Ribbons of Life

Protecting and Restoring Riparian Corridor Networks in the Rio Grande

In 2020 the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched a riparian corridor networks initiative in the Rio Grande watershed in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The project builds on corridors and connectivity work NWF is engaged in nationally, expands on existing public lands and western water expertise and networks, and leverages NWF’s successful wildlife corridors work in the upper Rio Grande watershed, which to date has focused on upland habitat and the needs of migratory mammals. 

The initial (two-year) phase of this project will expand on existing NWF networks, partners, and assets to fully develop an action plan and build momentum for protecting and restoring the region’s high priority riparian system to promote habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors. By identifying key strongholds and pinch points in the region’s riparian network, the project will identify priorities for where conservation efforts could enhance the functionality of the network. The project is also designed to chart a course for targeted and strategic partnerships and actions that would address the question of how to most effectively enhance protection and restoration of that network. 

At the heart of the project is a four-part assessment that will address ecological, policy, institutional, and social aspects of riparian corridor conservation in the region. Results of these four sub-assessments will inform development of an in-depth action plan that will identify the most effective and strategic outcomes and actions for enhancing protection and restoration of the region’s riparian corridor network. This action plan will serve as a catalyst for inter-disciplinary dialogue that will identify gaps, prioritize opportunities, raise awareness, and mobilize partners who can refine and carry out the resulting strategies. 

Strategies developed in a final action plan are likely to include a combination of: outreach and education to raise awareness of the importance of riparian corridors and the need for a networked approaches in their protection and restoration; policy reforms and advocacy to promote proactive conservation efforts and to reduce conflicts and existing stressors to key riparian areas; and on-the-ground land and water conservation and restoration projects that target priority riparian strongholds and pinch points. Based on emerging findings from the assessment and action plan development, we anticipate initiating work during this project period to implement some of the most promising conservation strategies and activities.

This project represents a cross-organizational collaboration among staff and programs at the regional and national levels, including NWF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center, Western Water Initiative, Public Lands team, and Office of the Chief Scientist. 

To learn more, contact:
Sarah Bates, Senior Director, Western Water, BatesS@nwf.org
Brian Kurzel, Regional Executive Director, Rocky Mountain Region, KurzelB@nwf.org
Bruce Stein, Ph.D, Senior Scientist, SteinB@nwf.org

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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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