We Are All Stewards of the Dolores River

Jane Dally, a board member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates in Colorado, wrote the following article for the group’s first newsletter of 2014. It’s a nicely written piece about stewardship and the fundamentals of advocating for places we love: spending time in that place, taking care of it, knowing the issues, and staying vocal. Along the way, she also reminds us why it’s so important. Thanks, Jane, for letting us post your piece here (and to Kate Thompson for the photo):

“Cherish these rivers. Witness for them. Enjoy their unimprovable purpose as you sense it.” David Brower

The concept of environmental stewardship was first suggested, at least contemporarily, by Aldo Leopold, the twentieth century scientist, ecologist and author. According to Leopold, stewardship based on a “land ethic” refers to the responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. The ideas of environmental stewardship were later expanded, specifically to rivers, by David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club and champion of the Grand Canyon.

These were, indeed, great men who accomplished great feats for wild lands and wild rivers. “But,” you may ask, “what does being a ‘steward’ of the land have to do with me?” The Dolores River Boating Advocates (DRBA) believe that we can all act as advocates, caretakers and preservers of the lands and rivers of our community, in particular the Dolores River.

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River prayer flags fly at a DRBA annual meeting. Photo by Charlotte Overby

There have been many studies done that have shown that when community members feel a sense of connection to their surroundings (i.e., the natural and man-made features around them) they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for the care of those surroundings. This sense of ownership and responsibility, in turn, has been shown to facilitate positive community action toward the preservation and enhancement of community resources, such as rivers. This community action is environmental stewardship in practice.

Within the fields of ecology and environmental education, there exists a concept that describes the above phenomenon. It’s called the Awareness to Action model, and it outlines stages that individuals and groups go through in their movement toward environmental stewardship. First, an awareness and appreciation of one’s natural surroundings must be nurtured. We do this by spending time on/in/with the land and rivers of our region. Next, we gain knowledge and understanding related to our natural surroundings and how human systems are interconnected with them. Through that, we develop attitudes and values that demonstrate our respect and concern for the health of the land and waterways in our area, and the ethical motivation to participate in environmental stewardship activities. Finally, we apply that motivation by taking personal responsibility and action in specific and practical ways as stewards of the earth.

Translated to you as an individual in our local community and to the Dolores River, there are many ways to be environmental stewards:

  • Spend time at/in/on/with the river: sitting, walking, wading, swimming, fishing, boating. Get to know the Dolores River personally in its many sections and seasons. Remember: this is the first and most important step in moving toward stewardship!
  • Learn about the Dolores River: its headwaters, course and outlet; its geographical, geological and hydrological features; the animals, plants and fish that live in and around it; its historical and current issues; ways to protect and preserve the river. In particular, read the DRBA newsletter, website and Facebook site to learn about issues pertinent to the Dolores River and activities going on related to the river – like those sponsored by DRBA. Also, read local and regional publications, including newspapers, to stay abreast of issues related to the river.
  • Take care of the river itself and the riparian areas adjacent to it by: picking up trash on the shore and floating in the water (called “river booty” by boaters – it’s all about the best, and/or funkiest, find!); participating in preservation and restoration projects on the Dolores (such as spring and fall river clean-up and riparian restoration projects sponsored by DRBA); practicing minimum impact behavior in and around the river (DRBA sponsors Leave No Trace trainings in the spring); implementing ecologically-sound and boater-safe practices as river-front land owners.
  • Be informed on and involved in issues related to the river: stay abreast of and attend local and regional meetings, forums and workshops on issues pertinent to the Dolores River, such as river management, and boater access and safety issues.
  • Let your voice be heard by: speaking up at local and regional meetings, forums and workshops related to river and water issues; voting on river and water-related referendums and bills; writing letters to the editor of local and regional papers and other publications, and/or columns for the DRBA newsletter; volunteering to be a guest on DRBA’s monthly “River Trip” radio show on KSJD.
  • Support organizations that support the river: like DRBA! Your financial and other support is crucial to allow us to continue to protect, preserve and advocate for the river.

So, on behalf of DRBA, thank you for being a steward for the Dolores River! She thanks you, and we thank you.

[The Dolores River received a bit of good news last week, reported in the Cortez Journal. The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted to allocate more in-stream flow for a 34-mile stretch of the Dolores below its confluence with the San Miguel River. This means more water in the river, which will give some relief to three threatened species of native fish. You can read more about the Dolores River and three neighboring BLM-managed Wilderness Study Areas here.]


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