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San Luis Valley’s Blanca Wetlands provide valuable habitat

Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16th, 2008

Area hosts many endangered species


ALAMOSA — The Blanca Wetlands are proof of life in the desert.

The nearly 10,000-acre wetlands south of San Luis Lakes near the Great Sand Dunes National Park provide habitat for wildlife and plants as well as recreational opportunities for humans.

The wetlands are comprised of about 200 predominately shallow basins sitting on layers of sand and clay, Wetlands Biologist Jill Lucero explained during a presentation to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board this week.

Lucero said the wetlands are watered through more than 40 artesian wells with output ranging from 30 to 200 gallons per minute in addition to mitigation water from the Closed Basin Project.

She said currently the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) waters about 1,200 acres of the 10,000-acre wetlands area each year with various areas of the wetlands intentionally dried up periodically.

Lucero said some might question why the BLM constructed wetlands in the middle of the desert, but the BLM and its partnering agencies and organizations view the wetlands as a restoration effort.

Restoration and preservation of habitat within the Blanca Wildlife Habitat Area (Blanca Wetlands) is an ongoing cooperative effort by BLM in partnership with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Ducks Unlimited, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other entities.

Lucero said three maps from the 1800’s showed water in this area, and bones of fish requiring at least 12 feet of water have been found at the site, another evidence these were historically wet. “We know the area was historically wet, just at different levels,” Lucero said.

Wetlands Biologist Sue Swift-Miller said the wetlands hosts 13 threatened, endangered and sensitive species such as the bald eagle and is one of the most important bird areas in the state as it provides habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

The wetlands are significant for the birds that use the site for nesting or migratory stops, Swift-Miller said.

She added that the wetlands also host a never-before-described species of the fairy shrimp, a stream insect.

Swift-Miller said the diversity of habitat at the wetlands includes wet meadows, salt flats, marshes and fresh water ponds.

Swift-Miller said humans use the wetlands for fishing, waterfowl hunting, small game hunting, limited elk hunting, bird watching and educational tours.

She added the BLM has identified the Blanca Wetlands as an area of critical environmental concern which allows the BLM to place special restrictions on the area.

For example, the wetlands are closed to the general public from February 15 to July 15 to protect nesting birds.

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