American Avocet.
American Avocet.

American Avocet. Photo: Kirk Benson/Audubon Photography Awards
American Avocet. Photo: Kirk Benson/Audubon Photography Awards

Western Rivers Initiative

Grand Valley Audubon's Wetlands Restoration Project Is Underway

How an Audubon chapter is restoring habitat along the Colorado River.

The past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed our lives, our work, and our priorities. We ride a wave of change that will shape our lives into the future. However, birds continue to live on the migratory currents of spring and fall. As birds migrate to and through Colorado, we have exciting news to share.

At this very moment, shallow water wetlands for migrating birds are in the first phase of construction and restoration on Grand Valley Audubon’s 60-acre parcel adjacent to the mainstem Colorado River. For those who know and use the Audubon Nature Preserve, this is an exciting and transformative time; four years in the making! (Read more on the history of this project.)

Waterfowl, other birds, and other wildlife depend upon riparian (stream and riverside) and wetland habitat for reliable food, water, and shelter. Many species use these freshwater habitats as they make their way to northern breeding grounds, as they have for generations. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency report, up to 80 percent of vertebrate species depend on riparian habitat during all or part of their life cycles. But these habitats have been in decline throughout the western US as habitat destruction, development, drainage, and drought continue.

Wetlands are critical stopover habitat for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. The Audubon Nature Preserve is located on the western edge of the Central Flyway, a major migration corridor for North American birds. In addition, it is included in the Grand Valley Riparian Corridor Important Bird Area identified by the National Audubon Society "due to the fact that nearly 300 bird species have used the lowland riparian vegetation in the Grand Valley over the last 15 years, including nearly 70 breeding species and over 70 wintering species. American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and White-faced Ibis often forage shallow water, muddy ponds, or mudflats.

A Black-Necked stilt forages in a shallow wetland. Photo: Peter Brannon/Audubon Photography Awards

Thanks to many partners and supporters like Audubon Rockies, National Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, RiversEdge West, Forever Our Rivers, Desert Ecosystem Analysis and Restoration, Western Colorado Community Foundation, and many more, we secured the funding needed to transform a section of the preserve into new wetlands for wildlife, viable habitat, and islands of hope for migratory and resident birds.

In March 2020, the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted to approve $50,000 from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Fund grant. Combined with $25,000 from the Colorado Basin Roundtable and other funding sources, our wetlands construction project is becoming a reality! During the vote to approve funds, Madam Chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Celene Hawkins, commended the Grand Valley Audubon project on its strength through many partnerships.

The restoration site currently at the Audubon Nature Preserve. Photo: Abby Burk

Currently, contractors are moving dirt to partially fill and alter stagnant old gravel pit shorelines to create four acres of shallow-water emergent vegetation wetlands. Our partnership with Ducks Unlimited allows them to plan, permit, administer, and manage construction on our behalf. The final work of Phase 1 will include the installation of a water diversion control structure from a nearby canal allowing seasonal control over water levels into these new wetlands. Phase 2 will be completed by July 2023 and involve borrow and fill on a smaller historically wet area to create another shallow wetland pond.

With dedication and patience, Grand Valley Audubon has harnessed the power of community, local, state, and national partnerships in providing solutions for enhancing this critical wetland habitat. We remain indebted for partner support and funding commitments to improve and provide much needed riparian and wetland habitat for birds along the Colorado River corridor.

These are exciting times for Grand Valley Audubon. All of this is great news for birds and the community of Grand Junction. Stay tuned for future updates.

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