Mountain-Prairie Region  Partners for Fish & Wildlife
San Luis Valley Focus Area

San Luis Valley Focus Area location map

Introduction and General Description

sandhill and whooping cranes beside a wetland photoThe San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado is a critical area for wetland restoration and migratory water birds. The valley is in an ancient lake bed approximately 100 miles long and 50 miles wide. Numerous large wetland complexes occur throughout the valley, supporting large concentrations of resident and migratory water birds. The Rio Grande River flows through the valley, and numerous small streams from surrounding mountains feed an immense aquifer. Agriculture, greasewood flats (Sarcobates spp.), wetlands, and riparian communities dominate the landscape. The Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge complex is the key wetland component within the valley. The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Ducks Unlimited also have large wetland protection efforts ongoing with the valley and the Partners program interfaces and supports those efforts.

The Colorado Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program began in the San Luis Valley in 1989. The Program was first designed to help alleviate avian cholera problems at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.  By creating waterfowl wintering sites away from the refuge, the refuge was able to manage for reduced waterfowl concentrations and significantly reduce cholera mortalities. Since then, wetland restoration for nesting and migrating water birds has been the primary focus, and over 10,000 wetland acres have been restored. An additional 8,000 acres of upland habitat have been managed through agreements.

Habitats of Special Concern

nesting pintail photoThe Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has been focusing on wet meadow and riparian restorations. Wetland projects are designed to provide wet meadow habitat for foraging and nesting water birds. These projects are often associated with resting of upland grasslands for nesting cover. Riparian habitat projects focus on restoration of native vegetation through fencing, re-vegetation, and grazing management. Riparian projects will benefit the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher as well as many other riparian-dependent species.

Threats and Conservation Strategies

Development of resources including water, real estate, and agriculture are the primary threats to fish and wildlife resources in the San Luis Valley.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, in conjunction with our partners (Colorado Division of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners), has embarked on an ambitious conservation effort in the San Luis Valley. Fee title purchase, easements, and restoration of public and private lands are the principle strategies. The Partners Program provides the private lands habitat restoration component of this approach. Contour terraces with water control, fencing and grazing management, and revegetation of native plant communities are the primary techniques Partners projects have used. The costs to restore wet meadow habitat range from $50-$200/acre.


Shallow Water Wetlands Shorebird Projects

project site before photo
Project site before
project site showing avocets in the shallow water
Premium avocet nesting cover created by flooding the low spots with 2 inches of water while leaving the higher spots unflooded.


Partners for Fish and Wildlife efforts in the San Luis Valley are possible because of dedicated landowners, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado, Ducks Unlimited, North American Wetland Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and local water management and irrigation districts.


Since inception of the Partners Program in the valley in 1989, 10,088 wetland acres, 8,999 acres of upland habitat, and 15 miles or riparian habitat have been restored and managed through 188 agreements.

bison grazing photo
Bison grazing project.

shallow wetland photo
An example of a good marsh project--limited pen water, good interspersion of emergents, and excellent habitat for broods and aquatic insects.

Future Needs

In the San Luis Valley, restoration of additional shallow water wetlands for nesting and foraging is expected to remain a major focus. About 30,000 acres of wetlands could be restored in this Focus Area.

Riparian restoration projects need to increase in number and magnitude. In addition to assisting recovery of the Southwestern willow flycatcher, many other wildlife species will benefit. Over 150 miles of riparian habitat could be restored.

shallow water wetland creation

For more information, contact:

Corey Kanuckel
Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
9383 El Rancho Lane
Alamosa, CO 81101
(719) 589-4021 X 1010