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Lower Colorado River Restoration Underway

Double-crested cormorants in the former channel of the Colorado River. Trigo mountains in background. Photo by River Partners staff.

Belted kingfisher. Photo by River Partners staff.

In November 2009, Regional Director, Greg Treber, began working at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge (Cibola, AZ), spearheading River Partners’ latest restoration effort along the Lower Colorado River. Building on the restoration feasibility plan River Partners developed for fire-ravaged sections of the Refuge, Greg initiated the first steps for a 65-acre site.

“The USFWS has been a great collaborator with the start of this project,” says Treber. “They’ve been doing a lot of tractor work, ripping up stumps of the tamarisk which used to dominate the site. When the 2006 fire came through the refuge, it burned a lot of tamarisk (salt cedar), an invasive plant that overruns native vegetation. The USFWS’ post-fire treatment and clearing will allow us to come in and start planting.” While the USFWS assisted with the ground preparation, Greg began collecting seeds from various native species and contracted with a local nursery to grow the plants that will be installed.

River Partners always uses seed sources from the watershed where the Lower Colorado River Restoration Underwayrestoration will occur. “The reason we do this is that plants growing near the project site are already adapted to the local climate, soils and hydrology.” says Tom Griggs, Senior Restoration Ecologist. “From a practical standpoint, the plantings will have a higher survival rate.” 

In February 2010, Restoration biologist Jessica Hammond joined Greg in Cibola. Jessica’s visit to the refuge allowed her to gather information about the ecology of the site that will help her to develop the overall restoration plan. She and Greg conducted soil studies that will help her decide how to structure the planting design. Also, she spent some time observing the resident wildlife. “This baseline information will help us assess how the site will change over time,” says Hammond. “So far, it is clear that the Refuge functions as important wildlife corridor,” she adds. “The refuge provides habitat for many species including mule deer, coyote, and many migratory and resident birds including yellow-rumped warbler, say’s phoebe, sandhill crane, yellow-headed blackbird, and northern harrier, among others.”

The above article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of the River Partners Journal.