Wetlands conserved in the Smith Fork Valley

Montrose Daily Press, December 21, 2021—Colorado West Land Trust, working with the Crawford Clipper Ditch Company and Bureau of Reclamation, on Dec. 17 conserved 42.5 acres as part of a habitat replacement project in Delta County.

The project is part of the Salinity Control Program, authorized by the Salinity Control Act, which stipulates that the loss of fish and wildlife habitats from implementation of salinity projects be replaced so there is no habitat loss.

The CCDC and Bureau began the project to replace open, earthen irrigation ditches with buried pipe to prevent selenium loading in the Colorado River watershed. To mitigate for the lost habitat that occurs in association with the piping, the CCDC has partnered with Colorado West Land Trust to perpetually conserve company-owned wetland and has developed a 50-year habitat management plan with the Bureau.

“This is the first agreement of this kind between a ditch company and Bureau of Reclamation where a conservation easement was put into place in exchange for habitat credit,” said Clipper Ditch President Mark LeValley.

“This effort owes a debt of gratitude to Clipper Ditch Board members, Mike Cleary and Tony Vervloet who had the foresight to research this idea and encouraged all involved to think outside of the box. This will be a template for other ditch companies to follow.”

Conservation of the property with Colorado West Land Trust ensures that the natural wetlands remain as natural, scenic open space for wildlife habitat forever.

The wetlands are located in the Smith Fork Valley, on the western flank of the West Elk Mountains. It adjoins a mix of ranch and farm lands, and public lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The property boasts beautiful riparian woodland to the south and pinyon-juniper woodlands with dramatic rock formations to the north. The Smith Fork, a perennial stream, traverses the land in a relatively broad floodplain for nearly a half mile.

“Conservation of valuable riparian and wetland habitat is an important aspect of the Act and we are excited about the new long-term habitat that will benefit multiple species for generations to come, as well as the benefits of salinity reduction and water conservation from the piping of the Crawford Clipper Ditch system” said Ed Warner, Western Colorado Area office manager.

The property is managed primarily to convey irrigation water rights of the Crawford Clipper Ditch Company’s shareholders. The property adjoins public land that connects to other conserved private lands and the Gunnison National Forest, creating a large block of contiguous open space.

“We are happy to celebrate this new partnership between a CCDC, the Bureau, and CWLT and hope this will be the first of many such partnerships,” Ilana Moir, director of conservation at CWLT, said.

“With the project, we are playing a role in ensuring farmers and ranchers are delivered consistently delivered their shares of water, cleaner water is draining into the rivers, and wetlands are permanently protected for wildlife. This is a real win-win-win for all in the area.”

Colorado West Land Trust, a private, charitable nonprofit organization, has conserved over 126,000 acres across Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties. To learn more about CWLT’s work and to contribute to Land Trust efforts, visit https://cowestlandtrust.org/.

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