Lands along Alamosa River corridor were damaged from decades of cattle grazing and drought 


ROSALEE Reese is anxious to return to the Alamosa River corridor in the spring to see the fruits of the summer labor by the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and its volunteers.

Did the cottonwoods they planted along the Alamosa River corridor take? Did it work to transplant clumps of willows?

Heavy cattle grazing through the decades and drought have taken their toll on private ranch land owned by Armando Valdez and his family along the Alamosa River in Conejos County. The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, thanks to a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, took on what they called the Lower Alamosa River Restoration project in an effort to bring the land back to health.

The land trust began its work in May, and through the summer added nearly 3,000 feet of fencing, planted around 200 trees, and added a specially-created native grass seed.

“Things grew really well all through the summer and we had very low mortality,” said Reese, community and stewardship conservation manager for the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. “Things looked awesome. The real test will be what survives the winter and comes back in the spring.”

Riverbank stabilization work downstream from the property was also completed, and more fencing will be added farther east on the property to keep the riparian corridor shut off to cattle grazing.

Riparian corridors are sensitive and they are resilient to an extent,” Reese said. “But if you don’t protect them to some level, over time they’ll start to have negative impacts.”

Persistent drought over the past 20 years is having a toll on the natural wetlands of the Valley – private and public – and work by conservation groups like the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is helping ranchers like Valdez address the issues to better manage their land.

“I think it’s really important to be considering our land management practices and be considering our changing climate and our changing water availability as we move forward in land management,” Reese said. “I think people are doing the best they can, but the water really has dissipated faster than people expected and faster than people have had time to adjust to.”

Long term, said Reese, a healthier Alamosa River corridor with cottonwoods and willows will help with water management and wildlife habitat in the area.

But first things first, and that’s springtime and what survived. Reese has her fingers crossed.

Photos courtesy Rosalee Reese

Leave a comment