Streams, deer get help from subdivision |

Streams, deer get help from subdivision

Special to the DailyBrush Creek before work funded by Eagle Ranch was done to stabilize the banks.

EAGLE ” Every time a house is built in Eagle Ranch, local wildlife feels another small pinch. But because of a special program tied to the development’s sales, they also get some financial consideration.

Back in 1998 when Eagle Ranch was approved by the town, a special fund was established to address the long-term effects of development on wildlife. The wildlife fund is administered by a committee including representatives from Eagle Ranch, the town of Eagle and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

So far the fund has financed a stream enhancement project along Brush Creek that earned praise from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the months ahead, the committee hopes to expand the scope of that work and enhance deer habitat.

The Brush Creek stream enhancement project, completed in 2006, addresses the effects of more than 100 years of agriculture.

“The cattle had really abused the creek banks,” said Kent Rose, Eagle Ranch construction manager.

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The rehabilitation effort targeted areas where the banks had been badly eroded, sometimes leaving dirt walls three or four feet tall. That problem was compounded each spring when eroding sediment choked the stream.

Today, Brush Creek as it runs through Eagle Ranch, looks natural. Steep dirt banks have been replaced with gradually sloping creek sides lined with mid-sized boulders that stabilize the banks.

It’s natural appearance is one of the big success stories of the project, Rose said.

“The Corps of Engineers is so excited about it they even think it could be a model,” he said. “The fish habitat has been vastly improved.”

It cost approximately $170,000 to correct a century’s worth of agricultural damage to the creek. Bill Heicher, Eagle’s open space coordinator, said the fund picked up approximately $100,000 of that price tag with the Division of Wildlife’s Fishing is Fun program contributing a $60,000 grant. The remaining money came from Eagle Ranch and in-kind donations.

“After a growing season, you can hardly tell anybody’s been out there,” Heicher says.

And the fishing also has improved, says Eagle Ranch resident David Hakes.

“It’s (the fishing along Brush Creek in Eagle Ranch) improved to the point its crowded, especially on the weekends,” Hakes sys.

The wildlife mitigation fund committee hopes to build on the success of the Brush Creek project by moving upstream. In the coming months members will be talking with property owners to determine if the improvements can be extended.

This summer, the committee hopes to launch a large scale winter deer range improvement plan.

“It’s going to be a big project. We are talking about 1,000 acres,” Heicher says, a retired Colorado Division of Wildlife conservation officer.

Development and other human pressures have driven down deer populations iover the past 40 to 50 years, Heicher says.

The sagebrush areas that provide critical range for deer are rapidly diminishing, partly because of construction and partly because of bad mnagement. “Those areas used to burn and manage themselves,” Heicher says, but with more people in the valley, wildfire control is more aggressive. As a result, juniper and pinon invade sagebrush stands and deer range shrinks.

The fund’s range program is centered around town of Eagle open space and Bureau of Land Management lands adjacent to Eagle Ranch. The program will involve going into what Heicher describes as “old and decadent” sagebrush stands. In these areas, the sage dates back as far as 80 years and juniper and pinon are intruding. The problem, as far as deer grazing is concerned, is the sage, pinon and juniper push out the low growing plants by sucking up all the water and shading.

The plan is to take an approximately 1,000-acre area and remove a large portion of the invavise plants as well as the older sagebrush. “There will be some areas that will look like we ran a lawnmower over it,” says Craig Wescoatt, a Division of Wildlife conservation officer. “Hopefully in the long run you will see a fairly drastic improvement and a fairly early recovery.”

As more and more homes are built throughout the valley, Wescoatt said the Eagle Ranch mitigation fund provides the best working program he’s seen for people concerned about the surival wildlife.

The fund committee has built cash reserves to the point where interest funds improvements. “Hopefully, there will be money in that fund for perpetuity to address wildlife issues,” he says. “Really, for me, this is a poster child for mitigating some of these subdivisions.”

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