U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS)

Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management

In a flurry of lawsuits stretching across the West, conservation groups are accusing the federal government of failing to protect a rare bird: the sage grouse. This week, the groups involved in one of those lawsuits came to a legal truce.

Matt Bloom/KUNC

Standing at the edge of the Cache La Poudre River in Fort Collins, Boyd Wright adjusted his sunglasses against the bright sunlight. He pointed to the Fossil Creek ditch, a diversion structure dividing the waterway.

Ryan Moehring / USFWS

A greenway to connect Denver with Rocky Mountain National Park would provide greater access to wildlife refuges by foot and by bike, but some say the plan would put nature lovers at risk. That’s because part of the trail will snake through Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, the site of a former nuclear weapons manufacturing facility.

With the deadline for a funding grant looming, several cities have chosen sides -- will they contribute to the effort to secure the federal money or not -- and Arvada is the next in line.

Peter Pearsall / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Every April, the Mountain Plover arrives on Colorado’s eastern plains. Despite its unassuming size and appearance, it draws plenty of bird watching enthusiasts to the tiny community of Karval for the annual Mountain Plover festival.

"Karval has a population of, I think, about 30 -- there’s not much out there," said Betty Snow, a bird watcher who’s attending the festival for her third time. "It’s interesting to go and connect with the people and the farmers, and listen to what they do, and why they have gone to lengths to conserve this bird."

Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Some native fish in the Colorado River and its tributaries are struggling to stay afloat. Invasive species, dams and water diversions all complicate the recovery of endangered fish. One long-standing program is part of a multistate effort to save four species of fish native to the Colorado River Basin: humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and bonytail.

It all started in 1988 when the federal government signed an agreement with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, establishing what's called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Bob Wick / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The greater sage grouse, a bird whose range spans 11 western states, including Colorado, will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, announced the decision in a video released on Twitter.

Jewell cited the efforts of land-owners and government in states like Colorado and Wyoming, who have invested proactively in plans to protect the sagebrush landscape, which she said was suffering from “death by a thousand cuts.”

The greater sage grouse is a peculiar and distinctly Western bird. It's about the size of a chicken and about as adaptable as the dodo bird, which is to say it's not very adaptable at all — at least not in a human-driven time scale.

In biological terms, the greater sage grouse is perfectly adapted for its habitat: the rolling hills of knee-high silver scrub that's sometimes called the sagebrush sea. It's the oft-forgotten parts of the fast-changing West — The Big Empty, as settlers used to call it.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Carol and John Wagner’s ranch is surrounded by green pastures, with spectacular views of the northern San Juan mountains. The Wagners moved here from Pennsylvania in 1986, to raise cattle. When they first arrived, Carol said they wondered what was wrong with the creek that meandered through their property.

“Nothing could live in it,” she recalled. Grass didn’t grow along its banks, and there were no fish or bugs.

That creek, called Kerber Creek, is just a small piece of the legacy left by hard rock mining across the West. When Tang-colored water spilled from a mine into the Animas River, it caught the nation’s attention. Yet unknown to most, there are people who work day in and day out cleaning up the many hundreds of abandoned mine sites across Colorado. This sort of mine cleanup work is a never-ending process, fraught with logistical challenges, financing problems, even the looming threat of lawsuits.

Boulder County Open Space

Boulder County plans to set aside another big chunk of land as open space. County Commissioners approved a 740 acre purchase of land west of U.S. 36 between Boulder and Lyons for $775,000.

Ron Stewart, director of parks and open space for the county, said the land is significant.

“All of the work that we’ve done over the years, looking, for instance, at things like biodiversity and natural plant communities, indicate that area of the north foothills is one of the most sensitive and important landscapes that we have in the open space system,” said Stewart.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge sits just northeast of Denver. Inside the refuge's 16,000 acres, bison roam and prairie dogs scamper in view of a professional soccer league stadium and the Denver skyline.

The refuge opened the doors to its visitor center in 2011. Since then, visitors numbers have skyrocketed, said David Lucas, who manages the refuge for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Last year we had over 300,000 visitors."

Before long, he expects that number to reach a million a year. In response, the refuge is putting together a plan to open new areas to the public and continue improving the habitat for wildlife. 

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