06 October 2014

Working in Colorado

One of the best things about being on detail on another Forest is the ability to focus on just one project. Like most folks, I am faced at work with constantly shifting priorities & often left juggling several projects at one time. While I was working on the Arapahoe - Roosevelt I only had one responsibility: ensure contractor compliance with the construction drawings & specifications. 

Sounds pretty black & white, right? 

Then you have obviously not dealt with a Gov't contract before!

First, a little more background on the contract: As I mentioned in a  previous post, the original construction was scheduled for September of 2012. After delays due to wildfires, floods & the government shutdown of 2013, the contractor was more than ready to get this project started when I arrived in September 2014. 

The primary purpose of the project was to replace two small culverts located on Sheep Creek with larger bottomless arches to remove barriers for fish passage, specifically native greenback cutthroat trout. When fish cannot migrate up or down a stream the populations tend to get fragmented & isolated, which can imperil the genetic diversity & continuity of the species. 

Sheep Creek
This project had other complications besides just schedule delays. Located at 10,000 feet elevation, Sheep Creek is a sub alpine stream adjacent to the Comanche Peak Wilderness. Colorado Fish & Wildlife regulations restricted any stream disturbance activities to the months of September & October only. And did I forget to mention that muzzleloader season for deer/elk/moose begins September 11th? And that the road I was going to close provided the only access to the wilderness? Makes you wonder why I signed up for this!

Good thing I like a challenge.

The subcontractor for the job was a real cowboy contractor. And I mean that in the true western sense, not that they wore cowboy hats & line danced. They brought one of the oldest excavators I have ever seen in working condition to this job. It reminded me of the old steam shovels for some reason. Maybe because the bucket was so big.

 Or maybe it has something to do with the way they kept repairing it with bungee cords & baling wire.

It got the job done though! Excavation to remove the old culvert & construct the footings for the new steel arch was completed very quickly. Which was a good thing, because these guys did nothing else the easy way. As a matter of fact, if there was a more difficult way to take on a task, they somehow managed to find it.

Luckily the weather held pretty good & they were soon placing the concrete footings that would support the steel arch.

Since the primary purpose of this project was to eliminate barriers to fish passage, the next step was to "construct" a more natural stream bed under the culvert. I found this to be almost a bit more of an art than a science! But with the help of the local fish biologist, I think we got pretty good results:

The actually assembly of the steel arch was not complicated at all & now the project was starting to really show some progress.

After a good bit of backfilling & compacting of material, but within 3 weeks of my arrival, we had a completed project at the West Fork of Sheep Creek. One down, one to go!

Now it was time to start on the East Fork project & this is where I really had fun! As part of the project we needed to move any existing trout below the construction site to a reach above the site so they would not be impacted by any potential sedimentation. A small net stretched across the stream would ensure that they did not enter the construction area either. The method to do this involves electrofishing, which is a commonly used method for sampling fish populations. The fish are briefly stunned by electricity, but are unharmed & return to their normal activities pretty quickly.

I assisted the fish biologist by basically carrying a 5 gallon bucket & walking along the bank while watching for fish. You can only imaging my excitement when we found one. And it even turned out to be a greenback cutthroat trout!

What a beautiful fish!
Poor little guy was pretty stunned for a little while, so we kept him in the running stream for a time to keep water flowing through his gills. Then we measured him (by his size he was about 3 years old) & took him upstream to his new home in a nice little pool with lots of woody debris & shadows. He immediately took off to hide under a small log across the channel, so I knew he was fully recovered!

A little more on the native greenback cutthroat trout of Colorado: By 1937 they were thought to be extinct until a population was discovered in the South Platte basin in the 50's. This started an aggressive conservation/recovery plan & they were eventually moved from the Endangered list to Threatened Species. In 1996 they were designated as the official State fish of Colorado. Pretty cool, huh?

Is it any wonder that I love my job?

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