Colorado

Gunnison River

Conserving rare habitat within a new National Conservation Area

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has designated this lower reach of the Gunnison as critical habitat for four species of Endangered warm-water fish.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has designated this lower reach of the Gunnison as critical habitat for four species of Endangered warm-water fish.
Photography | Russ Schnitzer
Western Rivers Conservancy's work on the Gunnison prevented a gravel mine on the banks of the river at the northern entrance to the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.
Western Rivers Conservancy's work on the Gunnison prevented a gravel mine on the banks of the river at the northern entrance to the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.
Photography | Russ Schnitzer
With its spectacular scenery and dramatic cliffs that tower over the river, the lower Gunnison is a popular destination for boaters. WRC's work on the lower river provides access to lands adjacent to the Gunnison that have been previously off limits.
With its spectacular scenery and dramatic cliffs that tower over the river, the lower Gunnison is a popular destination for boaters. WRC's work on the lower river provides access to lands adjacent to the Gunnison that have been previously off limits.
Photography | Richard Durnan
Bonytail chub are one of four species of Endangered warm-water fish that inhabit the lower Gunnison River.
Bonytail chub are one of four species of Endangered warm-water fish that inhabit the lower Gunnison River.
Photography | USFWS
The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, which borders WRC's acquisitions on the Gunnison, is home to rich archeological sites.
The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, which borders WRC's acquisitions on the Gunnison, is home to rich archeological sites.
Photography | Richard Durnan
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are common along the lower Gunnison River.
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are common along the lower Gunnison River.
Photography | Nathan Ward
After flowing through some of the country's deepest gorges, the Gunnison River widens and slows as it winds across the Uncompahgre Plateau before joining the Colorado River.
After flowing through some of the country's deepest gorges, the Gunnison River widens and slows as it winds across the Uncompahgre Plateau before joining the Colorado River.
Photography | Nathan Ward
Canoeists float the lower Gunnison River.
Canoeists float the lower Gunnison River.
Photography | Richard Durnan
Carving away at the Colorado Plateau for over two million years, the Gunnison River is one fo the West's great geologic sculptors.
Carving away at the Colorado Plateau for over two million years, the Gunnison River is one fo the West's great geologic sculptors.
Photography | Richard Durnan

Carving away at the Colorado Plateau for more than two million years, the Gunnison River is one of the West’s great geologic sculptors. The upper river flows through some of the country’s deepest gorges, including the 2,800-foot-deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison. As the river winds its way down into the juniper and scrub oak forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau, it gradually widens and slows. Yet it continues its erosive effect on the landscape, carving surreal shapes into the sandstone cliffs just as it has for millennia.

Before its confluence with the Colorado River, the lower Gunnison passes through the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area (DENCA), the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area and the Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). Scenic canyons and sandstone mesas dominate the landscape, and the area is home to desert bighorn sheep, mountain lion, black bear, river otter, bald eagle and Rocky Mountain elk. Four rare species of Colorado Basin warm-water fish, including the razorback sucker and the Colorado pikeminnow, inhabit the river. The DENCA is also rich in archeological sites, including prehistoric trails and rock art sites. Remote and spectacular, the area offers exceptional hiking, wildlife viewing and boating opportunities.

Despite the area’s extraordinary natural and recreational merits, more than 16 miles of the river within the DENCA are privately owned, and some face the threat of development or gravel mining. With the goal of conserving the Gunnison and ensuring riverlands within the DENCA remains in public hands, Western Rivers Conservancy has been working to purchase strategic inholdings here since 2008.

In 2012, we conveyed a strategically located property to the Bureau of Land Management, preventing a gravel mine on the banks of the Gunnison at the northern entrance of the DENCA. Then, in 2013, we purchased the 150-acre Hallock Homestead, conserving another mile of prized river frontage and the only camping-friendly flats along this stretch of the river. Also in 2013, WRC conveyed a 160-acre upland property known as Gibbler’s Gulch to the BLM, protecting a half-mile of frontage along a small tributary. Combined, these recent acquisitions add 295 acres to the DENCA. Several miles downstream, Western Rivers Conservancy conveyed 214 acres of Gunnison River inholdings, adjacent to the Bangs Canyon SRMA, to the BLM for permanent conservation. Altogether, these acquisitions help ensure that this extraordinary riverland remains healthy and intact for fish, wildlife and people.

Funding for the Gunnison River Project was made possible through generous contributions from multiple sources, including the L. P. Brown Foundation, The Conservation Alliance, ExxonMobil and with the generous support of many additional individuals, foundations and businesses.

Related Projects

All Projects

Stay on top of our work

Choose the news you want to receive, and we’ll keep you abreast of our conservation efforts around the West.