The narrow slot canyons of Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch form deep fissures along the cracked and rust-colored landscape of the Paria Plateau. Below the confluence of these two quintessential slot canyons, the stark walls confining Paria Canyon slowly diverge to reveal lush and diverse streamside vegetation as the Paria River flows downstream from its confluence with Buckskin Gulch to the Colorado River. This section of Paria Canyon is designated as wilderness, is part of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, is eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation due to its spectacular scenery, rugged terrain, and remote access, and forms the eastern border of the Kane and Two Mile Ranches. While still one of the most pristine riparian ecosystems of the American Southwest, pervasive issues relevant to the entire southwest, including water development, invasive species, and pollution caused by mining and agriculture pose a threat to the Paria Canyon ecosystem.
Paria Canyon and its tributaries include some of the most intriguing places on the Colorado Plateau due to their unique and magnificent geological formations, high diversity of endangered, sensitive, and native species, and rich cultural and historical significance. The Paria River is the first tributary to enter the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, making it a critical source of sediment and nutrients to the endangered native fishes that live in the upper reaches of the Grand Canyon. The Paria River is also one of the few remaining large, and free-flowing streams in the American Southwest, with only minimal amounts of water taken out for agriculture in the summer months. These attributes make Paria Canyon a place where ecological restoration and conservation can have an enormous impact.
Our restoration efforts in Paria Canyon are currently centered around the encroachment of woody non-native invasive species such as tamarisk (Tamarix sp.) and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), which have invaded and degraded riparian ecosystems throughout the southwest. Through much of the canyon, riparian areas host a wide diversity of native willows, box elder, cottonwood, and ash trees, but these areas become increasingly dominated by tamarisk and Russian olive in the lower portions of the river, near Lees Ferry. Since natural flow and sediment processes are relatively intact, we believe that there is a high likelihood of success in reestablishing native riparian species in places formerly dominated by these invasives. We are assisting the BLM by removing these invasive species from 18 miles of Paria Canyon, and collecting information that will help them to work adaptively to restore and maintain this celebrated section of river.