Little Colorado River

Sponsors and Partners:

Ancestral Lands, American Conservation Experience, Inmate Nature Rehabilitation Program, Northern Arizona University, Nizhoni Academy, Mt Elden Middle School, Alpine Academy, Doris Duke Interns, Global Interns, Navajo Nation, Apache Nation, Hopi Nation, Disney Nature, Pulliam Trust, Arizona State Forestry, Arizona Department of Game and Fish, Arizona State Forestry, Babbitt Ranch, National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, US Geological Survey

Project Duration: 2009 to Current

Project Overview

Little Colorado River

The Land:

The Little Colorado River watershed includes the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, and north-flowing waters from the Mogollon Rim. The Little Colorado River joins the cultures of the Hopi, Navajo, Apache, and Zuni as well as is home to people of Hispanic, Afro-American, Chinese, and Anglo decent, among others.

The Little Colorado River and its tributaries have been degraded through US policy of removing native trees once thought to waste water and replacing them with highly invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees. Channelization of these waterways has resulted from centuries of overgrazing. Taken together, these fragile oases and hotspots of diversity have been severely degraded resulting in reduced water availability for human communities.

The People:

The cultural diversity in this region is centered around the Little Colorado River. There is great potential to embrace this diversity to create a thriving conservation culture. By combining different cultural approaches to land management, we hope to uncover a synergy to stewarding nature and recover the wealth that clean waters provide to humans and other organisms.

The Restoration:

In Springerville, Show Low, and Flagstaff, we planted over 5,000 trees and removed exotic trees across 10 acres. At Chevelon Creek, we planted 30,000 trees at the confluence of the Little Colorado River. At Deadman Wash in Wupatki National Monument, we planted over 4,000 native grasses and trees after removing 15 acres of tamarisk. In Babbitt Ranch, we fenced over 200 acres from cattle, removed exotic trees, and planted 6,000 native trees.

Several of these projects included a scientific component where we investigated how global warming would affect the performance of multiple riparian tree species. We sourced plant material from over one hundred populations of cottonwoods and willows and planted them in common environments in the Little Colorado River watershed. Results from this work are increasing our effectiveness in selecting the right plant material for restoration.

We offer a leadership program – a Restoration Certificate Field School – in ecocultural restoration through the Coconino Community College to encourage career pipelines in the conservation industry. The program is offered to the Ancestral Lands conservation corps, Navajo and Hopi youth corps, and includes restoration training in riparian restoration.