Wetlands north of Durango in the Animas Valley have been approved for expansion.
For years, the Zink family has been working to restore a good part of their 150-acre ranch, which has been in the family for more than a 100 years, back to wetlands.
Ed Zink said the original plan was to restore about 50 acres of the property, which was finished in the past few years. As a result, the family started looking to other areas of the property that could also be converted.
Last week, the Zinks officially announced they received approval from a consortium of government agencies – including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, La Plata County government, among others – to expand the wetlands project by 15 acres.
Once the project is finished, which Zink estimates will take about five years, nearly half of the ranch will be wetlands.
Before Western settlement reached Colorado, the best estimates show there were probably around 2 million acres – about 3% – of wetlands across the state, which provide some of the most biologically diverse habitats for wildlife and serve as a natural filter for water.
It’s estimated that about 80% to 90% of all wildlife rely on wetland habitats.
But development and other human-related impacts over the decades have caused many wetlands, about half, to disappear. In recent years, though, there has been a push for restoration projects to bring back the instrumental ecosystems when possible.
At the Zinks’ ranch, for instance, a bird count in 2009 tallied 26 species. This year, after more acres of wetlands have returned, that number has jumped to more than 110 species. Patti Zink, Ed’s wife, said other wildlife, too, like deer, are frequenters on the property.
And though the Zinks’ effort is voluntary and self-funded, it is likely they will see some returns for their project, Ed Zink said.
The Clean Water Act of 1974 requires any new development that will destroy wetlands to find new land to restore back to a wetland.
Zink said his property could be used for this purpose.
As an example, he said if the Colorado Department of Transportation ever sought to expand U.S. Highway 160 between Durango and Bayfield, about 20 acres of wetlands could be affected. In turn, CDOT could reimburse the Zinks for their restoration project.
When taking into account the cost of the land in the Animas Valley, the actual restoration work and the fact the land is not being put to use (the Zinks grow hay), the family estimated they are losing millions by converting it to wetlands.
“We try not to think about it every day,” Patti Zink said.
However, she said the wetlands will enhance the environment, as well as conserve the land forever as open space.
“We’re really glad we’ve done it,” she said. “It will be a family legacy for us.”
Ed Zink said he has heard some of his neighbors express interest in wetland projects, which would provide more robust and expanded habitat for wildlife and improving water quality.