Fen Restoration

ophir fen

Mountain Wetland Monitoring, Assessment, and Conservation

MSI's MOUNTAIN WETLAND PROGRAM has several components aimed at improving the understanding of wetland hydro-ecology, ecological health, spatial distribution, and impacts of human activities, and communicating this information to land managers and the public. Of these, the fen project is an integral piece of mountain wetland monitoring.

Fen Project

Fens in the San Juan Mountains have accumulated up to three meters of peat and most are thousands of years old. These wetlands store carbon, filter pollutants from water, and support biodiversity, including rare species. Fens are abundant in the San Juans because the combination of snowmelt and late summer monsoon rains provide ample moisture.

Fens face threats from the development of mountain watersheds and from climate change. Both can alter the amount of water that reaches the fen and can cause the wetland to dry out. For example, development at the proposed Village at Wolf Creek may threaten fens. 

The Fen Project is a result of the San Juan Fen Partnership

Project Leaders:


Drs. David Cooper (Colorado State University)

Rod Chimner (Michigan Tech)

Koren Nydick (Mountain Studies Institute)

Phase 1: Fen Monitoring

Dr. David Cooper, a wetlands expert from Colorado State University, began monitoring fens in Prospect Basin, near Telluride in 1999. The San Juan Fen Partnership, which includes MSI, was established to help continue this work.

Phase 2: Fen Monitoring, Assessment, and Protection

MSI was awarded funding by the U.S. EPA-Region 8 to continue monitoring the Prospect Basin fens, develop a novel fen assessment technique, apply it to an inventory of fens in San Miguel and western Ouray Counties, and assist government and private land owners with fen watershed planning, conservation, and restoration. MSI worked with Dr. David Cooper (Colorado State University) and Dr. Rod Chimner (Michigan Tech) on the project. Matching funds were provided by San Miguel County, Town of Telluride, and Town of Mountain Village. Colorado State University, Telluride SKi and Golf Resort, and MSI provided in-kind assistance.

Phase 3: Regional Assessment of Fen Distribution, Condition, and Restoration Needs

EPA-Region 8 awarded a second grant to MSI to expand the inventory and assessment of fens throughout the San Juan Mountains, to train regional land managers about fen assessment, and prioritize fens for restoration. MSI again employed Dr. David Cooper and Dr. Rod Chimer on the project. MSI provided the matching in-kind funding.

Phase 4: Development of a Regional Restoration and Protection Program for Mountain Fens

alex pullen ophir fen

EPA-REgion 8 awarded a third grant to Colorado State University with MSI as a project partner) to develop methods of restoring damage to the hydrology and vegetation of mountain fens. Additional funding is provided for the project by San Miguel County, Town of Telluride, Town of Mountain Village, and Durango Mountain Resort. The fen restoration methods are being tested on-the-ground in various fens in the San Juan Mountains. We are working in partnership with US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers, and private land owners.

MSI Frequently holds fen restoration and trainings. Keep up to date on fen trainings on our Events page. 


Cooper, D. and Arp, C. 2002. Prospect Basin Fens: Baseline Monitoring and Ski Area Expansion Monitoring for the Year 2001. Report Prepared for the Prospect Bowl Fen Protection Oversight Committee. (link)

Chimner, R. and Cooper, D. 2004. Ecosystem Carbon Cycling in San Juan Fens. State of the San Juans Conference: San Juan Mountains Science & Research: Linking Communities, Researchers, and Practitioners. September 24-26. Mountain Studies Institute, Silverton, Colorado. (pdf link)


Dr. David Cooper, Colorado State University; Dr. Rod Chimner, Michigan Technological University; Dr. Mark Williams, University of Colorado; Dr. Koren Nydick, Mountain Studies Institute; San Juan Public Lands Center (USFS/BLM); Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest; Telluride Ski and Golf Resort; Durango Mountain Resort; and the San Juan Fen Partnership.