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Colorado River-Ecosystems and Conservation

Ecosyst​ems and Conservation

See why invasive species such as the Quagga Mussel are dangerously upsetting ecosystems.

The Multi-Species Management Conservation Program plans to restore 81,000 acres of wetland habitat in the Lower Colorado River Basin.

The Colorado River supports wetland ecosystems essential to wildlife diversity in Arizona. An interdependent system of animals and plants, predators and prey, desert dwellers and migrating species, depend on the wetlands of the Colorado. Overuse of the river is causing the wetlands to disappear. In the 1970s it became apparent that species of birds, fish and even the desert tortoise were dying due to habitat loss. Meanwhile, non-native plants and animals, known as invasive species, were taking over. Today numerous projects are aimed at restoring the Colorado River habitat and controlling invasive species. A few are described below.

Multi-Species Management Conservation Program

In 1994 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated large parts of the Lower Colorado as critical habitat for four endangered and two threatened species. The states using the Lower Colorado River (California, Arizona, and Nevada) partnered with each other to develop a plan to protect the ecosystems around the Lower Colorado and to expand the populations of vulnerable species.

In 2006, USFWS and 56 partner agencies unrolled a cooperative effort called the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (MSCP). This $626 million cooperatively funded plan takes a different approach than some conservation programs aimed at protecting one or two specific species. Instead of focusing on individual species, it focuses on rebuilding habitat to benefit entire ecosystems. By looking at the whole system instead of a few specific parts, the MSCP can restore balance to the ecosystem and slow the decline of other species dependent on the Lower Colorado.

The MSCP will run through 2055 to protect 11 square miles in Arizona, California, and Nevada and will construct 8,100 acres of habitat. Four types of riparian zone will be restored: aquatic systems, emergent marshes, lower terrace cottonwood and willow woodlands, and upper terrace mesquite thickets, or bosques.

Yuma East Wetlands Project

Once introduced to reclaim streambanks and prevent erosion, the tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, chokes native plants from riverbanks and is now considered a destructive invasive species.

The Yuma East Wetlands Project has removed non-native vegetation and developed pedestrian walkways between the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers and the Ocean to Ocean Bridge. Public uses for the 1,400 acre area include fishing, beaches, walking and hiking trails, and wildlife observation. Ongoing projects on the preserve include the creation of equestrian areas, walking paths, lakes, bird sanctuaries, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, tree farms, and revegetation. To date, the Yuma West Wetlands Project has received over $2 million in local, state, and federal grant funds.

Cocopah Restoration of the Limitrophe

The Limitrophe segment stretches 23 miles across the U.S.—Mexico border. Ten miles are on Bureau of Reclamation land while 12 miles wind through reservation land belonging to the Cocopah Indian Nation.

With funds from EPA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management Reclamation, the Cocopah Indian Nation restored over 200 acres of riparian habitat in the Limitrophe by removing stands of invasive tamarisk and restoring native cottonwood, willow and mesquite. An additional 150 acres are under restoration with funds from the Department of Homeland Security, the USFWS, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This project works in conjunction with the Yuma East Wetlands Project.