Friday, October 16, 2009

State Seeks More Bids for San Juan Habitat Improvement Projects

State Game and Fish officials have decided to seek additional bids for engineering services before proceeding any further with long-awaited habitat improvement plans to the trophy-class trout fishery at Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.

The department solicited and received proposals this summer from two firms to develop engineering plans for a runoff diversion at Rex Smith Wash and in-stream habitat improvements in the “Braids,” both areas located just above “Texas Hole.”

The two projects were called for by a working group of San Juan River stakeholders earlier this summer after the state legislature, last winter, appropriated $250,000 for the habitat improvements on the San Juan at the request of Governor Bill Richardson.

The funding came as controversy raged over fishing conditions on the river due to low flows implemented by federal operators of the dam over the last decade to accommodate endangered fish downstream.

The department solicited bids from about a half-dozen engineering firms to do the engineering work and received proposals from two firms interested in performing the job, said Marc Wethington, the San Juan’s Fisheries Biologist for the state Department of Game and Fish.

After review of the two proposals, department officials decided to seek more proposals through a formal request for proposals process

“The Department determined that a broader solicitation was warranted in order to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved,” says Marty Frentzel, Chief of Public Information and Outreach for the state Department of Game and Fish.

Frentzel declined to elaborate on the decision.

One of the firms that applied was Freestone Aquatics of Littleton, Co. in conjunction with Goff Engineering of Durango, Colo.

They submitted a bid to do the work for close to $62,000.

Freestone Aquatics is owned and operated by a couple of fishing guides who formed their own company in 2006 to do fish habitat work, according to information contained within their proposal and posted on their website.

It was noted in Freestone’s proposal that they had done a preliminary analysis of the San Juan River this summer on behalf of the San Juan River Foundation, a non-profit organization recently formed to raise money in support of habitat improvement and other projects on the river.

The foundation’s president is Bubba Smith, a San Juan fishing guide widely credited with drawing Richardson’s attention to the river and for working closely with state Game Commission chairman, Jim McClintic.

Freestone Aquatics referenced its preliminary work with the San Juan River Foundation in describing their work experience, stating in their proposal that “Freestone Aquatics is involved in a large scale restoration project on one of the premier gold-medal tail water fisheries in the West.Working with the San Juan River Foundation and the state of New Mexico, Freestone has been asked to provide expertise in managing this high profile, high use fishery.”

The statement goes on to say that “Freestone Aquatics employees are currently in the data gathering and design phase that will eventually be applied to this highly valuable fishery. Installation of Freestone-designed structures will function to transport sediment resulting in the recovery of thousands of square feet of macro invertebrate habitat.”

Freestone Aquatics is not currently working for the state of New Mexico in any capacity with regards to the San Juan as may be inferred from this statement in their proposal, said Lance Cherry, Assistant Chief of Public Information and Outreach for the state Department of Game and Fish.

The low bid for the project came from Riverbend Engineering, a river restoration firm with offices in Albuquerque and Durango, Colo., who submitted a proposal in partnership with Aquatic Consultants of Albuquerque.

They offered to perform the engineering services for just under $50,000.

Riverbend Engineering also provided reduced cost engineering services for the in-stream habitat work recently completed in the Cottonwood Campground area of the San Juan River, Wethington said.

The firm was not involved, though, in the oft-criticized habitat improvements done below Simon Canyon a few years ago, he said.

Those were designed by the Army Corp of Engineers, Wethington said.

An angler fishes during the summer of 2008 among the much maligned but highly effective habitat improvements installed below Simon Canyon.

Riverbend’s partner in their proposal is Aquatic Consultants which has been involved in numerous projects throughout the state including trophy sport fishing and commercial fisheries management projects at Cow Creek Ranch on the Pecos River, Don Imus’ ranch near Las Vegas, N.M., and Isleta, Sandia and Eagles Nest lakes.

Paul Cassidy, founder and president of Aquatic Consultants, was the state Department of Game and Fish’s Northwest Area Fisheries Manager for 11 years before leaving the department to form his own firm.

A new request for proposals for the Rex Smith and Braid’s habitat improvement projects is forthcoming and these firms may apply again, Wethington said.

In the meantime, the department awaits the outcome of the upcoming special session of the state legislature called for by the Governor to consider the state’s $650 million budget shortfall.

Frentzel said the department is not anticipating loss of the previously appropriated funds for the San Juan projects but noted that the any funding decision rests with the state legislature and governor.

One suggested method of covering some of the state budget shortfall includes recouping previously appropriated capital outlay funds that have yet to be spent.

However, Linda Kehoe, Capital Outlay Analyst for the state’s Legislative Finance Committee tells Outdoors New Mexico that the San Juan River’s funding appears safe for the time being.

“We’re not looking at those (from last year) right now,” she said. “But I would suggest that they (NMDGF) get a plan and start spending because as soon as this next session starts, we’ll be looking again.”

Even under a worst-case scenario, the San Juan projects appear to remain a priority.

“The Department views these projects as important,” says Frentzel. “And (we) will have to evaluate our budget situation and ability to move forward on them should the current funding be lost.”

And in the future, the department may have an additional revenue stream to rely upon rather than the generosity of the legislature to complete projects on the San Juan River.

Frentzel said the department is in the process of drafting proposed legislation, as directed by the state game commission, to authorize an additional habitat stamp for those who fish the quality waters of the San Juan River.

That idea came out of public discussions last spring regarding ways to improve fishing conditions on the San Juan River (see related article).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Dream Hunt

As the fall approached I began having the dream again, sometimes in vivid color, sight and sound and other times just blurry images and a fast fading, foggy memory of it upon awakening.

Then this morning I snapped awake feeling frantic and agitated.

I lay in the dark listening through the bedroom door as my aging and now slightly demented dog, Wiley, padded back and forth across the living room floor.

Then there was the slap, slap of the doggy door as she went outside to continue her rounds.

I struggled with my fleeting memory as the dream evaporated with the slowly brightening room.

From outside I heard our newspaper land in the driveway and the delivery truck speed away.

One thing I knew, it was essentially the same every time, reliving the actual events, but with an unnerving twist.

We were out on our hunt, having drawn tags for cow elk, up in the high country above Eagles Nest.

I was there with my buddies, Mikey Giddings and his uncle and Glenn Jaramillo and his son.

It was our second year in a row hunting in this location.

The year before we had been very successful and stocked our freezers full of good, lean organic meat (see related story here).

But this second year was different and I haven’t told the story until now.

We had been scouting at dusk along a forest road crossing the valley floor when we came across a herd headed back up the mountain.

They crossed the road right in front of our trucks.

“You know where I’ll be tomorrow morning,” Glenn said.

The elk were following an old logging road and we talked excitedly about our plan to catch them coming down or going back up again in the morning when the hunt officially began.

We were there at first light, Mikey on the far left up on a little knoll watching the draw that spread out before us into a large meadow.

I was hiding in the tree line a couple hundred yards away, covering the middle of the meadow, right where the logging road began its climb up the mountain.

And Glenn and Jonathan went ahead, around another tree covered knoll, to the cover the other side of the meadow.

As we waited, a few trucks motored by loaded with hunters heading off into the forest and the grey light of dawn gave way to the sun.

The elk should be moving off the watering holes and meadows down below us and heading back uphill soon, I thought as I waited.

Then a rifle shot cracked through the air and Glenn was on the radio.

“I got one,” he whispered.

They had slipped in right before us, coming up the draw and skirting the meadow by walking through an opposing tree line.

Glenn was in the right spot to see them working their way across us and picked off a young, antlerless, male.

We went back to camp and got to work skinning it and were eating grilled tenderloin with fried onions by lunch.
The next day brought a good dusting of snow which help revealed plenty of tracks and sign all over the valley floor, up the logging roads and on top of the mountain.

But we weren’t having any luck at all in actually seeing them.

So the next day we climbed the mountain in my little four wheel drive Geo Tracker with Glenn riding shotgun, bouncing up and over the rock strewn logging roads, and we went looking for them.

For miles we drove along snow covered forest roads, enjoying the beauty of the frosted mountain, the late afternoon sunshine and discovering new places.

Then we came across a wide meadow on the uphill side of the road. A little, two track, jeep trail ran up through it.

Glenn advised me to follow it.

We dropped the transmission into low gear and began idling up the muddy trail.

On our right a deeply forested hill rose, shaded from the sun and still covered in snow.

To our left, scrub oak, evergreen shrubs and stands of aspen bathed in the sunshine.

As we motored on up the meadow, she came out of the south facing treeline and began across the trail.

Glenn swore as I slowly came to a halt, turned off the engine and applied the parking brake.

She was now standing in the middle of the trail, just at the crest of the hill, broadside and looking straight at us.

Glenn swore again as I slowly pushed open the driver’s side door and eased my Dad’s model 1898, Springfield Armory, 30.-40. Krag from between the front seats.

I dropped to a knee, rested the rifle in the crook of the door frame and thumbed off the safety.

I couldn’t believe she was still there when I sighted down the barrel.

Glenn hissed, “shoot her, damn it.”

I took a breath, held it and then began steadily pulling the trigger.

Then she suddenly leaped off the road and bounded towards the safety of the snow covered pines.

I still had her in my sights when I heard a shout in my head.

“Run, girl, run!”

That’s when I usually snap awake.

This morning I lay there thinking, again, why I never took that shot.

I could take some solace in the fact that I hadn’t taken a risky shot, that we didn’t have to follow a wounded animal off into the woods, near dark, in the hopes we could recover her body.

I did the right thing I argued to myself and others after the hunt.

I just didn’t feel comfortable taking the shot.

But someone couldn’t help but snicker that maybe I would have if I had only been carrying my camera.

So as we prepare for this year’s hunt, in the same place for the same animals, I wonder about that shout in my head.

Did that happen or was it really just a dream?

After the elk had escaped that day we had gone up into the tree line and found their beds amid the grass, some still warm, their pellets soft and moist, we’d just missed them.

Maybe she’d slept late that afternoon and was the last to leave.

Maybe she’d been dreaming too.

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