Saving the World Through Restoration

I would have to say that this past week at Black Canyon has been my favorite week so far. Before I dive into my reasoning behind the love I had for this week, I want to tell you about a little bird called the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocerus minimus). If you ever wanted to know what the high society love child of a Red Carneau Pigeon and a Chicken looked like, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse would be the answer. The largest remaining population of these birds, about 4,000, have been known to roam the sagebrush hills of the Gunnison Basin in Southwestern Colorado at an elevation of 9200 ft. Unfortunately, these birds have been declining in population since the 1950s. Approximately 5,000 breeding Gunnison sage-grouse occur among 7 separate populations in SW Colorado and SE Utah. So what does this bird have anything to do with my experience at Black Canyon NP? Well, seeing that I have the opportunity to work with the resources team at the park, we are often called upon to take part in restoration projects around the area. The specific restoration project that we were a part of this week was the Gunnison Basin Habitat Restoration project organized by the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers. Seeing that the Gunnison Sage-Grouse is listed as a threatened species, it is of vital importance to preserve the habitats of these birds so that their offspring have a higher chance to survive and thrive in their early stages of life. Inhibited riparian zones of the Gunnison Basin make it harder for a female grouse to nourish her brood due to the lack of insects (protein) that wetland meadows bring in. Our job at the site was to create a way to bring back the original setting of wetland meadows by building rock structures that help slow down water run offs from the near by hills, creating a wetter environment. In short, we became masters of rock Tetris. The two days we were out in the field we learned about the importance of our work and were able to work with other volunteer groups in addition to the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers; like Western State Colorado University, Gunnison High School, the U.S. Forest Service,  local Wildlife Biologists, and engineering students from the University of Colorado Boulder. It felt amazing to come together with so many people from different backgrounds and work hard in the preservation of a threatened wildlife species. I think that the general public underestimates the work ethic and physical endurance that goes into restoration work. Being out in the hot sun while constantly lifting heavy rocks and operating heavy-duty field tools really takes a toll on you after doing it for several hours. Of course the knowledge that I was able to have a small hand in a huge project made all the sweat and exhaustion worth it. I was blown away by not only the support of the other volunteers, but the countless projects that the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers under go. Their projects range from summit lake alpine rehabilitation to four mile canyon fire restoration to native seed collections and much more. With over 16,773 volunteer attendances and 234,046 hours of volunteer work, this group has been able to revegetate 124,485 feet of trail, plant 166,334 trees and plants, seed 12,288,852 square feet of land, and restore 1,619,985 feet of wetlands. Being able to work with an organization like this  definitely proves why this week has been my favorite week of my internship so far.

Crew Members at the Gunnison Basin Restoration Projet

Crew Members at the Gunnison Basin Restoration Projet

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