02.20.13

Escalante River Watershed Partnership (Pronounced “ERWP?”)

Next week, a working group called the Escalante River Watershed Partnership is holding a meeting in Cedar City, UT to continue its collective efforts to protect and maintain a healthy Escalante River and watershed for future generations. Recognizing that there are changes and challenges unfolding in the region, people from about 25 private and public agencies, groups, organizations and community representatives formed the Escalante River Watershed Partnership in 2009. The group aims to restore and maintain the natural ecological conditions of the river and involve local communities in promoting and implementing sustainable land and water use practices.

The Escalante River is a magnificent waterway in southern Utah that flows 70+ miles through what some people consider the flagship, or one of the most premier areas, within the National Conservation Lands: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Designated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, it was the first area included in the National Conservation Lands—our country’s newest collection of permanently protected lands that rivals our National Parks or National Wildlife Refuges.

The river can be considered this Monument’s major artery, supplying water in an arid region for people, agriculture, recreation, resident wildlife, migrating birds, unusual aquatic species, and at its end, the Colorado River and Lake Powell (see our related blogpost). Demand for water from this river is high and, like so many rivers in the West, the introduction and spread of two non-native species, Russian olive and tamarisk, have harmed the river ecosystem.

The Escalante River Watershed Partnership has been taking action on the ground to get rid of the Russian olive and tamarisk in the river corridor… serious action, as in sending youth corps, conservation corps crews and volunteers to the river corridor for weeks at a time with chainsaws to cut it out. It’s hot, dirty, hard work, but they have made progress. Miles of progress. You can read a good description of the work here, in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In addition to removing invasive species, the group’s science-based Action Plan for the watershed includes restoring critical habitat with native trees and plants where the invasives have been removed; monitoring restoration tactics; finding suitable habitat for reintroducing beaver—an animal that plays a crucial role in the river ecosystem; working to lessen the impacts of non-native fish and restore habitat; studying water quality and quantity issues; working with private landowners as they restore their lands; and educating the public about the river’s ecological values.

There is a Friends Grassroots Network partner involved with much of this restoration work, Grand-Staircase Escalante Partners. To learn more about the project or to volunteer, contact Kris Waggoner, Field Coordinator, Escalante River Watershed Partnership, kris@gsenm.org. There is no web page yet for the Partnership, but you can follow their progress on Facebook.