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Tonya Binatbina@skyhidailynews.com

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Hero of Conservation

Kirk Klancke Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News

It was enough to compel Kirk Klancke to buy the first suit he’s ever owned.”Eventually, we all become a slave to fashion,” he joked.The former stone mason-turned-water manager – who for 20 years has been on a crusade to protect the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers – once owned a tie, he said, but after he loaned it to a friend, he never asked for it back. But an honor by Field & Stream magazine in Washington, D.C., complete with the opportunity to meet Colorado’s U.S. congressional delegates and to talk about threats to his beloved rivers, drove Klancke to march into Nordstroms and throw down a week’s pay on a really nice suit – complete with dress shoes, a new shirt, a tie and a belt. “At first I thought I would dress like Ken Salazar (cowboy hat, bolo, boots, buckle), but everybody in my family gave me so much flak,” Klancke said. Klancke is featured this month in Field & Stream as one of the magazine’s “2011 Heroes of Conservation,” which highlights individuals involved in grassroots projects to preserve the land, water and wildlife vital to sportsman’s pursuits. Selections are based on factors including leadership, commitment, project growth and results, according to statements from Field & Stream.Along with five additional honorees, Klancke will be celebrated at a Field & Stream gala event in Washington D.C. on Oct. 11, where he will be presented with a $5,000 conservation grant. He said plans to give the grant to the Grand County chapter of Trout Unlimited with the goal of better educating Denver/Front Range citizens about the Moffat and Windy Gap firming projects, which seek to pull more water out of Grand County rivers.Informing citizens beyond the West Slope may put more pressure on the federal agency in charge of permitting to do the right thing when it comes to Colorado’s finite resources, he said.”All we can do now is let the (U.S. Army) Corps know that a large portion of the state is watching this with great interest,” Klancke said of the Moffat project, which would have a direct impact on flows in the Fraser River. “The whole award-thing is humbling,” Klancke said. “But it’s not about me; the battle is to save this river.”With a small army of Trout Unlimited, Klancke advocated for the Colorado Wildlife Commission to take a stand on the state’s water resources when it comes to water-diverters seeking to take more. Through studies, Trout Unlimited found that it would take about 53 cents a year for 30 years per Denver Water consumer to conduct stream restoration on 44 miles of the Fraser and its tributaries to maintain stream health, Klancke said. But the Commission did not make any recommendations. Trout Unlimited’s focus is to have $7.1 million worth of stream restoration and maintenance tied to the Corps’ record of decision on the Moffat Firming Project. Klancke hopes taking the message to the masses – “Don’t kill the West Slope” – ultimately influences decision-makers. “Who ever comes to Colorado because the water is cheaper in Denver?” Klancke said. “One business shouldn’t be allowed to damage the thousands of other businesses in the state. This is about the future of business in Colorado.”Denver Water claims the Moffat Collection System Project (Gross Reservoir enlargement) will help solve three major water supply challenges facing the Denver area: a serious imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system; the risk of running out of water in a future drought; and an expected shortfall in future supply.Denver has agreed to help mitigate project impacts in a Colorado River Cooperative Agreement outside the permit, but Trout Unlimited wants major river restoration tied directly to the permit.Klancke became involved in water issues not just as an avid fly angler, but as a member of the local watershed protection group the East Grand Water Quality Board, on which he has served 22 years. The group led him to Trout Unlimited, and he now is president of the local chapter. A couple years ago through Trout Unlimited, Klancke took to the Denver streets and asked people, “Do you know where your water comes from?” and recorded it for a video called “Tapped Out,” which now has 6,756 views on YouTube. Klancke got answers such as “the sink,” or “the faucet.””One out of 10 actually knew where their water came from,” Klancke said. “And the people who knew practiced water conservation.” This told Klancke that spreading knowledge of water issues is the key.

As part of the Field & Stream hero designation, Klancke was filmed again, this time by Warren Miller Enterprises, showing the depleted Jim Creek above the Fraser, silt deposits in the stream along US Highway 40, and casting a fly. The six-minute film will be shown at the banquet before Klancke’s one-minute speech. He’s most excited about “bringing national attention to a local issue,” plus spending time with his grandchildren and his daughter, who are coming with him. “Their company will be such a treat, they’ll keep me from getting a big head,” he said.One of the honorees at the banquet will be named “Field & Stream Conservation Hero of the Year” and will drive away with a new Toyota Tundra. If it’s Klancke, he plans to put a portable fishing camp on it, he said, and use it when he’s not so busy with river-preservation pursuits.”I formulated that plan before I learned I could win a pick-up truck,” he said. Klancke’s trip to Washington also includes a tour of the White House. And don’t be surprised if there are “Save the Fraser River” and “Keep Grand Lake Blue” stickers found after he’s left – if security doesn’t get him first. His plan was to stick them on “one of the columns of the White House … until my daughter told me I’d end up in federal prison.”Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603