Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River. The River provides water to 40 million residents and is sacred to tribes that rely on it. Unless otherwise noted, photos by Barrett Walker.
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates the effect of the global financial system and/or the monetary system in fostering a sustainable economy.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
The NWF Wildlife Conflict Resolution program resolves conflicts between wildlife and livestock through the market-based approach of compensating ranchers for retiring high conflict grazing leases on federal land. Thanks to over a decade of funding from the Walker Foundation,we have retired over 75 grazing allotments totaling over 1.6 million acres. In 2017 NWF launched the WCR Southern Rockies, Colorado Plateau and Great Basin program and in the coming year we will pilot a new strategy in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah that we are describing as "AUM buy-downs." We are also launching the Western Waters Program that will largely focus on restoration of Colorado River Basin watersheds using beaver analog structures also known as Low Tech Process Restoration. This work will seek to institutionalize LTPBR in the Bureau of Land Management and to prioritize the retirement of grazing allotments that significantly impact downstream water quantity and quality.
Lake Mead and Lake Powell, on the Colorado River, are the largest reservoirs in the United States. This view of Glenn Canyon Dam shows the low water level of Lake Powell. At the time our our site visit the Lake was at 24% of capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation reduced its data on the storage capacity due to sediment accumulated in the bottom of the reservoir. Overgrazing by cattle removes vegetation and accelerates erosion, reducing the capacity of the reservoir.
09/06/23 Update: Regarding the allotment retirement work, the outreach work in GSENM has continued, but we have not yet developed any concrete opportunities. We have however identified one rancher in the southern portion of the Monument who's two allotments actually spill over into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area along the shoreline of Lake Powell. The DEIS for the GSNEM Management Plan was released and the preferred alternative would recommend closing part or all of this rancher allotments. Given that we have reached out to him, but have not yet heard back. Our thinking is that given the impending threat of closure, he could be interested in working with us. The truth is that BLM may succumb to pressure fromt he grazing industry and remove the recommended closure from the final decision, but this applies pressure that we wanted to explore. We will also be reaching out with our partner the Grand Canyon Trust to three additional ranchers that are in a similar situation and we will report back on any progress. As I discussed with Barrett in mid-August, we have a new development in Bears Ears National Monument on an allotment that is over 7000,000 acres which is greater than 50% of the monument's total size. Even though the DEIS for the BENM Management Plan has not yet been released (we expect that in October or November), this rancher is hedging his bets that he will possibly lose some or all of his grazing privileges and so is very open to negotiating. At this point, we have commissioned and are waiting for an appraisal of the value of the permits and should have that by mid-September. The value of this transaction would be enormous and in the range of at least $4-5 million, but our partners at the Grand Canyon Trust believe that we can manage a fundraising campaign of that size. In this grant cycle we also received a $40,000 to work on riparian habitat conservation in the Grand Canyon watershed including the installation of LTPBR (also known as beaver dam analogs or BDAs). We have spent a significant amount of time looking for opportunities and have a few that are lining up, but not likely to be implemented until the spring and summer of 2024. The most interesting will include the installation of 20-25 BDAs on a stream on USFS land north of GSENM. As discussed with Barrett in mid-August, Bob is working with Alicia Marss, the Director of NWF's Western Waters Program on developing opportunities in the Gila watershed, a critical system in the Lower Colorado Basin. We had approval to commit up to $5,000 to a meeting among partners that was scheduled for early October, but that meeting will now be a virtual one and so won't need any funding. However, I am working with Alicia to consider a smaller meeting among core partners interested in working in the Gila for this fall. If that meeting goes well, then I think the Gila might be an interesting site visit destination. Likewise, if we make progress on with the rancher in Bears Ears, that would be a fantastic site visit. Both of these would be best in the spring of 2024 and May would be a great month for both.
Although we are just beginning to execute this year's grant, we wanted to provide an early update and will continue to periodically update the report. To launch the effort, we organized a visit with Walker Foundation board members to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in early October of this year. The objective of the trip was to explore the area by air, vehicle and foot to get a sense of the impact of livestock grazing in this vary arid and fragile ecosystem across this very geologically diverse and botanically rich area with the goal of using our 20-year old compensated grazing permit waiver strategy across the Monument. In the coming year, we will work with our partner the Grand Canyon Trust to begin engaging local ranchers and grazing allotment permit holders as a first step in negotiating compensated grazing permit buy-outs and to explore the potential of AUM buy-downs. Our partner, the Grand Canyon Trust holds four grazing permits in the Monument and has just finalized waiving one of its these back to BLM and as directed by President's Biden's proclamation, has a commitment from the agency that the allotment will not be restocked with livestock. The Trust plans to waive the remaining three permits in the coming months. The result of these permit waivers will be to establish precedent and compliance with the Biden Proclamation so that NWF staff can begin engaging local ranchers regarding the potential for waiving their permits. As a first step, NWF staff will in January, meet with Trust staff to develop the action plan for carrying out these activities.
While on the site visit, it became abundantly evident that the Colorado River as evidenced by Lake Powell, is running at historic lows, an indication of the Colorado River basin water crisis. This led to several days of conversations and brainstorming, resulting in the addition of a water conservation strategy for the Colorado River Basin in this year's proposal. In the face of climate change, over a century of land degradation and increasing water withdrawals, two things need to occur. First, there must be a reduction in withdrawals by agriculture, which uses over 80% of the Colorado Basin's water; and second, large-scale habitat restoration needs to occur in riparian and key upland areas throughout the basin. The timing of these conversations and additional funding received from the Walker Foundation was good given that NWF is in the final stages of hiring a director for our new Western Waters Program. One of the early objectives of the program will be to expand NWF's beaver transplant and "low-tech process-based restoration" (LT-PBR) work from Montana to the Colorado Basin. We will add that NWF will likely receive a significant grant from a very large foundation in the near future that will fund an expansive effort to implement such projects in targeted areas in the Basin. This Foundation has asked NWF to focus its efforts on headwaters restoration project with an emphasis on using beaver transplants and LT-PBR projects to increase water in the tributaries and ultimately, the main stem of the Colorado River. We should note that the issue of putting additional water in the system without simultaneously addressing water withdrawals is being addressed by this same large foundations which is funding a number of organizations that are working on reducing agricultural use and other major water uses in the Basin. NWF is pleased with the prospect of being a member of the Colorado River Collaborative which includes organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Western Resources Advocates, Trout Unlimited and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Although we are just beginning this work, we are hoping to use the Walker Foundation funds to catalyze work in Southern Utah as a proof-of-concept that can serve at a model for work elsewhere in the Basin. As a first step, we have already entered into conversations with the Grand Canyon Trust and other partners regarding the potential to pilot beaver transplants and LT-PBR structures in the Monument, but also in higher elevations that abut the Monument on USFS land in the Dixie National Forest. We believe there are good opportunities given that there is a nascent coalition of NGO's who have begun exploring beaver and beaver dam analog projects. The effort lacks leadership and our hope is that NWF can provide this and build additional momentum with an early goal of gaining the support of BLM Monument staff as well as those in the USFS.
Upper Calf Creek Falls. Twenty years ago, The Grand Canyon Trust purchased the grazing lease that Calf Creek flows through and removed cattle, allowing the surrounding habitat and the stream to recover. This is the only clear-water stream we saw in the area.
Beginning in 2001, NWF began using a market-based approach that recognized the economic value of grazing permits and offer to compensate ranchers for waiving their permit. We then receive assurances for from the agency that the allotment will not be restocked with livestock. In an effort to constantly innovate, we will adapt our allotment retirement model in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by testing what we are calling "AUM buy-downs." In addition, with the launch of the Western Waters Program, we will scale-up a key natural infrastructure river restoration strategy in the Colorado Basin. Although much of the work will be focused on an effort to institutionalize LTPBR tools in BLM to increase water storage and habitat restoration, the program will expand the market-based strategies used by the WCR program to reduce grazing pressure in areas that will most benefit aquatic and riparian habitat restoration as well as water storage, downstream flows and water quality.
NWF has used this approach to address conflicts between large carnivores in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for the last 20 years and in addition has employed the strategy to reduce conflicts between domestic and bighorn sheep. Because of the absence of large carnivores in the Southern Rockies and Great Basin, we have only focused on retiring domestic sheep allotments. With the recent proclamation re-constituting the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in Utah, we will be investing time and resources in allotment retirement and AUM buy-down efforts in Utah in the coming year. New this year, will be our focus on restoring headwaters systems in the Colorado River Basin scaling up our successful LTPBR work in Montana and the Dakotas.
(Check sent: 10/28/2022)
Grosvenor Double Arch located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.