Annual ReTree event brings 500 new trees to banks along the Yampa River |

Annual ReTree event brings 500 new trees to banks along the Yampa River

Three children plant cottonwood trees near River Creek Park in Steamboat Springs. l Nicole Pepper/Yampa Valley Sustainability Council

For the 11th year in a row, about 120 volunteers joined the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, Colorado State Forest Service and city of Steamboat Springs on Saturday to plant about 500 cottonwood trees along the banks of the Yampa River near Rotary and River Creek parks.

Tim Sullivan, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council director of natural climate solutions, said the trees are supposed to protect the warming and drying river, which has suffered from less snowpack and more severe drought over the past several years due to impacts of climate change.

“As we’re looking for ways to take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and hold more soil and vegetation, this is a good way to do it,” Sullivan said.

Routt and Moffat counties rely on the Yampa River to sustain their recreation and ranching-based economies, and Sullivan said trees planted along the river will provide shaded protection, absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and add wooded material that helps sustain the river.

“Taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and putting it into wood is a critical function for wildlife and the health of the river,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said about 90% of wildlife use riparian areas next to rivers at some point in their lives. A diversity of tree species, Sullivan said, can provide great benefit to wildlife in mountainous areas.

“It’s great for birds, its great for moose and elk and the bears,” Sullivan said. “It just will help increase wildlife diversity and species diversity.”

Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, said the agencies involved in the ReTree event hope to expand it to more locations and more planting sessions. The focus has been on the stretches of the river near the south end of Steamboat because that area has high usage and less trees and shade than other areas along the river.

“West of Steamboat, there are a lot of big trees that you see, but here, not so much, so we really need that here,” Manriquez said. “We’re working on it, but it’s going to take years, so we have to get going.”

Though cottonwoods grow fast, Manriquez said they still take around 10 to 15 years to reach 30 to 40 feet. The species reaches its peak around 60 years.

“These cottonwoods grow fast and big and hold a lot of carbon, so there’s a real value to that for helping to address climate change,” Sullivan added. “The more trees we have, the more regeneration of natural cottonwoods we get.”

Because the Yampa Valley relies on the river so heavily, Nicole Pepper, geospatial analyst at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, said planting trees each year is vital to the community.

“This is our coveted community resource,” Pepper said. “Increased shade provides cooling benefits to the river, habitat support for other animals and carbon sequestration for the long term.”

Michelle Stewart, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council executive director, said the Colorado Lottery bought the trees from the Colorado State Forest Service in an effort to support an in-action reforestation project.

“It’s the challenge and the importance of planting trees amid the ways in which we’re experiencing climate change, which is increased temperature and drought conditions,” Stewart said. “How do you maintain successful reforestation with incredible drought and high daily temperatures.”

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