Three Conservation Corps Teams Are Working to Remove Invasive Species Along the Dolores River

Article appeared on The Nature Conservancy website.

DAUNTING TASK

Tamarisk may think they’re going to take over the area surrounding the Dolores River. We advise them to think again. On the Dolores, three conservation corps are on the job. The Canyon Country Youth Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Southwest Conservation Corps are taking on one of the west’s most daunting restoration challenges – removing invasive species such as tamarisk along 175 miles of the river, which runs through southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah. 

It’s a job for those with strong wills and strong backs. Young people, ages 18-26, from diverse backgrounds, are hired by the Conservation Corps for eight to twelve week stints. They work long days in the elements, camp and cook together. 

Weighed down with 18 pound chainsaws and 20-pound daypacks, they may hike up to 2 miles to a work site every day. As soon as they arrive, chainsaws buzz for eight hours. 

As Conservation Corps member Jake Lee writes in his blog, the work is grueling yet meaningful. “I hear relatively few words and fewer laughs being exchanged on the hike back to the truck. We are spent. Covered from head to toe with dust, dirt, and wood chips, our sweat-soaked shirts are beginning to dry. We are hungry and thirsty. Yet we aren't dragging our sore feet or slouching with bowed heads under the weight we carry. We move with purpose.” 

 

CARVING A PATH

While the restoration work improves the river, reduces wildfire risk and ensures recreation opportunities, Corps members are also carving a path for their future. 

“I applied for the chainsaw crew to learn a new skill set, to experience something vastly different from the last four years that I spent in college, and to challenge myself to whatever it took to get through the program,” says Hanna DeSalvo of Durango, Colorado. 

“We deal with changing plans constantly but still accomplish our work and personal goals in spite of this,” says Chris Panawa. “If you can finish a season, you finish it with new skills and abilities that can benefit all aspects of your life.” 

While earning job skills, corps members also earn Americorps Education Awards, which go toward student loans or furthering education. So far, $89,000 has been awarded to young people to improve their future.  

 

TRUTH ABOUT TAMARISK

To fully understand the important work corps members are doing, you need to know about the impact tamarisk has on our environment. Since being introduced as an ornamental plant and windbreak in the mid-1800s, the pesky plant has spread to cover 1.6 million acres across the West, mostly along streams. The plant, also known as a salt cedar, threatens native cottonwood and willow trees because it grows in dense stands, can produce up to 500,000 seeds per plant, and increases salinity in soils. Tamarisk also sucks water, increases wildfire spread, chokes rivers and alters stream flows. 

Because of the growing tamarisk threat, the Conservation Corps, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management and others launched the Dolores River Restoration Partnership in 2009. So far, the effort has created 175 jobs for young adults and restored 821 acres.

 

KEY TO SUCCESS

“Strong partnerships are the key to conservation successes,” says Mike Wight, Conservation Corps River Restoration Director. “We know that by working together we can protect our lands and waters for generations to come.” 

“Mike is fostering and inspiring a new generation of conservationists who are committed to solving our most pressing challenges,” adds Peter Mueller, the Conservancy’s southwest Colorado program director. 

The Nature Conservancy has been committed to developing solutions for Colorado’s most important lands and waters for nearly 40 years. Our focus on the Dolores is to restore the river to good health while meeting the needs of people. 

As the river improves, lives are changing, “I have seen my fellow crew members grow physically stronger, fitter, healthier, more agile and mentally tougher – more confident, more determined, more resilient, more adaptable, more eager to overcome challenges without hesitation,” adds Lee. 

A program designed to eradicate invasive plants is also empowering young people to become future conservationists. 

Several Corps Receive High Honor from The Nature Conservancy for River Restoration Work

Republished from The Nature Conservancy Website

Youth Conservation and Education Programs in the Spotlight

The Southwest Conservation Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Canyon Country Youth Corps, as well as their river restoration director, Mike Wight, have received the Phil James Conservation Award
 
DENVER | December 12, 2013

The Nature Conservancy is proud to announce the Southwest Conservation Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Canyon Country Youth Corps, along with their river restoration director, Mike Wight, as the recipients of the Phil JamesConservation Award. The Phil James Conservation Award is given to an individual or organization for extraordinary contributions or achievements that further the mission of The Nature Conservancy.

This award honors Phil James’ unsurpassed passion and dedication for conservation. He began volunteering for The Nature Conservancy in 1986 when he helped found theNebraska Chapter. Through the years, he served on the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees in Nebraska, Colorado and Alaska. James works tirelessly to support the Conservancy. His leadership and generosity has made an impact on us and for future generations

The Nature Conservancy in Colorado is paying tribute to Wight and the Conservation Corps for their willingness to take on one of the west’s most daunting restoration challenges – removing invasive plants and restoring habitat along 175 miles of the Dolores River, a tributary of the Colorado River. Additionally, the Conservation Corps worked along the Gunnison River. They built rock structures to improve wetland habitat. Corps members, ages 18-26, have diverse backgrounds and are selected from local communities and across the country. Through the restoration work, corps members are learning valuable life and job skills.

“Mike goes the extra mile when it comes to engaging young people,” says Peter Mueller, the Conservancy’s southwest Colorado program director. “He is fostering and inspiring a new generation of conservationists who are committed to solving our most pressing challenges.”

“Strong partnerships are the key to conservation successes,” says Mike Wight, River Restoration Director. “We are grateful to The Nature Conservancy and many other partners who support these important programs. We know that by working together we can protect our lands and waters for generations to come.”The Conservation Corps are credited with getting young people on the right track and shaping our future.

“Mike’s passionate leadership has put so many young men and women in places where they contribute, learn and change the way they see themselves,” adds Tim Sullivan, the Conservancy in Colorado’s state director.

So far, working with these three corps programs, the Dolores River Restoration Partnership has created 175 jobs for young adults and restored 821 acres. This is part of an even bigger effort to create a 21st Century Conservation Service Corpsthrough the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The goal of 21st CSC is increase youth opportunities in the country from a current 30,000 to 100,000 on an annual basis.  This Initiative will put Americans to work, protect our greatest treasures, and build America’s future.

 

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.

 

Boiler Plate: 
The Southwest Conservation Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Canyon Country Youth Corps, as well as their river restoration director, Mike Wight, have received the Phil James Conservation Award.

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

Three Corps Collaborate for Dolores River Restoration Project


 

Photos and story taken from the Colorado Youth Corps Association Facebook page 

Photo credit: Jacob W. Frank, Social Media and Capacity Building Coordinator, Four Corners School of Outdoor Education (more of Jake's photos of the Dolores River Restoration Project can be found here)

Tamarisk: The most beastly of plants! Western Colorado Conservation CorpsSouthwest Conservation Corps and Utah’s Canyon Country Youth Corps are the primary implementation partners for the Dolores River Restoration Project, which since 2009 has led restoration efforts along the Dolores River. The primary goal? To tackle the beastly tamarisk plant, which is infesting 175 miles of the Dolores below McPhee Reservoir. These areas are impacted by tamarisk and other invasive plants that adversely affect the diversity and function of riparian habitat. Tamarisk trees out-compete native vegetation, reduce the diversity of wildlife habitat, increase the risk of wildfire intensity, armor river banks, increase soil salinity, and decrease access for wildlife and recreationists to the river.
 


Photo caption from CYCA: 
Members apply learned techniques regarding safe chainsaw use, tamarisk treatment, and biomass management.
 


Photo caption from CYCA: 
Training is packed with education, meeting with land managers, guest speakers, and presentations. Here, Daniel Oppenheimer of the Tamarisk Coalition presents on the scope of the DRRP, the work of the partnership and the dynamics of the introduced tamarisk leaf beetle in western river systems.
 

2010 Project of the Year: The Dolores River Restoration Program

Winner: Canyon Country Youth Corps

Region-wide conservation removing invasive species and restoring native vegetation has been planned and will be carried out in a five-year action plan thanks to a unique partnership between Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) and Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC): The Dolores River Restoration Program. The catalyst for the project was The Walton Family Foundation's Freshwater Initiative - and through technical guidance and funding, the Foundation expects to expand its efforts to four other tributaries of the Colorado River.

SCC and CCYC provided each Corpsmember with over 120 hours of training in chainsaw operations, basic GPC monitoring and data collection, river ecology, noxious weed identification, and introductory herbicide application training. Crews have contributed 4,500 hours monitoring and treating over 34 river miles. At the end of the program, SCC and CCYC assisted Corpsmembers in connecting with federal jobs.

These two initial Corps - SCC and CCYC - expect to codify the program model for replication by other Corps across the Colorado River Basin and other similar areas.