THE waters of the San Luis Valley are a crucial part of life for the people and wildlife that call it home. Particularly tied to these water sources are the multitudes of bird species that reside in the area year-round, seasonally, or even just briefly during migration. As conditions become drier and water scarcer, collaboration and creative solutions on all fronts have grown to make the most of the available water supply. This is particularly relevant for riparian and wetland habitat for bird populations.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plays an important role in this effort by managing a number of riparian and wetland areas, including the Blanca Wetlands, McIntire/Simpson property and the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA). The BLM has many ongoing riparian and wetland habitat improvement projects, including riparian exclosures and fencing on the RGNA to protect portions of these delicate riparian habitats for nesting.

Unsurprisingly, water availability is a concern for even healthy habitats, which is why the BLM uses its water rights to irrigate these lands to mimic natural wetting and drying processes and provide habitat when species’ need it the most, whether for nesting or migration or other life cycle needs. In addition to the management of its own lands, collaborations with groups such as the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and others are improving willow habitat along riverbanks, benefitting bird species such as the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Though there are challenges, the future is hopeful. 

Sue Swift-Miller, who has worked as a wildlife biologist in BLM Colorado’s San Luis Valley Field Office for about 20 years,

This article was brought to you by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. The roundtable meets the second Tuesday of the month. If we are in-person, we are meeting at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, 8805 Independence Way, Alamosa, CO 81101. Due to Covid restrictions we are also offering a Zoom option. We welcome your attendance but encourage checking the Roundtable website at prior to the meeting to see if an in-person option is available.

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says, “It’s really exciting getting to work with such great partners and to be providing habitat for these species.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), like the BLM, works both independently and with partners to protect and enhance habitat for the benefit of birds. Collaboration with other entities in the Valley has been foundational to CPW’s efforts thus far, most notably with Ducks Unlimited and Wetland Dynamics. 

These two private organizations help CPW acquire funding for projects, research bird populations, and manage water use in riparian and wetland areas. CPW also works with farmers and ranchers on and near riparian and wetland areas, helping educate and inform them about practices that are beneficial to their production as well as wildlife. While this effort has presented a certain level of difficulty, the results work to benefit everyone involved.

Tony Aloia, wildlife technician with CPW, says, “Seeing [private landowners] sometimes progress away from what has always been to what is obviously a better way is pretty rewarding … to hear your message being heard.” 

Rotational grazing, preventing overgrazing, and other such practices have helped these landowners get more production value from their land, while simultaneously contributing to wildlife and species preservation through increased suitable habitat and less disturbed nesting periods. 

Sometimes these collaborations and projects can be challenging as well, but CPW’s staff enjoy the work they do and see the benefits it offers. 

Tyler Cerny, who works as a district wildlife manager for CPW, says, “My favorite part of [the job] is seeing the collaboration and people in the community … come together for one common goal, and that is wildlife.” 

Aloia added that one of his favorite aspects of this work is “seeing the wildlife, and seeing your work actually have some impact.”

While changes in climate and water supply challenges will continue to be pressing issues, the management of riparian and wetland habitat in the Rio Grande Basin is adapting to meet them through collaboration and innovation.

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