science and research) that have created hundreds of jobs for young people and local contractors.
Sources of Funding
- Bureau of Land Management
- Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife
- Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund
- Colorado River Water Conservation District
- Colorado State Forest Service
- Colorado Water Conservation Board
- Commission for Environmental Cooperation
- David & Lucile Packard Foundation
- El Pomar Foundation
- Hendricks Charitable Foundation
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
- National Resource Conservation Service
- National Wild Turkey Federation
- North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action
- Packard Foundation
- Partners for Fish and Wildlife
- Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative
- Walton Family Foundation
While we have had many successes on the ground, perhaps the greatest achievement has been the partnership itself. In 2009 we realized that a piecemeal approach toward large landscape restoration along the Dolores was going to be insufficient. Collaboration and shared decision-making across public and private land parcels was necessary to achieve our goals of restoring health to streamside habitat.
The creating and sustaining of the DRRP has provided a model to others in a variety of ways, including: working effectively over large spatial scales and with a variety of partners; incorporating equity into processes for hiring and working with private contractors; proactive, sophisticated planning for long-term maintenance; and supporting Conservation Corps crews in professional development. Recently, the partnership developed an innovative internship program, which pairs exceptional Corps members with public land managers from the Bureau of Land Management. Bridging all four DR-RAP goals, the internship program bolsters the young adults’ experience and skill set while also increasing effectiveness and efficiency of restoration work with highly trained interns.
In 2014, the DRRP was selected as the winner of the 2014 Colorado Collaboration Award, a $50,000 prize which recognizes excellence and innovation in nonprofit partnerships. The partnership intends to use this award money to leverage additional contributions and establish a fund that will support restoration work and long-term stewardship of the Dolores River. Click here for the full press release.
The Dolores River is remote, making access a key management challenge. In terms of the ecology, managers and private landowners face a variety of hurdles: some soils are characterized by high-salinity levels and disturbance from historic grazing; many sites are inundated with several invasive species (e.g. Russian knapweed) that require several years of intensive treatment; and the altered flow regime created by McPhee Dam provides a set of constraints (e.g. where and how riparian plant species may be planted).
Website and Contact Information
For more information, visit the DRRP website or contact one of the DRRP representatives below:
Rusty Lloyd: Program Coordinator, Tamarisk Coalition (contact for the Core Team)
Mike Wight, Ancestral Lands Regional Director, Southwest Conservation Corps
Marsha Porter-Norton, Facilitator, Dolores River Restoration Partnership (contact for the Core Team)