Escalante River Watershed Partnership

  

Created in 2009, the mission of the Escalante River Watershed Partnership (ERWP) is to restore and maintain the natural ecological conditions of the Escalante River and its watershed and involve local communities in promoting and implementing sustainable land and water use practices.  ERWP, a coalition of private and public agencies, groups, and individuals, is joining with local communities in a coordinated effort to protect and maintain a healthy river and watershed for future generations. The ERWP is focused on improving the health of the entire watershed, with special emphasis on the removal of Russian olive from the Escalante River and its tributaries. Over 6,000 acres have been targeted for treatment, with over half of the river treated to date. 

Watershed Concerns

In a place where water is scarce and demands are great, the Escalante faces mounting challenges. As population grows, so does the demand for new water development projects. Increasing tourism and recreation have also impacted natural systems throughout the watershed, which is home to popular visitor destinations, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. At the same time, the quality and quantity of river flows are threatened by declining beaver populations, bark beetle infestations, ailing aspen forests, decreased snowpack and hotter, drier conditions.
 
One of the greatest threats to river and riparian ecosystem health is the introduction and spread of invasive species. Non-native trees like Russian olive and tamarisk compete with native vegetation, choke water flows and reduce wildlife habitat. These invasive plants have largely resisted control efforts by public land managers, remaining prevalent throughout watershed and re-invading previously cleared areas. With the appearance of the tamarisk leaf beetle, additional control and restoration work will be needed in riparian zones as tamarisk trees are defoliated and begin to die. The introduction of non native fish into the river and its tributaries has contributed to the decline of native fish populations throughout the watershed.

Goals

The overarching goal of the ERWP is to restore and maintain the natural ecological conditions of the Escalante River and its watershed and involve local communities in promoting and implementing sustainable land and water use practices.

Participants

  • Boulder Community Alliance
  • Color Country Cooperative Weed Management Area
  • Dixie National Forest, US Forest Service
  • Escalante Canyon Outfitters
  • Four Corners School/Canyon Country Youth Corps
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, National Park Service
  • Grand Canyon Trust
  • Grand Canyon Wildlands Council
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bureau of Land Management
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners
  • Great Old Broads for Wilderness
  • Individual Private Landowners
  • Rim to Rim Restoration
  • Tamarisk Coalition
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Trout Unlimited
  • US Fish & Wildlife Service/Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program
  • Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands
  • Utah Division of Water Quality
  • Wild Utah Project
  • Wilderness Volunteers

Watershed Plan & Description of Work to be Accomplished

The ERWP has developed a science-based Action Plan that will guide efforts to restore the functions and processes of a healthy watershed. Key goals and tactics include:

  • Woody Invasive Control: ERWP is implementing an ambitious 5-year plan to significantly reduce the spread of Russian olive and tamarisk on both private and public lands in the watershed.
  • Active Restoration: Where appropriate, partners are restoring critical habitat by planting native trees and plants in areas where woody invasive vegetation has been removed.
  • Monitoring: A long-term monitoring program is providing feedback to land managers about the success of specific restoration tactics.
  • Beaver Assessments: Partners are identifying suitable habitat for the reintroduction of beaver, and supporting recreation management to protect these areas.
  • Native Fish Habitat Restoration: Partners are identifying areas where the impacts of non-native fish can be lessened and native fish populations can be increased and expanded; and implementing projects to increase connectivity for native fish and educate local communities on the importance of native fish conservation.
  • Science & Research: Scientists are studying water quality and quantity issues, the impacts of the tamarisk beetle and the effectiveness of invasive tree removal and revegetation efforts.
  • Education & Awareness: Partners are communicating with the public about the ecological values of the Escalante, working with private landowners as they restore their lands and providing opportunities for individuals and private and public organizations to participate in volunteer monitoring and restoration projects.

Project Timeline

The ERWP is currently implementing tasks outlined the ten-year Action Plan that was the product of an extensive Conservation Action Planning process.  Woody invasives removal, which is detailed in the ERWP's Woody Invasives Control Plan, an appendix to the Action Plan, is currently complete for approximately half of the watershed, with the remainder of the work to be completed over the next 3-4 years. 

Sources of Funding

  • National Park Service
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • National Forest Foundation
  • Utah Partners for Conservation and Development
  • Utah Department of Agriculture and Food
  • Utah Department of Fire, Forestry and State Lands
  • Conservation Lands Foundation
  • Backcountry. com
  • Patagonia
  • Wilburforce
  • In-Kind Contributions

Notable Accomplishments

  • To date, over half of the river corridor has been treated, as have all of the side drainages, except for Alvey and Harris Washes.
  • Utah Division of Wildlife, working cooperatively with the Forest Service and other partners, has expanded Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat from 8.2 miles in the 1990s to over 62 miles of habitat in 2013.
  • ERWP was identified as an America’s Great Outdoors River Initiative project.
  • The watershed hosted a Conservation Corps crew training event in 2013 that taught over 80 youth the skills needed to efficiently work as cohesive crews to effectively restore riparian areas. Backcountry camping and survival skills were also taught. 
  • ERWP successfully hosted two Leave it to Beaver Festivals to educate the community about the benefit of beaver within the watershed.
    • The ERWP was also the focus of ECONorthwest's first ever report entitled "The Economic Value of Beaver Ecosystem Services".  Beaver dam capacity was subsequently mapped for the watershed by Utah State University Watershed Sciences. 

Challenges

Much of the watershed is difficult to access, making crew  logistics and transport difficult. The remoteness of the landscape also complicates maintenance of treated sites.  Obtaining long-term funding to monitor and maintain the work that has been completed remains an ongoing challenge. 

Websites 

Contact Information

Kristina Waggoner: Project Coordinator, Escalante River Watershed Partnership & Grand Staircase Escalante Partners
435.826.5613; kris@gsenm.org
 
Sue Fearon:  Regional Coordinator, Boulder Community Alliance
435.691.3037; scferon@hughes.net
 
Linda Whitham: Central Canyonlands Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy
435.259.4214; lwhitham@tnc.org 

 

Tamarisk Coalition's

mission is to advance the restoration of riparian lands through collaboration, education, and technical assistance.

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