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From the Rio Grande and her tributaries such as the Rio Chama and the Pecos River to the Colorado River and her tributaries such as the Gila River and the San Juan River, western rivers are a cornerstone of our region’s identity. WildEarth Guardians prioritizes the protection of rivers, large and small, because they are essential to life as we know it. Though streams and rivers represent a mere one percent of the landscape, these arteries of life are ecological backbones in the region’s otherwise arid landscape. Western waterways provide habitat for approximately 75% of all native plants and animals, including literally hundreds of species threatened with extinction. Rivers not only sustain us with their abundant supplies of clean water but also with both their wonder and beauty.
Unfortunately, streams and rivers in the American West are one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Despite their central role in the economic, cultural and spiritual well-being of our communities, rivers in the American West continue to be threatened by a legacy of dam and levee building, water diversions by agricultural and municipal interests, ground water pumping, livestock grazing, urban development and other uses. Climate change and diminishing water supplies now looms as one of the gravest threats to western rivers. More than 80% of all western water is currently controlled by agricultural interests, and diverted to grow water-intensive crops. Because of this, many Western rivers are polluted and are susceptible to complete drying—both of which pose a tremendous threat to fish and wildlife. Sadly federal and state agencies responsible for administering water use and controlling pollution have largely failed to ensure sufficient flows of high quality water necessary to maintain
Our Vision: Living Rivers
We envision free-flowing rivers with sufficient flows of high enough water quality to sustain native fish and wildlife. We also envision rivers with healthy native streamside vegetation, with healthy riverside bosques of cottonwoods and willows. We advocate for a river’s endangered fish and wildlife not only because we believe each species has an intrinsic right to exist but also because endangered species can be a surrogate for the need’s of the river itself. We aspire for a day in the future when all human communities embrace a stewardship ethic that ensures that we have healthy, living river ecosystems as a foundation of our communities.
We employ a diverse set of strategies to implement our vision, including federal and state litigation, lobbying, restoration, and economic incentives. Untying the Gordian knot that is western water is a complex and complicated endeavor. Sometimes collaborative solutions engaging traditional western water users are necessary, while other times a proverbial stick of dynamite, with legal strategies is the only path to reform archaic institutions unwilling to change.
River Policy Reform
From the Rio
Grande to the Gila River we believe rivers should have rights to their own
waters. Working to reform water policies on the federal, state, and local
level, we hope our precious streams and rivers will be protected from
over-allocation to various interests that cause rivers to run dry. The priority
of our policy reform efforts is focused on the West’s iconic Great River - the
Rio Grande - and her tributaries. The federal U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
have significant discretion in managing flows in this watershed, yet have been
reluctant to exercise that discretion to ensure flows to sustain the river and
protect its endangered species. WildEarth Guardians has been working since 1996
to protect the Rio Grande and has succeeded in changing numerous policies and
Rivers across the West have been severely degraded by livestock grazing for more than a century, stripping away native vegetation, eroding soil and stream banks, and destroying once-lush streamside forests. WildEarth Guardians is working to reverse this abusive trend with many different strategies. One of the ways we’ve chosen to respond to this ecological crisis is by pioneering a new path by becoming the first organization to lease state school trust lands for the purpose of conservation. Since 1996, when we became the first conservation organization in the West to acquire a lease, we’ve acquired more leases and started new restoration projects with cities, counties, and private landowners.
The first and most vital step in our river restoration work begins by permanently removing livestock from the stream. We then remove non-native invasive trees from the area by hand. After the area is cleared of non-native trees, community volunteers participate in our restoration events, planting native cottonwood and willows as well as other trees and shrubs. These events are energized by our Stream Team, which plants trees and raises money to support our efforts. The native vegetation we plant jump-starts the restoration process, restoring healthy streambanks, purifying and cooling waters and providing important habitat for fish and wildlife. You’ll be astonished by the recovery that we’ve started. Watch a video showing before and after photos of some of our river restoration projects. Learn more about our annual community tree planting events that restore streamside forests across New Mexico and Arizona.
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