Promoting Pollinators and Protecting Resources
On June 8, 2022, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 22-1151 which allocates $2 million for a Turf Replacement Program in the state during fiscal year 2022-2023. In a nutshell, the program will pay individual and corporate property owners to replace irrigated turf with drought-resistant flowers, shrubs and grasses, known as “xeriscaping.” The purpose behind the program is to promote the efficient use of and maximum utilization of Colorado’s water resources by decreasing the amount of irrigated turf across the state. While the specific parameters of the program are still being rolled out, it is expected that the state will pay out between $1 and $3 per square foot of irrigated grass that is removed/replaced.
While both the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and the Gunnison Conservation District (GCD) are hoping the new program will incentivize property owners to consider more drought efficient landscaping, the idea of xeriscaping is nothing new to the GCD. As Aleshia Rummel, the local GCD technician, points out, the GCD has been providing and promoting custom seed mixes of wildflowers and native grasses to property owners in the Gunnison River basin for years. In fact, on June 17, 2022, the GCD along with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies hosted the “Water Wise Pollinators Gardening Workshop” to educate area residents on the benefits of xeriscaping, not only for the conservation of water, but also for the benefit of pollinators like hummingbirds and bees. GCD received funding and/or assistance for the workshop from Western Colorado University, Xerces Society, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, UGRWCD and the National Garden Club.
At the workshop, participants enjoyed presentations on why native plants are important to native pollinators, why pollinators are important to ecosystems, which native pollinators we have here in the Gunnison basin, best practices for pollinator habitat, and how native plants can contribute to xeriscaping and water savings. Following the presentations, participants visited a native plant garden to see the diversity of plants and pollinators in the area. Then participants visited the Gunnison Gardens where they helped with soil preparation and planting of native seeds at the site.
While Aleshia noted that the GCD Board (and likewise the UGRWCD Board of Directors) are awaiting more specifics from the state on how the Turf Replacement Program will pay property owners, as there is a 50 percent match currently required as part of the payment program, she said there was no reason for area property owners to wait if they are considering xeriscaping.
“Through the Gunnison Conservation District, we have a variety of packages of native grasses and wildflower seed mixes that should do well in our climate and elevation,” said Aleshia. “We can also provide technical advice and a mix of custom seeds to landowners best suited for their particular property.”
Aleshia explained that the mixture of seeds is determined by what they are able to get from their seed distributor in the state. This seed mixture is also affected both in its make-up and price by wildfires or drought during the growing season. Aleshia said that although her position and a portion of the District Manager’s position is paid for through state and federal grants, the sale of seeds and other products helps support their programming, technical assistance and educational seminars.
“In addition to offering seed mixes, the GCD also offers herbicides for sales and technical assistance for treating noxious weeds or making improvements to properties,” said Aleshia. “We even offer some targeted programs such as free herbicides for treating cheatgrass.”
Since 1956, the GCD has helped landowners, agricultural producers and partner agencies improve their lands and waters for wildlife, water security and agricultural productivity. Aleshia said she was drawn to the position because she enjoys working on challenges like eradicating noxious weeds in the valley, improving habitat for sage-grouse and other wildlife and developing ways to improve irrigation efficiency.
“It’s been really interesting and rewarding to work with landowners to come up with ways to better manage our lands and natural resources,” said Aleshia. “I see first-hand the difference a single landowner can make in preserving habitat and water and I am looking forward to more individuals in our area jumping on board to xeriscape and find other creative ways to conserve our natural resources. Together, we all can make a difference!”
For questions about seed mixes, noxious weeds and other issues with your personal property, please call the GCD at (970)707-3047 or email District Manager Caroline Czenkusch at email@example.com. You can also visit the GCD’s website to read their latest newsletter The Range Rider and learn more about their programming at: https://www.gunnisonconservationdistrict.info/