The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

ECO-BEAT


Las Placitas Association awarded Environment Department grant

—Reid Bandeen, Las Placitas Association
Las Placitas Association, a local nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the quality of life in the Placitas area, was recently awarded a state grant for conducting restoration activities in the Las Huertas Creek Watershed. The grant is funded through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that facilitates community-based watershed restoration, pursuant to Section 319(h) of the federal Clean Water Act.

Las Placitas Association, has worked for the past two years under a Watershed Group Formation grant from the same program to collaboratively plan restoration projects for the Las Huertas watershed with community members and various stakeholder agencies. That effort culminated in the production of a watershed-restoration-action strategy (WRAS) for the Las Huertas Watershed, published in September of 2005. The current grant provides funding for the implementation of projects developed through the WRAS process.

The goal of the WRAS was to identify projects that address excessive sedimentation and siltation in Las Huertas Creek, made worse by this summer's high rainfall. Erosion of lands in the watershed have resulted in Las Huertas Creek being listed on the federal Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list of impaired waters for sedimentation and siltation. Additionally, projects aim to enhance the overall ecological quality of the watershed, to support the current use classification of High Quality Cold Water Aquatic Life designated by the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission.

Projects identified by the WRAS include:

• Assisting landowners with strategies for controlling residential stormwater runoff;

• Rehabilitating the culvert drainage system in Las Huertas Canyon;

• Restoring native species of vegetation in selected riparian and upland areas, and removing exotic species;

• Stabilizing eroding upland hill slopes on both public and private land; and

• Stabilizing channel banks and building channel stabilization structures to enhance soil water retention and groundwater recharge along Las Huertas Creek.

The Las Huertas Watershed Project is the community-based group operating under LPA to implement these projects over the next three years. Total funding for the project is about $254,000, though the grant requires a 40 percent contribution of nonfederal in-kind funds, labor, and materials. Most of the project work is conducted by volunteers, project partner agencies, and willing private landowners. Partner agencies involved with LHWP activities so far have included the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Sandia Pueblo, the Coronado Soil & Water Conservation District, Sandoval County, Bernalillo High School, the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the Albuquerque Open Space Division, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Numerous other nonprofits, private landowners, and community volunteers have also supported the LHWP in our efforts to date.

LHWP is eager to work with private landowners (especially those with land bordering Las Huertas Creek) with an interest in erosion and stormwater control and riparian or upland restoration on their lands. LHWP will continue to conduct periodic public educational and participatory workshops on watershed science and restoration, as we have for the past two years. Outdoor enthusiasts are needed to help with many projects. If you would like to help ensure the health and sustainability of the watershed that has served as a lifeline for generations of Placitas residents, please consider joining our volunteer task force.

The group meets on the third Tuesday of every month at the Placitas Community Center, 6:00 pm. (check the Signpost Community Calendar for details). For more information on LPA and the LHWP, and to find out how to get involved, visit our Web site (www.lasplacitas.org/watershed.php), or call Lolly Jones, community outreach coordinator, at 771-8020, or Reid Bandeen, watershed coordinator, at 867-5477.

Conflict of Interest—Cows vs. Wildlife

—Nicole Rosmarino
At more than 114,000 acres, the Sacramento Allotment on the Lincoln National Forest in south-central New Mexico is one of the largest grazing allotments in New Mexico. It hosts an isolated but important population of Mexican spotted owls as well as extremely rare plants: the Sacramento prickly poppy and Sacramento Mountains thistle. Other special life here includes the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly and the Sacramento Mountains salamander. The many diverse life forms find refuge in the varied terrain on this allotment, including mountain meadows, streams and riparian areas, rugged canyons, and mixed-conifer forest.

Yet the rich diversity of life and varied habitat is continually harmed by a handful of cows. Due to previous litigation, the number of cattle has been reduced from 553 to about 330, but the Sacramento is being degraded by even this lesser amount. Think about it: 114,000 acres of your public land degraded for the sake of 330 cows. Cows and streams don’t mix; cattle congregate in riparian areas, seeking water and lusher grasses, and the result is erosion, sedimentation, and death of Southwestern streams. Cattle also denude plant life in mountain meadows, resulting in loss of habitat for rare and endangered species such as the Mexican spotted owl.

While the Forest Service admits the allotment is severely degraded, it refuses to remove cattle, even in drought years, and points its finger at elk. Over the past few years, elk living in this area have been slaughtered from a herd of 4,000 to less than half of that amount, with plans to kill even more. Preserving the Sacramento elk herd would benefit local tourism, as would protecting river and stream resources on this allotment.

We will continue to pressure the Forest Service to take off the cows so that the spotted owl and other strands in the rich tapestry of life in the Sacramento have a chance to survive and thrive.

Reprinted from Green Roots, the newsletter of Forest Guardians

Environmental group restores grazing lands to natural habitat

Forest Guardians submitted two new applications last month to acquire grazing leases to more than two thousand acres of New Mexico state lands as a part of the organization's campaign to protect the ecological crown jewels of New Mexico school-trust lands. In addition to bidding on parcels to acquire them, Forest Guardians will be asking Commissioner Pat Lyons to do a better job of protecting ecological values on state lands.

The site of one of the competing bids includes 640 acres and over a mile of the Rio Puerco, northwest of Albuquerque, and is potential habitat for the endangered Southwest willow flycatcher. The second site Forest Guardians hopes to protect is a 1,440-acre parcel located northwest of Alamogordo and containing over a mile of the Lost River, which provides an essential water source for the endangered White Sands pupfish.

The group selected the two parcels based on a comprehensive statewide analysis. These parcels were prioritized because they have perennial or ephemeral streams and habitat for endangered fish and birds.

If the group wins the leases, it vows to protect these crown jewels by fencing out the cattle and beginning to actively restore the streams and wetland habitats. “We know we can restore these arteries of life and we've seen amazing recovery on other sites,” said Jim Matison, Forest Guardians restoration director. “But only if we give them the opportunity to come back to life by removing the harmful pressures of livestock grazing and infestations of non-native vegetation.”

Forest Guardians offered to pay at least twice what the ranchers are currently paying, revenues that will benefit the public school system. Because of an absence of competition, more than 99 percent of all state-land grazing leases are renewed at the minimum rental rate.

Forest Guardians, which was the first environmental group in the West to outbid a rancher to acquire a state grazing lease to “un-ranch” it, currently holds three state-land grazing leases. That first lease acquired includes nearly three miles of the Rio Puerco, where the group has been actively restoring the cottonwood/willow streamside ecosystem since 1997. If successful in obtaining these leases, Forest Guardians will have acquired more than five thousand acres of New Mexico trust land for protection and restoration.

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