Restoring rivers: Dolores River Restoration Partnership wins statewide award

Telluride Daily Planet
September 30th, 2014
By Heather Sackett
A regional river restoration program that works in San Miguel County has won a state award for outstanding nonprofit collaboration.
The Dolores River Restoration Partnership has won the 2014 Colorado Collaboration Award, a $50,000 prize recognizing excellence and innovation in nonprofit partnerships. Since 2009, the public-private collaborative of landowners, nonprofit organizations and government agencies has been working to remove invasive plants and restore the riparian corridor. The partnership includes team members from The Nature Conservancy, the Southwest Conservation Corps, the Tamarisk Coalition and the Bureau of Land Management.
The Dolores River runs from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains near Wilson Peak, through the canyon country of San Miguel County’s West End to its meeting with the Colorado River 250 miles downstream. For many of those miles, the Dolores is choked with invasive tamarisk, Russian knapweed and Canada thistle, all of which can lower the river’s biodiversity and alter its flow. Since 2009, the DRRP has been working to rid the riverbanks of invasive species.
According to Rusty Lloyd, programs director of the Grand Junction-based Tamarisk Coalition, invasive species usually have more rapid seed production than native plants and can slowly take over an area, creating a mono-culture.“The healthiest rivers have high biodiversity with lots of plants and birds and mammals,” Lloyd said. “Once they kind of grab ahold, they create a monoculture and lower the biodiversity. Another thing (invasives) do is they don’t allow the river to function as it normally does… It just hampers that ability of that system to do what it’s supposed to do.”
The DRRP works in five counties: Dolores, San Miguel, Montrose and Mesa in Colorado, as well as Grand County, Utah.
In San Miguel County, much of the work has been focused in Disappointment Creek in Disappointment Valley, a tributary of the Dolores. The group works with seven landowners on the creek to remove large stands of tamarisk with chainsaws and excavators and following up by treating resprouts of the plant. Sometimes, the group introduces seeds of native grasses and shrubs and the tamarisk leaf beetle, which is a natural predator of the plant.
Tamarisk is a flowering shrub native to Asia and North Africa that can form dense thickets. According to Daniel Oppenheimer, restoration coordinator at the Tamarisk Coalition and coordinator of the DRRP, the plant was first introduced to the American Southwest in the 1800s to stabilize riverbanks and as an ornamental tree. He said the group will use the $50,000 to develop a partnership fund that will fund a variety of monitoring, maintenance and education programs.
More than 200 kids and young adults have been trained through the program.
“This is not just about getting the work done, but training these young people in the skills to build toward these successful careers,” Oppenheimer said. “A big part of what we do is share our knowledge.”
Oppenheimer said the Colorado Nonprofit Association judged applicants on five criteria: depth of collaboration, the impact of the programs, innovative responsiveness to a specific challenge, whether the model can be replicated, effective community engagement and demonstration of nonprofit best practices. What the DRRP does best, Oppenheimer said, is transcend the barriers between all the organizations that are a part of the DRRP.
“What we’ve done is to remove and erase all those barriers and boundaries to work together and share resources and equipment and lessons,” he said. “I think that’s something that really does distinguish us: We transcend the boundaries.”
Lloyd said he and several other members of the coalition will be traveling to Denver to accept the award at the Oct. 6 Colorado Nonprofit Association’s Fall Conference & Exhibition.
“It’s very humbling that we won,” Lloyd said. “It’s a very prestigious award.”

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