By Zaylah Pearson-Good
In early June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) acquired an important new land parcel just upstream of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). A dense cluster of cottonwood trees lining North Crestone Creek, just across from the Crestone Baptist Church on Rd. T., easily identifies the property. Not only does the purchase expand the Refuge's area by another 150 acres, it also places the land's sensitive riparian habitat under the protection and sound management of the USFWS. With approximately 0.6 river miles of North Crestone Creek flowing through the land, the protection of this sensitive habitat will also ensure the continued health of riparian-dependent plant and animal life, such as willow and cottonwood trees, the yellow warbler, and Lewis’ woodpecker.
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) is very pleased to hear of the new land acquisition, as we were key supporters in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, which resulted in the creation of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. We received congressional recognition for our unwavering support and will continue to support the Refuge management’s efforts to protect precious ecosystems in the SLV. This 150-acre Refuge addition is an example of greater land protection that becomes anchored through previous legislation, which can be further augmented to expand wildlife connectivity.Yes, good policy matters!
SLVEC wants to thank Refuge Manager Ron Garcia, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Jamie Ireland Estate (seller) and our local public officials for their vigilant support in helping to protect this essential stretch of land that includes critical riparian habitat.
Riparian habitats support a wide range of animal and plant species that depend on ample water supplies for their survival. As drought conditions have worsened in the San Luis Valley, these ecosystems have become especially stressed and vulnerable. Therefore, restoring riparian zones has become a top management priority for the Baca Refuge. Baca Refuge manager Ron Garcia explains that perhaps the most salient aspect of the new land purchase is the promise it holds for restoring riparian habitats both on and beyond the new parcel.
Although the USFWS has held water rights to the new property since their initial purchase of the Baca Refuge in the 2000s, effective restoration can now occur as management has easier access to the water supply. Riparian restoration will occur through carefully irrigating the adjacent wet meadows. Once the water is diverted, it slowly retreats back to the creekbed, hydrating riparian areas in the process. In many ways, this management strategy is mimicking the cycle of a healthy water table that once existed in the San Luis Valley. With drought conditions intensifying, Baca Refuge management has had to learn how to utilize what little water resources are available and to restore only the most sensitive and critical habitats.
Aside from the ecological significance of the new land purchase, the land also holds amazing recreational value. Located at the intersection of the town of Crestone, the Baca Grande Subdivision, the Crestone Charter School, Colorado College, and the Baca Refuge Visitor Center, a trail is planned to help connect these areas for hiking use. Eastern San Luis Valley Trails is in the process of creating a trail network that links these main community assets. The new land may become the area that connects the Baca Grande Subdivision to the town of Crestone. Before a trail could be created, extensive studying of the land would first need to take place to ensure that human activity would not compromise the health of the sensitive riparian habitat.
Managers at the Baca Refuge are immensely grateful for the opportunity to protect yet another important stretch of land. Ensuring the health of local wildlife, sensitive habitats, and building on community appreciation for wilderness are all wonderful aspects of the new land acquisition. SLVEC celebrates that another piece of San Luis Valley critical habitat will be managed and preserved for future generations to come.
Please consider becoming a member of “Friends of the Refuge.” They can always use dedicated volunteers who want to learn about conservation! The more eyes on protecting the landscape, the better! Learn more about Friends of the Refuges at: https://slvrefuges.org/, or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Garcia, Ron J email@example.com
To read more about the new land acquisition, consult the August 1 edition of The Crestone Eagle.