The Virgin River originates just north and east of Zion National Park and flows through southwest Utah, northwest Arizona and eventually all the way to Lake Mead. It is a critical source of life for a remarkable array of ecosystems. With parts of the watershed in the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, Utah High Plateaus and Colorado Plateau, the river is largely responsible for making Washington County one of the richest “hot spots” of biodiversity in the United States.
From Joshua tree forests to aspen meadows, this region boasts an elevational gradient equaled by few places in the West. The river supports a landscape with 40 state sensitive species, 12 federally-listed species and six native fish. Its critical riparian corridor is vital for nesting, wintering and migration for an amazing assemblage of neotropical birds including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, phainopepla, vermilion flycatcher, Wilson’s warbler, and many more.
The Nature Conservancy’s Work on the Virgin River
“We’re working with local partners like the Virgin River Program and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to explore ways to sustain a healthy river for people and wildlife,” explains Elaine York, the Conservancy in Utah’s West Desert Regional Director. Ninety percent of all wildlife in desert environments is found within one mile of rivers, and the Virgin is no exception.
As such, the Conservancy has been working on several different fronts, with a variety of constituents, to protect and preserve the Virgin River. Some examples include:
“There’s significant momentum around efforts to protect the Virgin,” summarizes York. “With all of the partners working toward a shared vision, we have real hope for the river’s sustainable future. The vitality of the West, and all of its amazing places and plants and animals, is in some way tied to water.”