05.28.13

Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership Project Takes Place in McInnis Canyons

Last week, a group of eight Western Colorado Youth Corps (WCCC) members completed a challenging restoration project on part of the Colorado River that flows through McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, near Grand Junction, CO. Using chainsaws for the better part of a week, the crew worked 10-hour days on remote, steep terrain to rid the riverbanks of tamarisk—a densely growing invasive species that harms wildlife, chokes out native plants and, in many places, makes it nearly impossible for people to find enough room to pitch camp. Once the tamarisk is gone, native species such as willows and cottonwoods are better able to thrive—and so are many wildlife species.

“Our first night here, we had two bighorn sheep run right through the canyon. We could see them walking along that high ridge for quite a while,” said Sam Parks, a crew leader.  “It’s always great to see the wildlife out here.” Originally from West Virginia, Parks returned for his second stint with WCCC and serve as a crew leader for the project.

Ages 18 to 24, corps members receive an hourly wage, various tool and technical trainings, and are eligible for education grants and awards.  The experience introduces them to land conservation principles, and it can also help them gain other employment opportunities with state and federal land management agencies.

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Members of this youth corps crew worked in partnership with staff from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, part of the National Conservation Lands – 28 million acres of protected lands known for their culturally, ecologically and scientifically significant landscapes – managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The project was made possible by a donation of $10,000 from Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), one of Canada’s largest corporate donors and contributors to charitable organizations worldwide, to the Conservation Lands Foundation.

The funding supports the first project by a new Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership initiated by the Conservation Lands Foundation last fall aimed at enhancing water quality, wildlife habitat and creating jobs on National Conservation Lands. The partnership is a unique collaboration of private funders, Colorado Youth Corps Association, veterans and community volunteers.

Staff and board members of the Conservation Lands Foundation are especially excited to see how Royal Bank of Canada’s donation literally put “boots on the ground” for restoration—an important part of CLF’s organization’s mission, which is “to protect, restore and expand the national conservation lands through education, advocacy and partnerships.”

The $10,000 gift from RBC is part of the bank’s “Blue Water Project,” launched in 2007. The Blue Water Project is a wide-ranging, multi-year program to help foster a culture of water stewardship in Canada and abroad. RBC has committed in excess of $36 million to more than 500 organizations for awareness, education and on-the-ground programs that protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water.

A 26-mile stretch of the Colorado River–one of the most important rivers in the western U.S. and recently named by American Rivers as the nation’s most endangered river–flows through McInnis Canyons, bordering the Black Ridge Wilderness on one side. The stretch is popular for recreational boating and camping, and according to BLM Park Ranger Troy Schnurr, the BLM has worked since 2001 to improve habitat and better manage the river for scores of people who come every summer to paddle, fish and camp out.

Cutting out tamarisk is a long-term endeavor; it takes several crews working over several seasons to make progress. But the on-going projects, like the one just completed by the current WCCC crew, is important because tamarisk and another common invasive species, Russian olive, are deep-rooted plants that obtain water from permanent ground supplies or from the water table. They present a threat to the river’s water supply that is needed by native flora and fauna as well as by the river’s water recreation users.

Since 2001, the BLM with help from youth corps crews have removed tamarisk from 65 acres along the river in McInnis Canyons. They have protected 270 standing Freemont cottonwood trees and planted more than 120 new ones—a native tree that grows tall and provides much sought-after shade, as well as strong roots that help stabilize the riverbanks and prevent erosion.  The work will continue and, thanks to the success of this first Veterans-Youth Corps Partnership project, we expect to see similar projects take place around the West on other places in the National Conservation Lands.

Television station KREX in Grand Junction did a news story about the project. You can also read this article about the partnership, which appeared in the Summit County Voice.