The Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition (VWRC) is a collaborative effort uniting private landowners, organizations, and agencies in their common interest, the health of the Verde River Watershed. Since 2012, VWRC has been hard at work removing invasive plant species from the Verde River Watershed, an initiative led by Friends of the Verde River.

The Problem

The Verde River is treasured for its wildlife habitat, water supply, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty. It is one of the most substantial free-flowing rivers in Arizona. Although the river corridor primarily supports native riparian vegetation, invasive species — particularly Saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Giant Reed (Arundo donax) — threaten the health and sustainability of these communities.

For more information about the threat of invasive plant species, click here.

Our Solution

The guiding force that brought VWRC Partners together in 2009 was the threat of invasive plants invading our riparian areas. The result of a watershed-scale vision and several stakeholder workshops was the development of the Verde Cooperative Invasive Plant Management Plan (CIPMP), finished in 2010 and a community driven coalition made of private landowners, non-profit organizations, local communities and businesses, and federal and state agencies. This management plan lays out VWRC’s two primary goals:

  1. To develop a strategic approach for controlling invasive plants in the riparian corridors of the Verde River watershed that will enable stakeholders to prioritize, develop, and implement restoration actions; and
  2. To increase the level of collaboration and communication among stakeholders, thereby enhancing information transfer, adaptive management, and basin-wide success.

In 2015, VWRC Partners looked beyond the weeds, developing a strategic plan that identified nine other priorities needed to achieve our collective vision.

Growing a Restoration Economy

The Verde River

The Verde River

Restoring the health of the Verde River Watershed is more than just an environmental effort, it is becoming an economy of scale too. The economics of restoration consider financial and in-kind investments, regional job creation, professional training and services, surface and groundwater savings, value of water quality and habitat, and the sales of native plant materials. The Verde Valley’s regional efforts for restoration are well underway, and VWRC is leading the way in growing the size, scale, and impact of a local restoration economy.

Recent studies on restoration economics show that for every one million dollars invested, there is an economic output of 140-380% for restoration activities, with invasive plant species removal showing the highest rate of economic output. In other words, for every dollar invested in restoration activities, there is a financial return of $1.40-$3.80. The financial growth and achievements of VWRC underline this value here in the Verde Valley.

How it Works

Crescent Moon Volunteers

VWRC Volunteers at Crescent Moon in Sedona

VWRC organizes collaboration between private and public local land interests to improve the health of riparian areas and adjacent uplands in the Verde Watershed through on-the-ground projects. Much of the groups work has been to control the negative impact of invasive plants in the Verde River watershed. The scope of VWRC was expanded to include other projects that support a properly functioning Verde River system and our local economy. To accomplish these tasks, VWRC is guided by a multi-stakeholder steering committee that meets quarterly to coordinate, share information, and plan restoration projects. Working groups are formed to implement specific plans and priorities and meet as needed. What VWRC does to address stressors affecting the health of our riparian areas fall into a few different categories:

  1. Outreach. Addressing watershed health on a watershed scale requires the cooperation of local communities and private landowners, and lots and lots of community support!  It’s important to spread the word about what we’re doing and why and to educate everyone on the importance of watersheds, because every person is part of keeping our watersheds healthy, and we need all the help we can get!
  2. Assessment.  VWRC Partners work together to assess project areas and prescribe treatments that support the properly functioning system and the landowner goals.  This may include projects that focus on invasive plant management, revegetation, streambank stabilization and/or erosion hazards.  The project area is assessed with the landowner and maps are created combining all information for the site.  A treatment and monitoring implementation plan is developed and approved by all parties.
  3. Project Implementation.  Friends staff coordinates with landowner and develops implementation schedule for project.  VWRC Crews are trained and coordinated by Friends VWRC staff.  Field Crews are deployed to project site and implement project activities.  Data is collected during this process to inform the management of the project.
  4. Monitoring. All VWRC projects are monitored, either by trained field crews or by the landowners or both.  The more we know about how we succeeded the better we will do next time!  If we treat private lands, we monitor the site annually until the landowner objective are met.  Checking to see if there is regrowth or new sprouts that need attention.

To learn more about VWRC projects in Action, click here!

Our Staff

Tracy Stephens: Program Manager, Habitat Restoration
Email Tracy | (307)-690-8084

Tracy brings a wealth of experience and knowledge from her years with Wyoming Game and Fish and Arizona Game and Fish. She holds an M.S. in Natural Resources, with a Fisheries emphasis and a B.S. with a double major in Biology, with an emphasis in Aquatic Biology B.S., and Water Resources, with a Fisheries and Limnology emphasis from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point Stevens Point.

Ben Kowalewski: Program Coordinator, Habitat Restoration
Email Ben | (724) 953-6922
Ben is a recent graduate of Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA and earned a degree in Political Science with a concentration in Environmental Studies. During his time in college, he spent a summer in Colorado with the Southwest Conservation Corps. After school, he joined Arizona Conservation Corps in Flagstaff, working with the trail crew in Sedona. After that, he joined AZCC’s Mentor Development Program and became a Youth Conservation Corps crew leader on the North Kaibab National Forest. After the summer, he became a crew leader on one of the restoration crews in the Verde Valley.

Emily Garding: GIS Specialist
Email Emily | (928) 274-2532
Over the last decade, Emily has been involved in various conservation GIS projects across the western US. Her experience ranges from tracking wildlife and identifying potential wildlife corridors to assisting with recreation, land use, and conservation planning, in addition to mapping invasive plant infestations. Emily is a proponent of using GIS to make the world a better place for all beings, and uses social media to connect with like-minded people. Founder of #gistribe, an online community of geo-professionals, her other interests include blogging, tweeting, and organizing online events for geo-enthusiasts. Emily is putting her skills to use helping Friends of the Verde River manage data and map invasive plant treatments to help preserve and restore the Verde’s unique riparian ecosystem.

Our Steering Committee

VWRC Steering Committee

VWRC Steering Committee

The VWRC steering committee members represent a variety of personalities, skills, and organizations. They meet in open meetings Quarterly to guide and direct the efforts of the coalition.

VWRC Steering Committee Members

Chip Norton
Friends of the Verde River
Steve Estes
Verde Valley Land Preservation
Tahnee Robertson 
Southwest Decision Resources
Chris Jensen 
Verde Natural Resource Conservation District
Heather English 
Salt River Project
Wade Albrecht
Arizona Game and Fish Department
George Christianson
Arizona State Parks

David Lewis
Yavapai-Apache Nation
Amina Sena
Coconino National Forest
Michael Kellett
Prescott National Forest
John Cannon
National Park Service
Jennifer Kaplan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Melissa McMaster
Tamarisk Coalition
Selina Pao
The Nature Conservancy
Erin Cody
NRCD Education Center

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