Why are we thankful for the Colorado River? (Hint: It’s bigger than birds)

Arizona WRAN News: November 2018

Why is Audubon thankful for the Colorado River?  Is it because it provides pathways for the vast majority of migratory bird species in the intermountain west and breeding habitat for imperiled species like the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo?  Is it because it provides water for tens of millions of people, including Native American tribes and the major cities of Albuquerque, Denver, Phoenix, and Tucson? Is it because it supplies irrigation water to farms and ranches that generate some 15% of the United States’ agricultural output?

Yes, but it is so much bigger than that.

To see what we mean, take a look at a city that has always been intrinsically tied to the Colorado River: Yuma, Arizona, located along the Lower Colorado River in the southwestern corner of the state. Water from the river supports several on-river wildlife refuges and globally significant Important Bird Areas, hydrates nearly 200,000 acres of farmland, and encourages tourism that keeps the city thriving.

With so much depending on the Colorado River and the water it provides, it’s no surprise that Yuma is home to a strong, diverse tean of Western Rivers Action Network leaders.  Read on to learn more about the Yuma team is doing to protect the Colorado River.

  • Nancy Meister: As President of the Yuma Audubon Society, Nancy is a powerful advocate for the Colorado River and the birds that depend on it. She speaks up during meetings with legislators, helps us activate the chapter when it is time to take action, and works tirelessly to engage Yuma residents with the river, birds, and other wildlife.  Most recently, she is spearheading the effort to launch Yuma’s inaugural Bird, Nature, and History Festival. Scheduled for Friday, January 4th to Sunday, January 6th, this is a great opportunity to learn about and explore the Colorado River.
  • Chris Mitchell:  As a Regional Director of the Arizona Wildlife Federation, President of the Yuma Valley Rod & Gun Club, and former small business owner who has now joined his long-time friend in farming at Ware Farms, WRAN partner Chris Mitchell always steps up.  He joins us in meetings with legislators, at workshops and events in Yuma and elsewhere, and in media and public statements about the importance of water for birds, fish and wildlife.  He is a well-respected conservation advocate in Yuma and across Arizona.
  • Chris Wheeler: Chris Wheeler is the owner of Prison Hill Brewing Company and a member of the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council (WRBC). He never hesitates to speak up on behalf of brewers and small business interests, he attends local policy meetings, and he is our eyes and ears on the ground helping us stay up to speed on Yuma’s water concerns.  He is also always willing to work with our other partners in the area, and we’re excited to announce he’s working on a new brew to celebrate the Yuma Ridgway’s Rail and give people an extra reason to attend the Yuma Bird, Nature, and History Festival.

It may be the most apparent in a city directly on the river, but Yuma isn’t alone – we are all reliant on the Colorado River.  This reliance has allowed us to expand the Western Rivers Action Network beyond just birders to include hunters/anglers, small businesses, brewers, and more and build what has become a model of effective regional conservation advocacy. Without a resource as universally important as the Colorado River, this never would have been possible.

So, why are we thankful for the Colorado River?  Because it makes it impossible to deny that we truly are all in this together, and that is a good thing for birds and the places they live.

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