Monday, February 10, 2014

Habitat Abundant but Beaver Populations Low in New Mexico Mountains.

WildEarth Guardians has completed a state-funded assessment of potential beaver habitat on federal lands in New Mexico. The model determined that 82% of streams on public lands could support the dam-building ecosystem engineer. And yet surveys in the summer of 2012 found dangerously low numbers of beaver in northern New Mexico’s mountain streams and rivers. Beavers could inhabit more than 2,100 miles of streams on national forests and BLM lands in the state and provide countless benefits. While the assessment did not identify how many of these miles are currently occupied, a survey in the Jemez Mountains to assess the validity of the computer model used to do the assessment did not find beavers at any of 18 stream sites.

(photo credit: Joseph Thomas)

The report is being released just after Senator Tim Keller and Representative Bobby Gonzales introduced a memorial in the 2014 New Mexico legislative session calling on state natural resource agencies to develop joint recommendations on how to proceed with a statewide beaver management plan. Guardians hopes that the assessment will be used to identify and prioritize protection and restoration of streams and wetlands on public lands in New Mexico.

The beaver habitat assessment identifies potential, suitable, and currently occupied habitat. The model, as well as a full-day beaver and wetlands workshop, was the product of a contract with the New Mexico Environment Department. A Wetland Program Development Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the New Mexico Environment Department provided funding for the project.

Scientific research shows that beaver play a vital role in increasing river and wetland ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change. The dam-building beaver’s activities create a diversity of habitats and dams trap sediment, create and maintain wetlands, and modify nutrient and decomposition cycles. The presence of dam-building beaver reduces high flows and downstream flooding that can result in destructive erosion, provides more constant summer flows, elevates the water tables and improves riparian habitat. All these activities offer an effective climate change adaptation tool.

Before dam-building beaver populations can be replenished in New Mexico, a systematic and thorough assessment of both potential and suitable habitat and an identification of possible impediments to population recovery are needed. Using GIS technology, we identify all potential, suitable, and occupied dam-building beaver habitats on federal, public lands in New Mexico.  These outputs will facilitate efficient relocation of nuisance beaver and restoration of habitat to re-establish and augment wetlands in the state of New Mexico. Field observations conducted in the Jemez River Watershed within the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) and the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) confirmed that the model performs well but that beaver are presently absent from most suitable habitat on the forest.

New Mexico would benefit from a strategic plan for statewide beaver management designed to capture the full watershed benefits and minimize conflicts with human land uses.  Senator Keller and Representative Gonzales introduced Senate Memorial 4 in the 2014 New Mexico legislative session, which calls on state natural resource agencies to develop joint recommendations on how to proceed with a statewide beaver management plan.

Western states - including Oregon and Utah - recognizing the critical role dam-building beaver have in water management, aquatic ecosystems and wetland maintenance developed statewide beaver management plans. These plans written with diverse stakeholders set in motion strategic and intentional management of beaver to capitalize on their benefits while reducing conflict.

WildEarth Guardians intends to work with state agencies such as the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Environment Department and the State Forestry Division in the development of a beaver management plan to fully realize beaver and their ecosystem benefits.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Powerful short video promotes the importance of roadless areas

This video is worth a thousand words and then some – and there’s no narration at all in the entire video – it’s a reminder of the power of imagery. Roadfree: It takes just one road to destroy a forest.

The imagery and messages in this short video are a profound reminder of the consequences of development – specifically to wildlife, wild places, and even wild people. 

Yes, this story takes place in a jungle, but the consequences of roadbuilding are universal. This simple, effective short video is an incredible reminder of the connection between the very first road that’s built and all of the destruction that follows. It’s only two minutes long, check it out!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wildfire, Forest Management and Home Loss: Living in Flammable Places

As sure as the fire season will come, so will the blame be laid. Before the smoke even clears from  fires raging in New Mexico and Colorado people will want to hold someone accountable. So the finger pointing begins.

We all mourn the loss of homes and especially life and are wishing the best for the communities of Ruidoso, NM, Colorado Springs, CO and Ft. Collins, CO this year.

WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity are already taking the blame for the Little Bear Fire in NM. As painful as it is, we tolerate this every year just as regularly as the monsoon rains put out the fires. That blame is often shared with the U.S. Forest Service. Thinning or logging the forests seems to be the most often cited solution to the wildfires. But no amount of logging can change the weather.

We are now witnessing, we hope, a paradigm shift in how people live in fire-prone landscapes, just as we did in the 70s with floodplains. We live in highly flammable forests that we simply cannot fireproof. But we can fireproof homes and structures.

Thinning and logging far into the back country wildlands may or may not have any effect on saving communities in the wildland urban interface (WUI). But with changing climate and recurring droughts of biblical proportion, its a safe bet that expensive thinning and logging will not make a difference under these extreme conditions. In fact, it could make the the fire hazard even worse.

When people build and live in the "fire plain"  who's responsibility is it to protect them? Should taxpayers use the federal treasury for expensive thinning of public forests far from home in an unproven attempt to change fire behavior? Or should homeowners be required to to treat their own landscapes and build with fire resistant materials? A practice known as firewise.

Insurers are taking notice and so should county policy makers examine their building codes. A study by Headwaters Economics shows the potential for more development in fire prone landscapes in the west and what this could cost in fuel management and fire suppression.

There are reasonable voices sometimes drowned out by the finger pointing. Peter Goodman is one and Evelyn Madrid Erhard is another. But others continue to want to lay blame and capitalize politically on the suffering that comes with fire season, including New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and U.S. Representative Steve Pearce.

But we can rise above the politics of fear and be rational about forest management.Western forests have burned since time immemorial and this natural process is scary. But we do not have a wildfire problem as much as a people in flammable landscapes problem. Yes, there are forest types where the science has shown we should be taking action such as mechanical thinning and prescribed burning to save those forest and their wildlife, but there are also many thousands of square miles of forests that don't need these treatments. Rather than throw scarce tax dollars at those forests, we need to be precise and take actions we know are effective like the firewise program.

In the meantime we are wishing the best for those suffering now at the hands of Mother Nature.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Update: Government Rejects Guardians Bid for Cow Free Caldera

The Director of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico has declined our offer of $35,000 to not graze domestic livestock on the Preserve. We were hopeful this year in the aftermath of the largest fire in New Mexico's recorded history that the Preserve would seek to rest the traumatized ecosystems and still get paid.

Disappointingly we got the notification today that they will not accept our money and will run cows again on the Preserve. The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a treasure and we are very lucky to have it in public ownership, but cows grazing this jewel is not appropriate. Especailly after such a large fire, the grasslands and forests need time to recover with out cattle trampling the sensitive soils and grazing down the new growth.

Not only does the Preserve authorize grazing by domestic livestock, but there have been trespass cattle in the Preserve that come in from the surrounding National Forest lands to gorge on the robust, green grasses. The Preserve staff makes a heroic effort to round up and return the offending cattle, but as soon as they turn around there are more. This problem has to be solved with more vigilance and tougher fines on the owners of the trespass cows.

In the meantime, cows, both authorized and unauthorized, will graze in the magnificent valleys of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. WildEarth Guardians and our volunteers will continue to work with the staff and managers to restore degraded ecosystems in the Preserve and ensure cows remain out of the sensitive streams and wildlife habitats. We have several work days coming up to remove barbed wire and other ranching infrastructure that will ensure the least impact from cows. Join us!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Deal for the Federal Government: $35,000 For ZERO Cows on NM National Preserve

WildEarth Guardians is offering the federal government $35,000 dollars to not graze domestic livestock on the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, if past history is an indicator, the money will be refused.
In the aftermath of the largest fire in the state’s recent history, WildEarth Guardians submitted its bid on Thursday the 15th of December for a livestock operation on the Valles Caldera National Preserve that would graze no cows. That is $35,000 to keep the Preserve free of livestock. The focus of the bid is recovery and restoration of the Preserve’s
critical habitats after the Las Conchas fire burned through the National Preserve. WildEarth Guardians has made considerable efforts over the past decade to restore the Preserve’s streamside forests and wildlife habitat and believes the fire’s effects will be beneficial but only with rest from livestock grazing.
By law, the Valles Caldera National Preserve was established to protect and preserve the area's scientific, scenic, geologic, watershed, fish, wildlife, historic, cultural, and recreational values. The Valles Caldera Trust was created to carry out the Preserve's mission and to turn a profit. The Santa-Fe based WildEarth Guardians’ bid could do just that: make money while protecting the Preserve. Guardians believes that the best return on the dollar for the federal government and taxpayers is to accept the $35,000 in return for the privilege to keep cows out of the area and return the streamside habitats to their verdant nature. The group offers its expertise in river restoration to the Preserve in addition to the money.
According to climate models, the Southwest has become, and will continue to become, a drier and warmer place. A symptom of climate change and lingering drought will be larger, more severe fires. Nearly 30,000 acres of the Valles Caldera National Preserve burned this past summer in the Las Conchas Fire. Twenty-five percent of that was in the grasslands in the Preserve's majestic valleys. Grazing domestic livestock places additional stress on already strained hydrological systems, rivers and streams. The Preserve is recovering well by all indications, but returning domestic livestock to the valleys could inhibit recovery.
Cattle have been trespassing into the VCNP for several years as documented by WildEarth Guardians and others. Trespass cows are likely gaining access from the Santa Fe National Forest which borders the Preserve on all four sides. If the VCNP were free of cows under the WildEarth Guardians' plan, the Preserve's staff would have a much easier time identifying and taking possession of trespass cows and fining the owners.
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a gem in a long string of irreplaceable wild places that run from northern Mexico through the Rockies into Canada. With great foresight, the New Mexico congressional delegation set aside the Preserve as protected federal land. The VCNP serves as the headwaters of the Jemez River, a major tributary of the Rio Grande. This system captures and delivers water to untold numbers of municipal, agricultural, and recreational users downstream.
The valleys and forests of the Preserve are simply too valuable to put at risk with a domestic livestock grazing program.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Clean Waters, Wild Forests Westwide Manual

Good News: President Clinton's Roadless Rule was upheld by a panel of 10th Circuit federal judges recently. The bad: there are numerous political attacks being mounted on America's great conservation legacy, including roadless areas on the National Forest System. Until there is a permanent legislative fix protecting roadless forests, they will continue to blow in the political winds.

But WildEarth Guardians is excited to announce the release of a state-by-state, west-wide manual on protecting undeveloped, roadless forests using the Clean Water Act. Until we can secure permanent protection of roadless areas on the National Forest System, the Clean Water Act antidegradation provisions hold a state-level, citizen's tool for protection of waters in roadless areas and in turn the lands that affect the quality of those waters. Although water quality standards vary state-by-state, the antidegradation standard for "Outstanding Waters" is generally quite strong: no degradation. This degree of state-level protection can provide a bulwark against development of wild forests that might lead to degradation of their waters until full federal protection for roadless areas is final.

In this brand new report, "Clean Waters, Wild Forests: A Citizen Manual for Designating Outstanding Waters in the Wild Forests of the Western United States" we've done the work for you of describing in detail the procedures in 13 western states. So, don't wait any longer, get out there and ask your state to give the highest degree of protection to the pristine waters in roadless areas!

See this and other WildEarth Guardians' reports here:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Arizona Wildfire Not As Damaging As First Reported

A new GIS analysis of burn severity demonstrates less harm to forests than commonly reported.

The record setting fires of 2011 in the Southwest were widely reported as disastrous, yet new analysis by WildEarth Guardians shows the fires burned mostly as would be expected and may have long-term beneficial effects, with appropriate follow-up. Unfortunately, people lost homes and other structures in these fires.

Though the size of the individual fires broke all records for New Mexico and Arizona and fire behaved uncharacteristically in ponderosa pine – the fires mostly burned as expected. Where it burned unexpectedly hot highlights the need to focus scare resources on forest restoration in these vegetation types.

The results, based on preliminary data, reinforce the facts that fire is a natural process in southwestern forests and will present challenges for communities that live in and nearby these forests. In addition, where the fires did burn abnormally, attention is needed on those particular forest types in the form of thinning and controlled burns.

Key findings:

· Wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico account for 17% of all acres burned in 2011 and that figure jumps to 37% if Texas is excluded.
· New Mexico and Arizona had 1,445 wildland fires to date, burning a total of 1,310,861 acres.
· The Wallow Fire (AZ): Over 64% of the area within the fire perimeter burned at low severity or not at all, while just 16% burned at high severity and 20% at moderate severity.
· The Horseshoe II Fire (AZ): Nearly 58% of the area within the burn perimeter burned at low severity or not at all, while just 12% burned at high severity.
· The Las Conchas Fire (NM): Nearly 20% of the fire area burned at high severity, 29% at moderate severity and 39% at low severity.
· The Pacheco Fire (NM): Almost 37% of the burn area burned at high severity and another 27% at moderate severity.
· Of the 11 western states, New Mexico has the 8th and Arizona the10th largest area of undeveloped, forested private land bordering fire-prone public lands.
· New Mexico has 600 square miles of undeveloped, forested private lands adjacent to fire-prone public lands and Arizona 400 square miles.
· New Mexico is 7th and Arizona 8th among western states in the amount of forested land where homes have already been built next to public lands.

Fire is a natural and inevitable force of nature. Though the fires of 2011 were big, they behaved mostly as we would expect. Forests are flammable and we must learn to live safely with this awesome force of nature.
The GIS analysis, performed by Bird’s Eye View GIS, demonstrates that four fires, each very different in region and the vegetation types burned were large, making up almost 40% of all the wildland acreage burned in 2011 outside of Texas. The 7.5 million acres burned in wildfires this year is above the 10-year average of 6 million acres, but still far below the 145 million acres that burned on average prior to 1800.

Fire in the vegetation types that typically experience long return intervals, but high severity behaved normally, for example the spruce-fir forest types and wetter mixed conifer forests. In drier, forest types that typically experience short fire return intervals and low to moderate severity, the fires behaved mostly as expected with one exception: ponderosa pine forest that experienced uncharacteristic “hotter” fire. Larger, hotter fires in this dry forest type are predicted by scientists and result from forest management practices such as livestock grazing and fire suppression in combination with drought and climate change. Restoration and fuel management will be a high priority in the future for these dry forests.

With limited financial resources, national forests must be managed strategically. We know how to fire proof homes but we cannot fireproof forests in the West. Therefore, we need to spend money on a reasonable combination of controlled burning and thinning immediately around human communities.

The report concludes that the fires likely did more good than harm in controlling fuels built up over years of fire suppression, but that maintaining the lower fuel conditions with controlled burns and other management will be critical. It also concludes that development of housing in the wildland urban interface must be more tightly controlled in states like Arizona and New Mexico that still have significant development potential in fire-prone ecosystems.