Protecting and restoring watersheds since 2005

Science + Community

The Watershed Center protects and restores watersheds for people and the environment using a collaborative and science-based approach.

We are a stakeholder driven, non-profit organization located in Boulder County, Colorado that values science and community. We used sound science to monitor, assess, and manage our watersheds. We use data to plan and implement on-the-ground forest and river restoration projects. We strive to build a strong stewardship ethic in our community through place-based and participatory learning.

 

Learn more about our impact and how we work toward our mission

Seeking Donations for River Restoration!

Our Work

Learn more about how we protect and restore Front Range watershed health.

Restore Forests

Forests

We lead the St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership, conduct forest management on private lands using a holistic, science-based approach, and coordinate post-fire ecological recovery efforts.

Restore Rivers

Rivers

We work with diverse interest groups to plan and implement on-the-ground projects that advance watershed restoration practices and incorporate climate change scenarios.

Volunteers Engage Community

Education

We are building a community-wide stewardship ethic rooted in watershed science through place-based and participatory learning.

Our Adaptive Management Process

At The Watershed Center, we use an adaptive management process to help reduce uncertainty and manage to the future as we work to improve the health and resilience of watersheds. We chose an adaptive management process because it offers the flexibility necessary to manage complex and changing ecosystems. Using adaptive management, we define our goals, quantitatively track progress toward our goals, and adjust management or monitoring actions iteratively, based on what is learned. Check out our forest and river programs to learn how we apply this process across ecosystems.

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How do we manage to future conditions?

How do we plan for uncertainty associated with climate change and dynamic watershed processes?

Our Stories

Forest Management
Have you ever smelled an old ponderosa pine?

Have you ever smelled an old ponderosa pine? If you haven’t, take a good whiff next time you pass one by and if you’re lucky, you’ll smell butterscotch. But how do you tell if a ponderosa pine is old? A good rule of thumb is that the spookier they look (winding branches, a flat top), the older they are. I have completely fallen in love with these trees, and not just because they smell like candy. Ponderosa pines are usually much older than they appear, reminding me to not judge a tree by how wide the trunk is. Imagining all that these majestic trees have seen and withstood over the past centuries without the ability to walk away is an awesome reminder of why plants are simply the coolest! They are a symbol of resilience, with their slow but steady growth, thick bark, and tendency to self-prune their lower branches so they can thrive with low-severity wildfire.

Ponderosa pines, in all their strength and resilience, are having a harder time recovering and growing back after wildfire. This is because they are not used to the intensity of wildfires they are experiencing today, and because warmer and drier growing conditions generally are inhibiting their growth. So how do we help them maintain their resilience today and for centuries to come? It might feel counterintuitive, but we need to act as the disturbance that they are used to. This means doing our best to mimic the aftermath of low-severity wildfire (removing small trees and brush) and then bringing prescribed fire back to the landscape. The combination of these approaches restores a forest structure that is better able to bounce back after wildfire. We also need to learn from our squirrel friends, and stash seeds away that we can then plant post-fire. Identifying and restoring spots on the landscape that have the best growing conditions possible is also critical, so that we can protect safe havens that will help provide seeds to the surrounding area after fire.

Next time you are outside and see an old ponderosa pine, take a moment to smell the bark and think about all they have seen over the past centuries. Then take a look around – how can we be the best friend we can be to that tree?

Do you know how to spot a healthy river?

Rivers are the lifeblood of our land, sustaining local food, fish and wildlife, and our way of life. Rivers help filter our drinking water (the original brita!), connect us with ourselves and the world around us, provide a beautiful place to recreate, and serve as a home to our non-human neighbors.

Do you know how to spot a healthy river? They have wide and connected floodplains and a complex assortment of pools, riffles, backwater, and wetlands that slow flow, deposit sediment, and offer refuge for fish and wildlife. The problem is that river complexity is often confined by development, especially in the Boulder area. This creates the need to balance our desire to live, work and play amongst rivers with their capacity to provide clean drinking water, habitat, and other services.

That’s where we come in! The Watershed Center is working to identify priority locations for restoring rivers to incorporate broad, open floodplains with abundant vegetation- where a moose might love to snack on willows or a beaver might be busy building a dam. And if you look in the water, you might even get to see locally endangered species that we release like Northern Redbelly Dace and Northern Leopard Frogs! We can restore rivers anywhere between the headwaters and the foothills, and, while they may not have a coffee shop next door, we can guarantee beauty and a healthier ecosystem.

How do kids fall in love with their watershed?

As children, many of our staff spent time outside exploring the nooks and crannies of trees, dipping our fingers and toes into rivers, and building fairy houses. Now, we are often lucky enough to get to do similar things in our work – exploring the forest with an increment borer to learn how old the trees are, dipping jars into rivers to see all the macroinvertebrates living there, and building beaver dam analogs to restore the complexity of our rivers and catch sediment after fire. What if we could provide experiences that mix the joy and awe of exploring our natural places with learning about how to create and maintain a healthier watershed for generations to come?

Enter: our watershed youth. The Watershed Center’s youth and education programming strives to engage young people throughout the watershed to inspire in them a love and understanding of their natural world. It is this connection to the watershed that drives us to engage in the work we do, and we love the chance to pass it on!

Throughout the year, staff at The Watershed Center teach in classrooms, lead experiential outdoor learning opportunities, and support watershed science learning through equipment libraries and curriculum development. This summer, staff had a unique opportunity to partner with Cal-Wood Education Center, a long-time collaborator in our work, for a summer camp offered to teens. Teen participants in the Forest and Fire Field Research Experience spent a week at Cal-Wood engaging with scientists and researchers to learn about how everything from insect populations to plants responded to the Cal-Wood Fire of 2020. The Watershed Center led students in data collection to look at vegetation composition and diversity in burned areas, and looked at how mitigated forests reacted differently to fire from unmitigated forests. Students were eager to investigate, and walked away with knowledge not only of how plan communities react to fire, but how human action can impact a forest’s resilience to fire.

While there might be a lot of climate and fire anxiety in ourselves and our children, we know that there is also so much beauty and abundance to be witnessed, appreciated, and enhanced. When life is hard, the watershed is there for our children to spark joy and wonder and to teach them what resilience can look like.

Watershed Insights

A collection of articles about The Watershed Center in history.

First in Time, First in Right

Colorado’s First Inter-basin Water Transfer and the Coffin versus Left Hand Ditch Water Case

How did an 1879 water conflict in the Left Hand Creek headwaters come to influence water law in nine western states?

Captain Jack White Raven Mine

Captain Jack Superfund Site

and Left Hand Creek’s Legacy of Mining

Following the discovery of gold in Denver in 1859, it did not take long for miners to work their way up the creeks into the mountains, panning for gold and searching for the veins from which the nuggets came.

Haystack Mountain

Haystack

Is it a volcano?

Standing rather proudly in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains along the front range of Northern Colorado is a very unique little mountain affectionately known as Haystack Mountain, earning its name by the early dairy farmers who settled on its flanks.

Your watershed is there for you from the mountains to the plains to your faucet, through every season, and from now into the future. We can help you return the favor.

Your donation will help us protect clean water, decrease fire risk to communities, provide outdoor learning experiences for youth, and ensure that collaborative science is guiding our community towards more resilient, climate-ready, watersheds. Together we can protect and sustain our forests, rivers, and communities – and every contribution makes a difference. Thank you for your generosity!