City to plant up to 500 trees along stretch of Yampa River in response to negative impacts

As part of an ongoing project to protect the Yampa River from drought and other negative impacts of climate change, the city of Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Colorado River District have partnered to plant trees along different stretches of the river.

Steamboat Springs City Council voted Tuesday to work with the Sustainability Council in asking for a $150,000 grant from the Colorado River District, with $30,000 matched by the city.

The project is a solution proposed following a 2018 assessment by the city that measured the river’s health, noting the warming climate, which has caused flooding, lower flows and drier vegetation, according to Winnie DelliQuadri and Tom Leeson, city special projects/intergovernmental services manager and deputy city manager.

“This will provide long-term benefits in terms of water temperature for river health and native fish species,” DelliQuadri and Leeson told council members Tuesday.

Trees are scheduled to be planted along the river in Rich Weiss Park on Oct. 2 at a community event hosted by the Sustainability Council.

Tim Sullivan, director of natural climate solutions with the Sustainability Council, said the hope is to plant around 500 trees. It will be done in October as the city has a relatively short window between the end of summer and start of snow.

“Hopefully, we can get a little bit of growth before winter sets in, and we can prepare to catch some of the water in the spring,” Sullivan said. “It’s important work, and it’s a great example of community engagement and how people can come together and help the river.”

Most of the river’s impacts felt by the public have so far had to do with the exceptional drought that much of the West is experiencing. While exceptional drought causing low flows is a problem for both recreation and agriculture, Sullivan said those who use the river should also expect to see increased flooding, another negative impact of a warming planet.

“A more complex riparian area will be adding wooded material to the river and organic matter that sustains and makes the river healthier,” Sullivan said.

While providing shade and sun protection for the river is an obvious benefit of the trees, Sullivan said many scientists would consider that a secondary asset to the fact they also absorb carbon dioxide.

“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 said the river being surrounded by so much open space can cause problems for ecosystems inside the river, and having trees to absorb carbon dioxide can help offset any strain on fish and plants.

“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.

The city is expected to submit its grant application Aug. 31.

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