New Collaborative Approach for Watershed Health (Part 2 of 2)

Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse, Zapus hudsonius preblei (Photo courtesy Center for Biological Diversity)

Working Together for Healthy Watersheds

In 1995, a diverse group of private landowners, public land agencies, and interested citizens banded together to find solutions to natural resource management issues in the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre Watershed (North Fork). This was not an easy task. The group, which became known as the Laramie Foothills Advisory Group (LFAG), built trust and understanding, first by recognizing they had more in common than they thought and second by agreeing on shared priorities for the North Fork. Ideas bubbled up out of conversations around kitchen tables and while walking the land and the first projects began working together across boundaries.

Then in 1998 Preble’s Meadow, Jumping Mouse was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Shock waves rippled through the North Fork watershed. Uncertainty abounded and challenged relationships developed. Instead of retreating, members of the LFAG stepped forward to work for seven years on a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The Livermore HCP for Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse was one of the first to be led completely by community members. Its strength lay in the collective care for the North Fork, existing good stewardship, a significant amount of existing healthy habitat, and, being community-based.

Time passed. More stewardship and conservation projects were completed, improving grazing, using prescribed fire, making fences wildlife-friendly, restoring habitat, protecting springs, and protecting lands from development. Successes were celebrated. Lessons were learned and shared. The HCP lingered without formal enactment while legal cases were fought, and recovery planning bumped along. Then, years later, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) completed a recovery plan published in 2018. The HCP directly influenced the Recovery Plan’s direction, which initiated a new approach – a community approach – to a listed species.

The first of several multidisciplinary teams to ensure the survival of the Preble’s mouse, a threatened mammal listed under the Endangered Species Act, formed in the North Fork. The team is known as the Poudre River Site Conservation Team (SCT) and is the first of its kind, designed to give a voice to local communities in the process of recovering the Preble’s mouse. The goal of the SCT is to work toward meeting recovery goals, striving to recommend simple, straightforward conservation tools for the restoration of public and private lands for habitat improvement.

“The Preble’s mouse is important as an indicator of healthy riparian ecosystems,” said George Seidel, a past and key member of the team, a landowner in the watershed, and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus at CSU.

“The species is only found below 7,600 feet in dense, streamside vegetation consisting of shrubs, grasses and flowering plants along the Front Range of Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.”

Heather Knight, SCT member, and landowner added “meeting recovery goals for the Preble’s mouse will be a team effort among stakeholders and will reflect good land management that benefits private landowners and public lands.”

“Working collaboratively with community members for its recovery is the main goal of the team,” she added.

Landowners’ roles and opportunities
The recovery goal for the Preble’s mouse in the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre Watershed is a minimum of 57 miles of healthy, connected habitat. Stewardship practices benefiting the area have made this goal more attainable than one might think.

The SCT has invited private landowners and public land managers to help with this effort by participating in a program to provide protection or restoration of Preble’s mouse habitat. The SCT members are pursuing financial opportunities to support future projects.

“Traditional and current agricultural and land management practices have been compatible with the Preble’s mouse and can be enhanced to maintain the population at the natural density for this species,” Knight said. “Our efforts will build on and expand these efforts by partnering with landowners and public agencies to ensure its survival and meet recovery goals.”

The main objectives of the site conservation team include to:

  • Evaluate the conditions of the riparian habitat along the streams within the North Fork of the

Cache la Poudre River watershed and identify a suitable area for the recovery population

  • Recommend land management practices to improve and reconnect habitat, and
  • Identify financial resources through agreements and partnerships that are available to private landowners to improve Preble’s mouse habitat.

Four additional teams have been established on the Colorado Front Range in the Saint Vrain, Plum Creek, Monument Creek, and Buckhorn watersheds. Project leaders anticipate that other teams will also be created in Colorado and Wyoming. The goal of all the recovery efforts is to contribute to delisting the Preble’s mouse.

The North Fork Poudre SCT has hosted a series of community events to share information about healthy watersheds and the Preble’s mouse, invite landowner participation, and identify supporting resources. Community members are invited to participate in a Watershed Tour on September 10, 2022, from 9 am to 1 pm. The tour starts and ends at the Livermore Community Hall and includes free refreshments and information booths on potential funding and partner organizations.

To register for the Watershed Tour go to eventbrite.com.

For more information on Preble’s mouse and the Watershed Tour, visit collaborativeconservation.org.

The Site Conservation Team is partnering with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to engage with local communities and form partnerships among stakeholders in conservation and restoration efforts in the Poudre River’s North Fork watershed.

The final recovery plan released in 2018 for the Preble’s mouse was developed in partnership with Colorado and Wyoming state wildlife agencies, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Natural Heritage Program at CSU, ERO Resource Corporation, U.S. Forest Service, and Ecology and Environment, Inc.

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