Kawuneeche Valley Collaborative
Effort Aims to Restore Colorado River Headwaters Ecosystem
A multi-agency initiative is helping to restore the Kawuneeche Valley ecosystem, which depends on functioning wetlands along the headwaters of the Colorado River that flows from Rocky Mountain National Park into Shadow Mountain Reservoir. The goal of the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative (KVERC) is to restore and protect the characteristics of this region by bringing back ecological and hydrologic functions lost due to an imbalance between local wildlife and geomorphic processes.
With increases in elk and moose populations over several decades, the willow and beaver populations have almost completely vanished. This has led to a loss of beaver dams, which create wetlands that provide important ecological services and serve as natural fire lines. Without beaver activity, the hydrologic regime needed to support healthy riparian plant and wildlife communities has diminished, making the ecosystem less resistant to the effects of drought, wildfires and a changing climate. This has led to a dry floodplain and drastic changes in riparian vegetation. Restoring functional floodplain hydrology will support a more functional ecosystem.
KVERC restoration activities may include enclosure fencing around priority areas to allow for vegetation regrowth, planting and protecting willows to help restore beaver populations, building simulated beaver structures to encourage healthy wetlands, and continued engagement with partners, stakeholders and the public. KVERC partners include Northern Water, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado River District, Grand County, Town of Grand Lake, U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy. KVERC is working with a team from Colorado State University, which has worked for decades with the National Park Service to study ecosystems within Rocky Mountain National Park, to perform assessments and recommend potential sites for restoration.