LCDNR and partners receive $328,900 grant to improve open space habitat for big game and bolster landscape resiliency

LOVELAND, Colo – A $328,900 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation RESTORE Colorado Program grant was recently awarded to Larimer County Department of Natural Resources in partnership with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department, Boulder County Parks & Open Space, and Jefferson County Open Space, to control and eradicate invasive annual grasses across seven Front Range foothills open spaces.

The five agency partners formed a collaborative, landscape-scale project and committed significant cash and in-kind contributions, totaling $159,700, to demonstrate regional commitment and support. This cross-jurisdictional project offers long-term control of invasive winter annual grasses by treating and eradicating cheatgrass and feral rye by aerial application of indaziflam, which will help restore big game winter range habitat.

The seven open space project areas span 4,385 acres in elk and mule deer winter range concentration areas as identified by CPW and include the Cherokee State Wildlife Area, Eagles Nest Open Space, Coyote Ridge Natural Area, Devil’s Backbone Open Space, and Bobcat Ridge Natural Area in Larimer County, Hall Ranch Open Space in Boulder County, and Matthews/Winters Park in Jefferson County.

“This landscape scale approach to improving habitat and building greater natural resiliency is critical to the region’s ability to conserve and protect public lands into the future,” said Daylan Figgs, director, LCDNR. “The project truly highlights how we can cross boundaries and work together to accomplish great outcomes for all.”

Open spaces serve as important wildlife migration corridors and safe havens in the winter for big game populations. High quality habitats on which big game species depend for winter food resources are becoming increasingly more fragmented due to growing human presence.

Additionally, open spaces are being invaded by winter annual grasses, such as cheatgrass and feral rye, which threaten a host of ecological functions. Lands affected by cheatgrass are more susceptible to wildfire due to their finer fuel loads, which burn faster and hotter, destroying habitat. If left untreated, these invasive grasses spread rapidly, reduce biomass, add finer fuels, displace native perennial plant species, and deplete critical food resources that mule deer and elk depend on.

Eradication of cheatgrass and feral rye improves overall native plant diversity and cover, which in turn provides critical habitat for big game, as well as small mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. This collaborative project will eradicate 4,385-acres of winter annual grasses with indaziflam, a scientifically proven and widely accepted herbicide, which will significantly improve vegetation communities needed to be more resilient to future disturbances, such as wildfire, and support healthy mule deer and elk populations.

Due to difficult terrain in open spaces and for improved cost-effectiveness, the herbicide will be applied by helicopter over a two-year period, beginning in summer 2022. The treatments will be monitored before and after application using on-the-ground traditional monitoring methods and a new Geographic Information System tool, which uses remote sensing to detect the levels of cheatgrass on a map.

The project partners are grateful to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and its funding partners (Great Outdoors Colorado, Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Habitat Partnership Program, BLM, Occidental Petroleum, Trinchera Blanca Foundation, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and Bezos Earth Fund) for recognizing this regional project as an important investment in making Front Range landscapes more resistant and resilient to wildfire and to provide critical food resources for mule deer and elk.

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