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Conservation Gateway » Conservation By Geography » North America » United States » Colorado » Conservation Programs » Climate » Gunnison Basin

Preparing for Climate Change in the Gunnison Basin

The climate of the Southwestern U.S. has already warmed by a few degrees and is projected to get warmer in the coming decades. Colorado is experiencing larger and more severe wildfires, increased drought, and earlier snowmelt. Scientists predict that the warming will continue, with longer and hotter heat waves in summer, decreased late season snowpack, declines in river flow and soil moisture, and hotter and more frequent droughts. These changes are putting people, plants, animals and their habitats at risk.
To reduce the adverse effects of climate change on nature and people, the Conservancy is working with the Gunnison Climate Working Group, a public-private partnership in the Upper Gunnison Basin. 
The group’s objectives are to:
1) increase understanding and awareness of threats posed by climate change to species, ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people of the Gunnison Basin;
2) identify and prioritize strategies and techniques for helping people and nature cope with climate change; and
3) promote coordination, collaboration and effective implementation of strategies and allocate/raise funds to support implementation.
The Gunnison Climate Working Group developed preliminary adaptation strategies for selected species and ecosystems using the Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) Framework, an ecological and social climate vulnerability assessment identifying what is most at risk (and why) to climate change and implemented the first phase of a pilot climate adaptation project to build resilience of brood-rearing habitat for the Gunnison Sage-grouse. The group is also embarking upon a collaborative effort to develop climate adaptation strategies that contributes to social-ecological resilience, ecosystem/species conservation, and sustainable human communities.
The Group recently completed the first phase of an on-the-ground pilot climate adaptation project to enhance resilience of wet meadows and riparian habitats within sagebrush shrublands in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Agencies, students and volunteers constructed 240 restoration structures designed by Bill Zeedyk to increase stream function and enhance resilience of wet meadows at four sites. These structures, placed in small drainages and wet meadows, help retain moisture in stream banks, increase wet-loving plants and insects, and create brood-rearing habitat for Gunnison Sage-grouse. They also improve winter range for elk and deer, nesting habitat for neo-tropical migratory birds, and increase livestock forage. Scientists are monitoring response and sharing methods so they can be applied in similar sagebrush systems across the Gunnison Basin and the West. Over the next few years, we will work with partners to significantly scale up the project to the basin level.
Gunnison Climate Working Group partners: Bureau of Land Management-Gunnison Field Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Gunnison County, Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, National Park Service, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service-Gunnison National Forest, Western State College, and Western Water Assessment.
Funders: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, The Nature Conservancy, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, US Fish and Wildlife Service Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), and the Wildlife Conservation Society.