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NMSU helps with conservation, restoration projects in Grant CountyNMSU College of ACES is helping with restoration projects to improve wildlife habitat and forage for livestock in Grant County, New Mexico.

  • By Kristie Garcia
Livestock, landowners and the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog may all benefit from a large restoration project in Grant County, New Mexico. The New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is working with several organizations and private landowners on restoration techniques to improve wildlife habitat and forage for livestock. The project is funded by the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee and administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other collaborators include Bat Conservation International, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and Grant County Soil and Water Conservation District. Amy Ganguli, assistant professor of range science in the NMSU Department of Animal and Range Sciences, is the principal investigator of the grant. Martha Desmond, Regents Professor in the NMSU Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology, is co-principal investigator. Ganguli said the 2013 Silver Fire is a big part of the reason restoration is needed. The fire burned over 100,000 acres of land and resulted in high levels of erosion, reducing the quality of habitat and water used by livestock and wildlife. “After a fire, soil can became hydrophobic, which means that the water will not easily infiltrate, increasing the risk of erosion,” Ganguli said. “Areas of the fire had considerable erosion, delivering large amounts silt and ash to the Mimbres River.” Restoration projects are focused on three areas: the Upper Burro Cienaga, the Pitchfork Ranch and multiple sites along the Mimbres River. Ganguli said the partnership with private landowners has been invaluable. “This is a wonderful opportunity in which we get to work with a variety of landowners that have varying objectives,” Ganguli said. “Some of the landowners’ primary objective is livestock production, and some are more focused on providing habitat for wildlife.” Several treatments are in place to restore not only deteriorated rangeland but also riparian systems, which are areas of land near rivers or streams with a unique habitat. Projects include: - Stock tank rehabilitation - Structures designed to reduce water flow and capture sediment - Riparian restoration - Spring and wetland projects “The stock tank rehabilitation efforts are designed to capture water and sediment runoff more efficiently and to provide water for livestock and wildlife,” Ganguli said. Owners of C Bar Ranch southwest of Silver City, Erin and Dick Evans have experienced erosion control and storage tank projects first hand. They have constructed a fence to keep their registered Angus cattle from standing in the dirt tanks, and they have built a storage tank with a solar pump, filtration barrier and fiberglass drinker. “We’ve increased the area of exclosure and cleaned out the dirt tank so it holds more water,” Erin Evans said. “We’ll also plant vegetation for wildlife habitat, including migratory waterfowl.” Some of the conservation work has been completed on land belonging to Jennifer and Brian Douglas in the Mimbres River area. A pool was created on their land from a natural spring in a flood plain. Juniper trees and other invasive plant species have been thinned to improve habitat and benefit native plants. And NMSU students helped dig out two springs. The small bodies of water provide a habitat for many types of wildlife, including birds, bats and the Chiricahua leopard frog. Dan Taylor, public lands program director with Bat Conservation International, said it’s important that water is available to bats, because they are necessary to the environment and economy. “There are about 20 species of bats in Grant County, and they eat an enormous amount of night-flying insect pests,” Taylor said. “Bats in the Southwest rely heavily on riparian areas, because these areas are really rich in vegetation diversity, which means lots of insects. “Also, bats in the Southwest have to drink every night, especially the mothers with pups that are lactating or in reproductive condition; they have to drink 20 to 30 percent of their body weight in water per night.” The projects have served as an educational tool for NMSU students. “Student engagement is an aspect of this project that directly feeds into the mission we have at New Mexico State,” Ganguli said. “Not only are we able to involve graduate students from a research standpoint, but we’re able to bring undergraduate students to these sites to get hands-on experience, especially working with threatened species.” Undergraduate students from the NMSU Department of Animal and Range Sciences and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology dug out two springs on the Douglas property. “The students worked really hard and dug out two very large areas that we couldn’t get big machinery into because of the fragile environment, including the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog,” Douglas said. “It was a perfect opportunity for the students to learn a lot, while assisting us in getting the work done that we had to hand dig.” Students from the NMSU Range Club helped with a mass shrub-planting project on the C Bar Ranch. “They were a great group of students,” Erin Evans said. “They helped with planting shrubs, buffalo grass, spreading seed and watering. There was no one just standing around.” Evans said she wanted the experience to be educational for the students, so she taught them about the land, soil and different plant species as they worked.