San Juan Fen Partnership


The San Juan Fen Partnership is a collaborative citizen group whose goal is to identify, study, and protect the unique and ancient wetland ecosystems that are present in the San Juan Mountains—our local fens. Fens are wetlands that are rich in organic peat soil. They store carbon, filter pollutants from water, and are important for supporting biodiversity, including rare species.

Who is the San Juan Fen Partnership?

Comprised of the Town of Mountain Village, the Town of Telluride, San Miguel County, Telluride Ski & Golf Resort, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Colorado State University, Mountain Studies Institute and the local community at-large, the Partnership is working closely with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which manage much of the high country in the San Juan Mountains, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been providing grants to identify and study the fens.

San Juan Partnership Representatives:

  • Dr. David Cooper - Colorado State University
  • Bob Delves - San Miguel Watershed Coalition
  • Mary Duffy - Telluride Community At-Large
  • Rube Felicelli - Town of Mountain Village
  • Karen Gugliemone - Town of Telluride
  • Joan May - San Miguel County
  • Linda Miller - Sheep Mountain Alliance
  • Dr. Koren Nydick - Mountain Studies Institute
  • Warren Young - Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest
  • Elizabeth Howe and/or Amy Laubenstein - Telluride Ski & Golf Resort

The Prospect Basin fen studies at the Telluride Ski Resort are the only studies of their type being performed in the United States. The Prospect Basin fens, like many fens in the San Juans, represent unique ecological niches. In Prospect Basin, the age of the fens stretch back in time approximately 10,000 years. Many of the wetland plants that grow in fens are clonal (descended from and genetically identical to a single common ancestor), and provide a valuable source of baseline information for the further study of other plants, climate, insects, carbon sequestration and other characteristics of mountain environments over time.

Fens in the high country surrounding Telluride and Mountain Village became a point of contention in 2001 when the Telluride Ski Resort proposed expanding their operations into Prospect Basin. While it was agreed that the additional terrain was important to sustain economic viability in the region by enabling Telluride to compete with larger resorts for the Colorado skier market, there were many environmental concerns, particularly with ensuring protection of the fens that exist in the proposed expansion area. San Miguel County negotiated directly with the ski area owners to achieve a greater degree of financial assistance and ecological monitoring for the Prospect Basin fens than the U.S. Forest Service required as part of the ski area expansion permit. Working with its neighbor governments, the County helped set up a collaborative community oversight group to help with the fen work paid for by the ski area during the three years of pre- and post-construction of the expansion.

Working together helped to ensure the success of the Prospect Bowl expansion and to gain national recognition for the collaborative conservation project, in particular for its protection of the fens, its use of innovative trail construction techniques to minimize adverse environmental impacts and its efforts to preserve the natural feeling of the mountain. It also raised local awareness about the fragility and importance of fens and how little we know about them. So, upon completion of the ski area construction, local partners in the fens effort decided to continue the group’s mission to pursue funding for scientific research on the fens and to expand its area of geographic interest from the Prospect Basin fens to the fens of the entire San Juan Mountain region.

Today, the San Juans Fen Partnership oversees further scientific research, monitoring and analyses of the fens in the San Juans region, as well as continues to provide education about fens and their importance to local forest and alpine ecology. The Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton, Colorado serves as fiscal sponsor and provides research, outreach, and development support for the Partnership. Dr. David Cooper, (Colorado State University), Dr. Rod Chimner (Michigan Technological University), and Dr. Koren Nydick (Mountain Studies Institute) lead fen projects throughout the San Juan Mountains. These projects incorporate research, monitoring, restoration, and educational training. The San Juan Public Lands Center (USFS/BLM) and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest have participated in these training events and now operate fen inventories for public lands management.