The Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) Wet Meadows Restoration Project is focused on improving the ecological health and function of high elevation meadows across the RGNF. When healthy, wet meadows help maintain streamflows and provide habitat for many at-risk fish species, such as the Rio Grande chub, sucker, and cutthroat trout. Over the years, these fish species have faced decline due to habitat loss, predation and competition from non-native species, wildfire, climate change, and disease. Additionally, riparian areas in the upper Rio Grande have ben impacted over time by road encroachment, development, recreation, grazing, mining, and other human activity. The North American beaver can be a valuable tool for watershed restoration as their dams have the ability to enhance aquatic habitat, improve channel function, and reestablish riparian vegetation.
This project is partnership between the RGNF, RGHRP, and local stakeholders to harness the restoration potential of beavers to address impacts to aquatic species and riparian areas across the headwaters.
4/30/2021 - Last fall, Forest Service and Restoration Project staff constructed a Temporary Wood Grade Structure (TWGS) near Saguache Park as a pilot project for future work. Project partners hope to begin beaver trapping and relocation this June.
This project seeks to protect native fish populations and restore wet meadow condition on the RGNF through the following activities:
GIS modeling will be used to initially characterize habitat within Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) to identify suitable locations for restoration and beaver relocation. Once key locations are determined using the model, they will be ground truthed with help from Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC). Staff from RGNF, RGHRP, and VOC volunteers will survey these sites to determine which are optimal for restoration.
The highest priority streams as determined by Task 1 will be restored with willow cuttings, seeding, and low-tech stream restoration methods. This includes constructing structures to counter stream incision by reducing velocity and reconnecting the channel to the floodplain.
Led by the RGNF, project partners will work to reintroduce beavers to suitable sites as identified in Task 1 or restored in Task 2. This effort will include the trapping and relocation of problematic beavers from the San Luis Valley floor into these sites, where they can maintain meadow function without negatively impacting human infrastructure. Family units will be moved together to maximize the likelihood of permanent establishment. The result will be long term, self-sustained benefits to watershed health, improving both aquatic and riparian habitat.
Sites will be monitored annually for three years following project implementation to determine the effectiveness of the previous Tasks. Monitoring will be completed by RGNF and RGHRP staff with assistance from community volunteers.
The activities described above will benefit watershed health, riparian corridors, and native aquatic species. Specific project outcomes include:
Rio Grande Forest Service
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
Southwest Conservation Corps
US Forest Service
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation