The mission of the Western Slope Conservation Center is to build an active and aware community to protect and enhance the lands, air, water, and wildlife of the Lower Gunnison Watershed.



Learn more and get involved by taking action with us.

The Western Slope Conservation Center is always working to ensure the health and preservation of the Western Slope of Colorado by working with our local, state, and federal governments, businesses, conservationists and stakeholders.


Working with the Community to protect our land for generations to come.

At WSCC, we work to ensure continued conservation efforts by working alongside community members and creating educational opportunities within local schools.


The Conservation Center has been working since 1977, check out what we've done.

The Conservation Center maintains an interactive map that includes a wealth of watershed information that you can explore. Our map layers include oil & gas leases and wells, irrigation ditches, restoration sites, soil data, USFS recreation routes, and more.




We formed in 1977 to disseminate information about regional energy development and its impacts on the region’s natural resources. Today, our mission is to build an active and aware community to protect and enhance the lands, air, water and wildlife of the Lower Gunnison Watershed.

As a result of our work, in 35 years the communities of the Lower Gunnison Watershed will be characterized by intact and functioning ecosystems, clean and abundant water resources, well-managed lands with the highest level of protection they deserve, and informed and an engaged citizenry that understand the connection between the vitality of its ecological and social communities.



Once an in-stream gravel mine, we have worked hard and received several grants to restore riparian habitat and make the Park a family-friendly recreation area.


The Conservation Center is dedicated to keeping a watchful eye on the quality of our water quality. Our volunteers monitor every month and collect samples from an established network of stream stations.


The data illustrated in our interactive maps tell the true story of conservation in Delta County. Layers represent oil & gas development, roadless areas, irrigation ditches and more.


Air & Water Quality
Public Lands
River Park

Mountainfilm World Tour returns to the North Fork!

November 8, 2016
Mountainfilm on Tour to Arrive in Paonia at the Paradise Theatre on Nov. 11th Paonia/CO– Mountainfilm on Tour brings inspiration and education about important issues to audiences around the world. The tour will soon visit Paonia at the Paradise Theatre on November 11th with documentary films that will explore the themes connected to Telluride Mountainfilm’s mission to use the power of film, art and ideas to inspire audiences to create a better world. Started in 1979, Telluride Mountainfilm is one of America’s longest-running film festivals. Through the years, in and out of trends and fads, the festival has always been best described by one unchanging word: inspiring. In addition to screening leading independent documentary films from around the world, the festival includes a full-day symposium on a contemporary issue, art and photography exhibits, early morning coffee talks, outdoor programs, a book-signing party, an ice cream social, student programs and a closing picnic/awards ceremony. Presentations and panels are scheduled throughout the Memorial Day weekend event with a wide diversity of special guests, ranging from artists to adventurers and academics to activists. Mountainfilm on Tour shares a selection of the films from the annual festival with audiences around the globe and offers Mountainfilm for Students, a free educational outreach initiative for K-12 schools at tour locations. Year-round and worldwide, the tour reaches over 65,000 people on six continents. The show begins promptly at 7:30pm. A Mountainfilm presenter will introduce the films and engage the audience in discussion following the films. Tickets for Mountainfilm on Tour in Paonia are available online at or at Cirque Cyclery, Paradise Theatre, or the Western Slope Conservation Center office. Tickets will also be available the day of the event at Paradise Theatre. The cost for each show is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. See the complete playlist at Mountainfilm on Tour in Paonia is hosted by Western Slope Conservation Center partnering with Cirque Cyclery. The event is sponsored by Alpine Bank, Western CO Realty, High Country News, Delicious Orchards, and High Wire Hops. To learn more and join the conversation, visit

Gravel Mine to Green Space: A Workshop on Community-Directed Approaches to Mining Reclamation and River Restoration

November 1, 2016
Many communities with mining legacies across the country are faced with major challenges of transitioning their local economies while also stewarding their lands and watersheds. Creative, community oriented reclamation can turn environmental liabilities into community centerpieces, generating valuable economic, environmental, and recreational opportunities. The Paonia River Park in Paonia, CO is a prime example of a successful and sustainable post-mining reclamation project. Formerly an in-stream gravel mine, the Paonia River Park is now a fully functioning public-access park with a boat ramp, beach and swimming holes, picnic areas, 1 mile of trails, and ADA accessible features. The Western Slope Conservation Center invites community leaders and restoration professionals to attend a two-day community river restoration and mining reclamation workshop on June 1-2, 2017. At this workshop, attendees will tour the river park, learn about the technical aspects and social impacts of the park, discuss WSCC’s successes and lessons learned, explore new creative funding techniques, network with fellow practitioners and community leaders from mining regions, and leave with an overall sense of what it means to undergo a community-directed reclamation project. Stay for our 17th annual Float Fest on June 3 and tour the improvements along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Registration will open January 2017, watch this space for more information. For more information, contact Alyssa Clarida at or 970-527-5307 x 204!

How to support the North Fork Alternative in your RMP comment

October 5, 2016
Can you believe the leaves are already changing and that snow is falling on the peaks? It feels like it was spring snowmelt just weeks ago. The truth is, though, that it’s now October, and we have less than a month to submit comments to the BLM draft Resource Management Plan. It’s absolutely essential that we each submit comments (as many as you can muster) that provide clear and substantive support for why the BLM must include conservation and recreation protections within their final plan. This includes the North Fork Alternative, B1, plus Special Recreation Management Areas including the Jumbo trails. Want to get caught up on the RMP? Listen to this week’s Local Motion on KVNF which includes an interview with local conservation hero, Bill Day, BLM Field Manager Dana Wilson, and WSCC Executive Director Alex Johnson explaining the plan. To make the comment writing as easy as possible, we have also created draft language by subject area with prompts. You can download it here. We also have several draft comment letters that you can use to write your own comment to the BLM and supporting letter to other decision-makers like the Delta County BoCC: Draft RMP Comment Letter in support of North Fork Alternative (B1) – Full Version Draft RMP Comment Letter in support of North Fork Alternative (B1) – Short Version Draft Letter to Delta County BoCC in support of North Fork Alternative (B1) Our community has worked incredibly hard over the last five years to respond to increased pressures of oil and gas activities within the North Fork Valley. To learn more about the North Fork Alternative, and get all of our resources for the RMP, visit our UFO RMP Page.

16th Annual Float & Fest is Back!

April 7, 2016
Register online today- Click here! Although last year’s float trip was cancelled due to the weather, the Western Slope Conservation Center is excited to announce that our float trip is back! This year will mark our 16th year and we are anticipating an exciting event. Our float trip provides a unique opportunity for residents and visitors of the North Fork to make a splash in our local rivers and it is one of the most popular events in Delta County.  Each year, we work hard to recruit boat captains and conservation experts to take floaters down the river on an educational and fun-filled adventure. This event helps to raise funds for the Conservation Center’s continuing efforts to protect our watershed. This year’s float is on June 4th. Dress to impress this year, the theme is ‘Hawaiian’! Boaters will enter the water at our very own Paonia River Park and will journey down the North Fork of the Gunnison River to the Delta County Fairgrounds in Hotchkiss. During the float, information about the Paonia River Park and the history of this particular section of the Gunnison River will be highlighted. Enjoy lunch and a festival afterwards with vendors and fun activities for all ages. This festival is free to everyone, even those who were not able to float! Tickets for the float include shuttle and lunch. Prices are $25 for adults and $20 for children (8-12 years old). This year we are pleased to announce that we are offering 20 youth scholarships for youth ages 8-17 to float for free thanks to a grant from ‘Ride the Rockies’. *NOTE: a parent/guardian must float with them for safety reasons.* This will be on a first-come-first-serve basis, so please contact the Western Slope Conservation Center if you are interested. Details about lunch options will be available soon! The Conservation Center has been managing river restoration projects for over two decades. Past float trips emphasized restoration projects at Midway, Hotchkiss, and the Curry Conservation Easement (2011), the Hartland Diversion Dam (2012), and the Relief Ditch Diversion Dam (2013). If you are interested in sponsoring this year’s event, please let us know. Our past sponsorship ranges from local businesses to national non-profits; if you value conservation and outdoor recreation, then why not? Sponsorship Levels Class V Waterfall Sponsor- $500: 4 complimentary float tickets- – includes float, lunch, and shuttle (value $100), your name and EXTRA-LARGE, FEATURED logo on event posters, banner, our website and emails, and in press releases.  Class III Rapid Sponsor – $250:  2 complimentary float tickets – includes float, lunch, and shuttle (value $50), your name and LARGE logo on event posters, banner, our website and emails, and in press releases. Class I Riffle Sponsor – $100:  1 complimentary float ticket – includes float, lunch, and shuttle (value $25), your name and small logo on event posters, banner, our website and emails, and in press releases.   We are currently looking for experienced boat captains and rafts, so please contact us if you are interested. For more information about sponsoring, scholarships, the float, or to register*

Gunnison Public Lands Initiative Protects the Lower Gunnison Watershed

April 6, 2016
The Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI) is a coalition of community organizations that are committed to the incredible landscapes, recreation opportunities, and healthy habitats and wildlife of Gunnison County. As the GPLI advocates for congressional protection of our public lands, we support their efforts. GPLI has been careful, methodical, and inclusive in putting together their proposal. They have chosen areas that have strong community consensus behind them and will prove most beneficial to our communities in their natural state. The lands that they have proposed for protection include some of our most important places in the North Fork Valley. Mt. Lamborn is a central feature in our viewshed and the Muddy drainage and Pilot Knob is the source of our agricultural water. The Western Slope Conservation Center has been committed to the protection of public lands in the Lower Gunnison Watershed for 39 years. We work diligently to ensure that the communities of the Lower Gunnison Watershed have intact and functioning ecosystems, clean and abundant water, and well-managed lands with the highest level of protection they deserve. Because of this commitment and the thoughtful work of GPLI, the Conservation Center submitted a letter to Senator Bennet supporting GPLI and congressional protection of some of our most treasured places.

Conservation Center Supports DMEA

April 5, 2016
The Western Slope Conservation Center has worked to protect and conserve the natural resources of the Lower Gunnison Watershed for the past 39 years. Just as we have supported the responsible development of local coal, we also support the responsible development of renewable energies. Renewable energy generation is a wise use of our natural resources, and it also has the potential to create local jobs and generate millions of dollars in economic development. Delta Montrose Electrical Association (DMEA), the local electrical cooperative power supplier in Delta and Montrose Counties, has worked diligently to support the development of renewable energy generation from solar and hydro-resources. However, their efforts have been opposed by a petition filed by the Tri-State Generation & Transmission that essentially penalizes utilities like DMEA when they buy energy from local renewable projects. On March 8th, the Conservation Center submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voicing our support of DMEA, renewable energy generation, and economic development in DMEA’s area.  

Conservation Center awarded over $137,000 for the Paonia River Park

March 21, 2016
The Western Slope Conservation Center is proud to announce that it has received over $137,000 from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to complete the trail system at the Paonia River Park. The Paonia River Park is the only developed public access point along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. The Conservation Center and other community partners have worked hard to make it a safe and enjoyable place for everyone to visit by developing a river overlook and picnic area, building a short trail, and installing a boat ramp. To date, the Paonia River Park represents an investment of thousands of volunteer hours and over $850,000 from grants and private donations. The Conservation Center is proud of the broad community support that the Paonia River Park enjoys. The work that has been accomplished to date would not have been possible without support from the Town of Paonia, which owns part of the River Park property, United Companies, which donated the initial property parcel, and countless other community organizations and volunteers who have been key to the Paonia River Park’s success. Alex Johnson, Executive Director of the Conservation Center, is thrilled to share the news with the local community. “This is the culmination of over a decade of community effort to transform an in-stream gravel mine into a fantastic public river park,” said Johnson. The award of the 2016 Trails Project grant, coupled with the current steel ramp and educational signage projects that are underway, will help the Conservation Center develop the Paonia River Park into a greater recreational and educational resource for Delta County. Other funders that have made the Paonia River Park’s development possible include: Fishing is Fun in Colorado, Gates Family Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado, Golder Associates, Hotchkiss-Crawford Historic Society, North Fork Historic Society, North Fork Valley Heart and Soul, Paonia Historic Preservation Society, th#e Robert Hayutin Memorial Fund, Town of Paonia,  and United Companies.

Western Slope Conservation Center Strategic Plan

February 3, 2016
Introduction The Western Slope Conservation Center 2016 Strategic Plan is the product of a multi-year process of stakeholder gatherings, board sessions, and committee meetings. It defines who we are, what we do, and why we do it. It prioritizes three program goal areas: Public Lands, Watershed Stewardship, and Education. outlines an ambitious set of goals and objectives to be achieved over the next three years. You can download the executive summary: WSCC Strategic Plan – 2016 Executive Summary. Mission The mission of the Western Slope Conservation Center is to build an active and aware community to protect and enhance the lands, air, water and wildlife of the Lower Gunnison Watershed. Vision As a result of our work, in 35 years the communities of the Lower Gunnison Watershed will be characterized by intact and functioning ecosystems, clean and abundant water resources, well-managed lands with the highest level of protection they deserve, and an informed and engaged citizenry that understands the connection between the vitality of its ecological and social communities. Values • Transparent, responsible, and ethical in our actions. We strive for integrity in all of our efforts. We are accountable to our mission, membership, donors, partners, and the public. • Guided by science. We will use reliable, relevant, and the best-available scientific research to guide our decisions whenever possible. • Respect for the environment and diverse communities. We strive to include the active involvement of the people and partners who are linked to the ecosystems we endeavor to protect. We consider the needs and values of our community. We build relationships based on trust and mutual benefit. • We seek tangible and enduring results. We use informed debate and creative problem solving to develop locally appropriate solutions to complex conservation problems. Program Goal Areas In 2014 the Board of Directors affirmed our commitment to the following goal areas: • Watershed Stewardship • Public Land Advocacy • Education and Engagement Program Priorities & Goal Areas Watershed Stewardship • River Watch – Monthly/Ongoing • Watershed Group Expansion – BOR Grant June 2016 • Irrigation and Efficiency • Restoration • Public Access of River Corridors Public Lands Protection and Advocacy • BLM, USFS, and other agency/org Partnerships – Ongoing • Mineral Lease Exchange and Withdrawal – 2015/2016 • NEPA Oversight – Ongoing/Episodic • Restoration, including Healthy Forests Work & SBEADMR • Access (includes coal mine-related access issues) • Identify and support coalition for long-term protection strategies for public lands Education & Engagement • See full calendar of events – Ongoing • Youth river outreach (Ride the Rockies) – Early 2016 • Adult Education with special focus on Water & Fire Protection for Landowners • Youth Education with priority on water • Mapping Paonia River Park • Phase I completion – 2016 • Phase II development and hand off – 2016/2017 Development • Major Donor Program Launch 2016 Email or call us with questions about the strategic plan and for ways to get involved! 970-527-5307

Supporting Responsible Development on the Western Slope

January 19, 2016
The Western Slope Conservation Center has a long legacy of working towards responsible conservation solutions with unlikely partners. With the help of Arch Coal Company, we developed the Conservation Assistance Program (CAP) which we used to permanently protect over 10,000 acres of land in conservation easements from 2006-2014. We have advocated for methane capture, and we have supported the creation of a methane capture facility which provides energy to Aspen Ski Company. As we have worked towards responsible conservation, we have been able to support responsible local coal mining. Read this comment letter to learn more about our latest action to support local solutions as we support the reinstatement of the North Fork Coal Mining Area Exemption to the Colorado Roadless Rule while advocating for methane capture, national climate change policy, and reclamation and restoration commitments. From the letter: “After full review of the SDEIS, the Conservation Center supports Alternative B (proposed action) which would reinstate the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception. We appreciate the US Forest Service’s (USFS) thorough analysis of environmental consequences, including projected greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, associated with future mining in the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception. The Conservation Center strongly encourages the USFS to do everything within its power to develop a comprehensive national climate change policy for analyzing the impacts of all current and future fossil fuel extraction proposals under USFS purview. The Conservation Center also supports additional administrative rulemaking that requires and incentivizes capture of all recoverable methane produced from future coal mining in the US.” “Colorado would currently have 70,000 fewer acres of roadless area if the North Fork Coal Mine Area exception had not been included in the final Colorado Roadless Rule. In 2006, the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force issued draft recommendations to remove protection from all 70,000 acres of North Fork roadless areas to facilitate coal mining. WSERC, now the Conservation Center, and local coal mines worked together to develop a plan that was eventually incorporated into the Colorado Roadless Rule, a rule supported by both the mines and conservationists. This plan retained roadless protection for all 70,000 acres, with a temporary exception for mineable areas adjacent to the three coal mines in the valley. The exception required all surface impacts from mining activity to be reclaimed to wilderness quality after mining activities were complete. It also required the USFS to manage those reclaimed and restored lands as roadless.” Read more here!

Working to Protect the Thompson Divide

January 15, 2016
On January 8th, 2016, the Western Slope Conservation Center added its voice to the groundswell of community support to cancel all or part of the 65 leases issued without appropriate NEPA analysis since 1993 on the White River National Forest (WRNF), an area that includes the Thompson Divide. In our comment letter, we expressed our support for Alternative 4, the BLM’s Proposed Action, which would cancel all of part of 25 existing leases in areas identified by the WRNF Draft Record of Decision on future oil and gas leasing and modify existing lease stipulations in areas identified as open to future oil and gas development. We also encouraged the BLM to take further steps to mitigate the environmental impacts that oil and gas development will have on water quality, air quality, riparian vegetation, sensitive plant species, and sensitive wildlife species for all leases that are not cancelled. The Western Slope Conservation Center supports collaborative land management decision making which incorporates public input at each stage of the management process and engages all relevant local, state, and federal agencies in landscape-level planning. These types of processes will produce the best outcome for local communities, public health, and the plants and wildlife that depend on our public lands. Read our letter here.

Baseline Water Quality Monitoring Report Available

December 16, 2015
The Western Slope Conservation Center, supported by the Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC) at the University of Colorado Boulder, collected local groundwater samples in September of 2014 and June of 2015 in order to provide a baseline of water quality conditions in the North Fork of the Gunnison River watershed. Future water quality conditions can be compared to this baseline if and when new oil and gas wells are drilled and developed within the watershed. The 2014 – 2015 Water Quality Monitoring Report: North Fork Gunnison River Basin Delta County, Colorado, authored by Jessica Lewand, Katya Hafich, and Mark Williams, analyzes the findings of the samples. The summary of the report’s findings are as follows: No BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) were detected above the laboratory method detection limit (MDL) throughout the entire study. Methane was detected in low concentrations in some samples, with many samples below the laboratory method detection limit. Methane was generally detected during the September sampling event when low flow conditions were present. Methane can naturally occur in groundwater and it is not hazardous to human health. Water throughout the watershed can be characterized as having high alkalinity. Groundwater and springs had significantly higher (p<0.05) alkalinity than surface water. High alkalinity is likely caused by high carbonate and bicarbonate concentrations due to presence of marine sediments such as the Mancos shale. The pH values range from neutral in groundwater and springs to slightly basic in surface waters. Surface water had significantly higher (p<0.05) pH than groundwater and springs. The results suggest that barium concentrations may typically be higher in the Muddy Creek area. There was a significantly higher (p<0.05) concentration of barium in groundwater of Muddy Creek compared to groundwater down valley. There was also a significantly higher (p<0.05) concentration of barium in surface water of Muddy Creek in the 2011 ERO study compared to the same site in this study No other significant differences were found when comparing groundwater or surface water sites in Muddy Creek to down gradient sites. No analyte concentrations exceeded the National Primary Drinking Water Standards (NPDWS). A few analyte concentrations exceeded the National Secondary Drinking Water Standards (NSDWS) set in place for contaminants that are not health threatening, but are set to maintain aesthetic considerations, such as taste, color, and odor. No significant seasonal differences (p>0.05) were found for any Analyte concentrations when separated by water source (groundwater, springs, and surface water). It is important to note that the sample size for this report is relatively small, and may not capture the full seasonal range, and/or fully characterize water quality throughout the watershed. Click here to learn more about other water quality monitoring that we do!  

WSCC Interactive Map Online

December 11, 2015
Use this interactive map to understand the local issues you are interested in–from irrigation to energy development. The data that is illustrated in these maps is accurate and reliable, and together they tell a story of conservation in Delta County. Some particularly interesting layers to explore include the COGCC Oil and Gas Wells, regional roadless areas and other Forest Service travel routes, and local irrigation ditches and diversions. You can also access information about stream flow, snowpack, and drought on our Resources Page. This interactive map was funded by the Bureau of Reclamation. Click here to view and download the .kml files associated with this map.
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