Conservation as a focus of Coldharbour Institute
Conservation is a primary focus of Coldharbour Institute. As part of our mission to foster sustainable practices we promote and engage in various conservation initiatives in the Gunnison Basin. While our conservation efforts are focused on the Coldharbour Ranch and the WRP conservation easement, we also build creative partnerships in order to contribute to the long-term health and stability of the region. Our focus on conservation is multi-dimensional with impacts on social awareness and ecological health. As an organization we strive to maximize the impact of our activities. Our philosophy and mission dictate that we assess multiple potential conservation initiatives and actions by the potential for on the ground impacts, educational value, and potential for collaboration. Promoting the ecological health of the CI property supports the stability of CI in the long term. Primary activities on the Coldharbour Ranch include wildlife and land management, sustainable agriculture operations, innovative building and energy programs, fishing lease opportunities, and educational engagement that can give the organization a sustaining financial base.
The Coldharbour Ranch under the stewardship of the Clarks and now CI is an ecological treasure. We are blessed with two and a half miles of Tomichi Creek and adjacent pastureland and upland areas. There is abundant wildlife habitat and robust riparian areas. But recent management practices and intentions have not alleviated the legacy of 100 plus years of intense agricultural activity. Identified issues impacting the ecological health on the property include invasive species, outdated irrigation infrastructure, and stream channel alterations. We are focused on addressing these issues in a manner that exemplifies our leadership in land stewardship in the Tomichi Creek valley and the wider region.
A driving force in our management of the property is the WRP easement. The easement is very restrictive in nature and could be viewed as detracting from our ability to plan and grow CI’s operations. But we view the easement and our relationship with the NRCS as an asset to our ability to create lasting impact. Our current focus is to work with the NRCS to develop a new land management plan that will more carefully and effectively deliver the protections that this land needs. This management plan will detail proposed stream restoration efforts, a weed management plan, a grazing plan, an ecological monitoring plan, irrigation infrastructure needs, visitor management and research operations on the property to minimize impacts to the wildlife and lands, but within that parameter, maximize education and research. The land management plan will carefully address the needs of wildlife on the property (including the Gunnison sage grouse, which is federally listed as threatened ). Through research and monitoring we will address deficits in historic management practices. Thus, responsible management of the WRP easement focuses our attention to the ecological health of the property and ensures that we constantly strive for an exemplary level of management of the land and water resources.
Our partnerships with NRCS, BLM (which borders the entire property to the north and south, WSCU and its research resources, and others, help CI to model best practices and innovative solutions to age old challenges. Through developing and following our management plan, we have the potential to realize tremendous value to our mission through the engagement of research professionals from land management agencies and higher education. Our close connection with WSCU has blossomed into a rich relationship, providing opportunities for faculty as well as graduate and undergraduate students to engage in conservation strategies on the property. Students have engaged in numerous research projects over the years, including projects that sample plant species, plant willows, observe wildlife, and establish ecological monitoring sites. Our long-term goal is to engage with students and professionals on an ongoing basis consistent with the goals of our land management plan, the WRP easement, and CI’s mission.
As part of the legacy of human involvement in the area, Tomichi Creek suffers from decreased water quality. Much of the lower reaches of Tomichi Creek, including the portion of the stream on CI property, are listed on the Colorado State 303(d) list for impaired water bodies. The Clarks, and now CI, have funded the collection of water quality sampling by the United States Geologic Survey on the property. This professional level sampling is part of a larger water quality sampling effort in the Gunnison Basin and has provided consistent data for more than ten years. While of obvious value and interest to our management of resources on the property this also brings value to our mission by engaging with resource management on a larger regional scale. Coldharbour Ranch sits at the confluence of the Tomichi and Cochetopa Creeks, both significant waterways of the headwaters of the Colorado River. We hold very old and significant water rights dating to 1876. As a research and educational center, CI provides significant potential for influence in demonstrating positive water conservation measures in the area. .
CI has also been engaged in other conservation efforts in the Gunnison area. We have taken the principal lead with the Gunnison Basin Adopt-A-Trout program (GBAAT). The GBAAT is a research and educational initiative where we have tagged trout in Tomichi Creek with radio frequency tags and are currently tracking their movement to help better understand this recreational fishery and to add in identifying and prioritizing restoration efforts. In conjunction with the research we engage local K-12 students in a curriculum that emphasizes watershed health and gives them the opportunity to engage in a real world research project. Students under the guidance of CI staff have been involved with willow and cottonwood planting on active restoration sites. GBAAT is a collaborative effort between Trout Unlimited, Gunnison Angling Society, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the New Belgium Brewery.
CI has received a significant grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education in the form of a Colorado Scholarship Initiative to engage students from disadvantaged communities in the environmental sustainability arena. We will be working with Gunnison High School students, providing education, work study opportunities, and mentoring to help guide them from high school into and through college as part of the CI “family” of students, faculty and staff. They will concentrate their efforts on conservation measures on the CI lands as well as regional lands, working in areas of their choice around areas of CI mission including wildlife and land management, sustainable agriculture, etc.
Moving forward we have identified the need for many projects on the Coldharbour Ranch that work to improve ecological conditions. Chief among these concerns is to repair stream conditions and wetlands habitat by updating irrigation infrastructure on the land. These updates will greatly contribute to the organization’s ability to manage wetland areas and protect water rights. These projects include removing toxic materials from watercourse, creating fish friendly diversion structures, and stabilizing stream channel. We plan to leverage these potential restoration projects along with controlling invasive species, and promoting sustainable agricultural operations in order to optimize the wetlands environment and provide educational opportunities to extend the reach of our impact.