The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted a public meeting for the Painted Rock Marsh Restoration project Oct. 18 at the Gila Bend Library in Gila Bend, Arizona.
Attendees reviewed the proposal to return a small portion of land in the dry Gila River Drainage Basin, near the Corps operated Painted Rock Dam, into a wetland and wildlife habitat.
“Our project will provide water for wildlife in an area that currently doesn’t have any and provide habitat for the birds who use the Gila River as a migratory corridor,” said Pam Kostka, Los Angeles District’s operations program manager overseeing the project. “If approved, the project will return a small portion, about a quarter of an acre to an approximation of what it was pre-development.”
The Corps’ Sustainable River Program provides funding to dams to increase the sustainability of their operations. Under the program, the Corps is proposing to install a perennial wetland feature, or marsh, upstream of the dam to provide a water source for wildlife including pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer and birds.
“We anticipate this project, as a new water source for wildlife, will draw species down toward the Gila River that haven’t utilized the area since the flow disappeared,” said Kostka, an operations expert of more than 10 years. “It is also a wonderful opportunity for the Painted Rock project to develop relationships with recreation groups, particularly hunters.”
The cohost of the public meeting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kirk Young, is a subject-matter expert on Arizona environmental history and animal habitats in the state.
“This project is intended to bring back a piece of what was here,” Young said immediately after the public meeting.
According to Young, the project would restore an important portion of vast wetland teaming with wildlife that was located along the Gila River Drainage Basin until the late 1800s.
“This is a very important spot for the native Americans who used this area. You can see the evidence of what this place used to be on the rock art near Painted Rock,” Young said, describing the rocks along the basin featuring centuries-old pictographs credited to the Native Americans that inhabited the area. “The Spanish explorers also stopped here centuries ago because of all the wetland and wildlife habitat that used to be here. This project is intended to just bring a little piece back for wildlife.”
“Working with Kirk has been a great joy,” Kostka said after the public meeting. “Kirk has immense passion, a great knowledge base, and tons of ideas. I’d say he is probably the biggest driver of this project.”
Other agency partners include the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“I’m thrilled at the opportunity to provide a version of the habitat that used to dominate the Gila River, as well as provide water for wildlife,” Kostka said.
The next step for the program manager is to develop a working partnership with Maricopa County and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.