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The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program: a continuing collaborative success story




Kantola, Angela, author

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The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a long-term partnership working to recover four endangered fish species in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) while water use and development continue to meet human needs. The UCRB watershed drains nearly 110,000 square miles and contains more than 800 river miles of critical habitat for the endangered humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker. These large, long-lived, warm-water fishes are endemic to the Colorado River Basin where they are believed to have thrived for 3 – 5 million years. The fish are endangered due to human-induced changes to their habitat, including dams, water depletion and introduction of more than 70 non-native fish species. In 1988, public and private organizations established a landmark program to recover the endangered fishes in the UCRB while water use and development proceed in compliance with state water law, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and interstate water compacts. Recovery Program partners include state and federal agencies, environmental groups, and water and power users. Actions taken by the Recovery Program are reviewed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the Recovery Program provides ESA compliance for water depletion activities. To date nearly 1,700 existing and new water projects depleting almost 2.4 million acre-feet per year have received ESA compliance under the Recovery Program. The Recovery Program's goal goes beyond offsetting water depletions to fully restore naturally-self-sustaining populations of the endangered fishes and to protect the habitat they depend upon in the UCRB. Recovery actions implemented by this collaborative partnership far exceed the ability of any one partner to act independently. Tangible, on-the-ground success has been realized in enhancing in-stream flows, restoring habitat, constructing and operating fish ladders and screens, managing detrimental nonnative fishes, propagating and stocking endangered fish, and monitoring results. The Recovery Program's landscape-level approach to conservation is a continuing collaborative success story demonstrating that public/private partnerships can work to recover endangered species and resolve ESA-related conflicts. Through collaboration and adaptive management, the Recovery Program has made significant strides toward recovery of endangered species—the ultimate goal of the ESA.


Presented at the Bridging the gap: collaborative conservation from the ground up conference, September 8-11, 2009, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, sponsored by the Center for Collaborative Conservation, This conference brought together people with experience working collaboratively to achieve both conservation and livelihood goals in tribal nations, rangelands, forests, watersheds, agricultural lands, and urban areas. The presenter is affiliated with Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Endangered Species Act
Upper Colorado River Basin
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
endangered fishes


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