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Fish Park: Gunnison Sage Grouse Habitat Restoration

Fish Park, Colorado, is a little known area of the state that sits just south of Glade Park and is on the Colorado/Utah border. The views are stunning and the canyon walls give you a sense of perspective against the distant mountains.

Unfortunately, Fish Park burned in 1999 during the Wrigley Complex fires and again in 2006. It was reseeded with some success. However, sage brush has not returned to the area. The Fish Park area had been an active Gunnison Sage Grouse lek before the fires and was listed as critical Gunnison Sage Grouse habitat. No birds have been seen on the lek since the fire.

Working with Heidi Plank and Nikki Grant-Hoffman of the Grand Junction BLM Field office, the Western Colorado Conservation Corps was tasked to replant sagebrush in the area.

Heidi and Nikki came out and taught the crew how to prepare the soil and plant the sage brush seedlings

The process of preparing the plants was very specific. It was critical that we re-established the sage brush in Fish Park to encourage the Gunnison Sage Grouse to come back.

First, the plant was removed from the plastic vial that it was sprouted in. Then the roots are partially split so that they can spread once the plant starts to grow. We dig a hole and wet the plant before we place it in the hole. Next, we add some Dri Water (a special type of water that is mixed with silica to extend the dispersion of the water of time.) Dri Water is some amazing stuff - it will water plants for up to 90 days. WOW! Once the Dri Water is placed in the hole the plant is buried.

Now that the plant is in the ground, there are a few more steps to finish up. A weed barrier is placed around the plant and a cage is wrapped around it to keep animals away while it grows. We are trying to give the sagebrush the best chance possible to survive.

It took the crew a little while to get the hang of all the steps, but they quickly became very efficient at the process of digging holes, planting sagebrush, opening the Dri Water containers, putting the weedbarrier down and cutting and twisting together the fencing that went around the plant.

The crew also found the Dri Water to be very strange and interesting.

It was a beautiful first week on the project. The crew enjoyed evening walks and beautiful views.

Unfortunately, the second week was not the same story. The weather took a turn for the worse and the crew dealt with driving winds and golf ball-size hail. They took refuge in their tents and waited as the storm raged outside.

Field Coordinator Matt Jennings in his tent as the walls are being pushed in by the wind.

At the end of the project, 680 sagebrush plants had been planted. We hope that our work with the Grand Junction BLM field Office and Nikki and Heidi will help the Sage Grouse population and that one day there will again be an active lek of Gunnison Sage Grouse in Fish Park.

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