The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988



Amazing find at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Ten- to 15-million-year-old fossil discovered at Bosque del Apache

Known the world over as a premier destination for bird watching and wildlife conservation, the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge recently added an unexpected and unusual species to its list of mammals that once called the refuge home. On February 22, two geologists from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources and a student from New Mexico Tech discovered a fossil embedded in a rock face. Paleontologists from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science have confirmed the fossil is from an oreodont, an extinct group of hoofed ungulates that were unique to North America and lived during the Miocene era between ten and fifteen million years ago.

Last week, a team led by Gary Morgan, Assistant Curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, visited the site to excavate the fossil. The fossil, embedded in a steep cliff face, was carefully removed from the mix of soft sands, gravel, and rock. Before completely removing the fossil from the rock, it was wrapped in plaster to protect it during transport to the Museum of Natural History and Science, where it will be further evaluated.

“Oreodont fossils are uncommon in the Southwest. In New Mexico, most previous records are from the northern part of the state near Española,” said Gary Morgan. “The Bosque del Apache oreodont is one of the most complete fossils and one of the southernmost examples of this group from New Mexico. Elsewhere in the western U.S., oreodonts are most common in older rocks between twenty-five and thirty-five million years old in the northern Great Plains.”

Morgan explained that the recent find from the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge consists of a skull, lower jaws, and part of the skeleton. The Bosque del Apache animal belongs to a group of large oreodonts that lived in the latter part of the Miocene epoch between about ten and fifteen million years ago, very late in the oreodonts’ reign. It had a large head, a small trunk, rather short legs on a longish body, and resembled a cross between a pig and a camel. Oreodonts were herbivores that probably browsed on leaves in streamside forests—the Miocene bosque.

“Bosque del Apache has been providing the public unique opportunities to observe thousands of migrating waterfowl every year,” said Tom Melanson, manager at Bosque del Apache. In addition to the popular Festival of the Cranes, the refuge offers numerous photography, hunting, and recreation opportunities throughout the year. “We have been able to do this by providing quality wildlife habitat since the refuge was established in

1939. I guess some of the wildlife found on the refuge is more unique—and older—than we ever knew,” Melanson joked when told of the fossil discovery.

Through an agreement with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the fossils will be added to the museum’s collection. In the future, the fossil, or a replica, may be put on display at the museum or at the Bosque del Apache’s Visitors Center.

The Miocene period was millions of years after the extinction of dinosaurs and millions of years before the first known humans. In New Mexico, the Rio Grande did not yet exist as a river. Instead, a series of closed basins and dry lakes stretched down the central part of New Mexico. During this time period, many volcanoes erupted along the Rio Grande Rift. In fact, it is one of these eruptions, dated at 8.6 million years ago, that helps define the age of this fossil.

The 57,331-acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in southern Socorro County is one of 548 refuges in the United States and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge comprises arid grasslands and wetlands and provides habitat to thousands of cranes, geese, and ducks every winter.

Silverweed cinquefoil

Mountain wildflowers of the Southern Rockies and Central New Mexico

Silverweed cinquefoil

Argentina anserina


Loose clusters of saucer-shaped yellow flowers are borne on weak stems. Five petals surround numerous stamens. Compound leaves have a dozen pairs of sharply toothed, ovate leaflets covered with long silky hairs on the lower surface. Plants reproduce by red runners that can be up to six feet long. Look for them in meadows from the ponderosa pine to the spruce-fir zone.

Argentina is Latin for “silver,” referring to the silky, silvery leaves. Carl Linnaeus named the species anser from the Latin for “goose,” and an alternative common name is goose grass.

Several cinquefoils, commonly referred to as potentillas, are native to the Southern Rockies. Because of their five yellow petals, cinquefoil flowers can be mistaken for buttercups. They differ, however, in having five leaf-like bracts below the sepals, along with toothed leaflets. Leaflets may be arranged in featherlike pairs along a stem or may all attach to the stem at the same place, resembling fingers radiating out from a hand. The word cinquefoil, French for “five leaves,” dates from the time when petals were thought of as leaves.

Excerpted from Mountain Wildflowers of the Southern Rockies, by Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire. Published by University of New Mexico Press.

State grant means new equipment for Placitas Recycling Center


If you have visited the Placitas Recycling Center recently, you might have noticed the new trailers. Thanks to a grant provided by the state to Sandoval County, the center has improved its collection capability and capacity to accommodate the growing Placitas community demand. The grant also included a new vehicle for transporting the trailers to vendors in Albuquerque who purchase the recycled material.

“The Placitas Recycling Association is very grateful to the Sandoval County Commissioners and Public Works Department for their assistance in acquiring this much-needed equipment for the center,” noted board president John Richardson. “We have experienced continuously increasing demand for recycling services in our growing community, and frankly it has been challenging for us to keep up. This will make us much more capable and efficient. It’s heartening to know that the services we provide the community, as well as our needs, are being recognized by our government representatives.”

The Placitas Recycling Association has updated its flyer detailing the items that are accepted and not accepted at the recycling center. Copies of the flyer are available at the center during operating hours. Located on Highway 165 just east of I-25, the all-volunteer Placitas Recycling Center is open every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., except the weeks before Easter, Labor Day, and Christmas, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The City of Albuquerque and Intel will be hosting an electronic waste recycling event at the Balloon Fiesta Park on April 4th (for commercial items) and 5th (for residential items) between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. More information about the Placitas Recycling Center and other recycling programs can be found at

Forestry Camp seeks teens

If you are a New Mexico youth between the ages of thirteen and seventeen and enjoy the outdoors, then the New Mexico Forestry Camp wants you. This is the seventeenth year for the camp, which will run from June 1 through June 6.

Forestry Camp is designed to help young people learn about our forests. Campers work with foresters to measure trees, wildlife biologists to track wildlife, archaeologists to study the past, and other natural resource specialists to gain hands-on understanding of the uses of our forests. The camp is located at the Rancho del Chaparral Girl Scout Camp in the Jemez Mountains near Cuba.

Through an application process, campers are chosen to represent a cross-section of New Mexico youth. For brochure/application forms and more information, contact Peggy Ohler at the Cuba Soil and Water Conservation District, PO Box 250, Cuba, NM 87013 or at (505) 289-3950; or contact Jean Szymanski at the Forest Service Public Affairs Office, 333 Broadway Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, NM 87102 or at (505) 842-3325.

The camp is sponsored by the Cuba Soil and Water Conservation District and is co-sponsored by numerous federal and state natural resource agencies and nonprofit organizations with a natural resource orientation.

For details, visit

Dennis Alexander presented Restore NM Award

Dennis Alexander, State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in New Mexico, was presented the Restore New Mexico Award on February 13 in recognition of the agency’s participation and financial support of landscape-scale restoration efforts across the state.

Jesse Juen, Associate State Director for the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico, presented the award at the annual meeting of the National Association of Conservation Districts in Reno, Nevada, on behalf of all New Mexico partners involved in the program.

The NRCS has provided over $4 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program grants to over one hundred landowners with federal grazing allotments to restore degraded rangelands in New Mexico. The BLM, landowners and other partners have been able to match or exceed these funds, greatly enlarging the size and scope of the restoration projects.

Restore New Mexico partners have restored five hundred thousand acres of degraded landscapes in New Mexico over the past three years. What started out as a concept to restore and enhance landscapes has blossomed into an effort involving the BLM, NRCS, other agencies, ranchers and other landowners, conservation organizations, and the energy industry.

Habitat fragmentation, erosion, and the spread of invasive plants have resulted from decades of human impacts and natural ecological processes. Because fire has largely been excluded from the landscape, there’s been a dramatic shift over the past 150 years from desert grasslands with scattered shrubs to vegetative communities extensively dominated by invasive shrubs—this has occurred on more than six million acres in New Mexico. The result has been reduced grass and herbaceous cover and a significant increase in the amount of bare ground, severely reducing their biological productivity, while increasing their susceptibility to erosion and reducing the quantity and quality of groundwater.

Restore New Mexico efforts are focusing on landscapes dominated by mesquite, creosote, juniper, and other invasive species to restore native vegetation, which also benefits watersheds and wildlife habitat. The goal of brush treatments is to reduce their incidence in rangelands to historic levels—in many areas, the percentage of brush in a landscape has increased from ten to ninety percent or more over the past 150 years.

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