By: Cholla Nicoll, Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
Occasionally when we experience the natural world, we are given a special gift. This gift comes in the form of a moment of awe. Maybe we see a hawk swing low to catch a mouse or glimpse a mountain lion as it slinks away into the brush. Whatever the experience, it's one we rarely forget. You would think working in a wildlife preserve, I must have these moments all the time, but honestly, most days, I rarely see more than a circling vulture or deer bounding away. I try to work from a place of inspiration and that sense of awe. Wildlife camera images often deliver the gifts I need to continue my work. I have recently been gifted some pictures of a bobcat from the BWP wildlife cameras. I want to share this gift with you and sincerely hope that it brings you a moment of awe as it did me.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a North American species ranging from central Mexico to southern Canada. The bobcat is about twice the size of your average house cat. It preys on small animals such as rabbits, mice, and lizards. Bobcats are fairly common yet very rarely seen.
Bobcats are known for their short bobtail. Why bobcats have a short tail is still debated, one guess is that they evolved as ground hunters and therefore didn't need a long tail for balancing in trees. Bobcats also have black and white spots on the back of their ears, which create the illusion of false eyes. These spots ward off potential predators who might attack from behind and intimidate other rival bobcats.
The bobcat you see in the pictures was spending much time looking upwards in the camera images. I ventured out to the camera location to see what it may have been looking at in the surrounding trees. At first, I saw nothing, so I decided to take a short break under a nearby tree. It became undeniable what the bobcat may have been looking at as I was quickly surrounded by a flock of very upset Mexican Jaybirds. They loudly announced my presence was unacceptable to them. As I looked up at these very excited birds, I realized I had been given yet another gift, a notice that it was time to leave. I had outstayed my welcome and this place belonged to the birds and one exceptional short-tailed cat.
Bobcats, like all wildcats, benefit from strict regulations on the fur trade and large protected landscapes. Altogether avoiding the use of rodenticides also helps small predators like bobcats live a healthy and long life.
For more information on bobcats and other small wildcats, please visit the International Society for Endangered Cats.
By: Audrey Rader, Program Manager Watershed and Habitat Restoration
The past few months saw socially distanced Borderlands Restoration Network crews in some breathtaking places. We traversed hills and drainages, camped in oak woodlands, meandered vast grasslands, and hiked along lakeshores all in pursuit of one goal, to collect seed. As we trekked, we carefully selected seeds that would accommodate nectar or food gaps in the landscape for pollinators and wildlife. The seeds we collected this fall will shortly be returned to the landscape with the coming year’s monsoonal rains to augment ongoing restoration efforts.
Most all of our projects center on enhancing degraded landscapes. In the case of our project with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, this involves spending long days in the sun digging up the cantankerous rhizomes of Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), an invasive grass that chokes out native plants, alters the hydrology of the sites it infests, and increases fire risk.
In other cases, our restoration activities revolve around the abiotic side of things. For our ongoing collaboration with Southern Arizona Quail Forever, we are installing erosion control structures to slow and spread water across the landscape, retain sediment and mitigate erosion while supporting plant and animal life. For both of these projects, revegetation is an integral piece of the puzzle.
This is where the seed comes in. Using native, locally adapted seed for our restoration projects improves plant community resilience as these seeds are best equipped to handle local environmental conditions. They also offer vital habitat for the wildlife that calls this region home. Weaving together these invasive plant management, erosion control, and seeding activities boosts plant community diversity and abundance, serving to crowd out invasive plants, prevent erosion, and provide forage and habitat to our charismatic wildlife for years to come.
When collecting seed, we cater our technique to the plant. In the cases of plants such as the Agave, we place a tarp at the base of the plant and shake the stalk to gather seeds or lightly prune them with a telescoping pole. For grasses, we typically strip or shake grasses off the stem or clip the stem right below the spikelet. Some plants have seeds that explode out and require the entire inflorescence to be cut prior to maturity and allowed to dry in a paper bag. When it comes to shrub or forb seed, we hand pick it or lightly shake the plant, using a tarp to catch the falling seeds.
In all cases, we monitor the plants to ensure the seeds are mature before collection. After collecting, we bring the seed back to the BRN Seed Lab for inventory and cleaning. It’s important to remove the chaff from the seed as the chaff can harbor fungus, pests, and other pathogens. Then we store it in low relative humidity and cool temperatures to be used for our projects.
If any of these seed efforts piqued your interest, you can collect and store seed in your own back yard. For most of human history, saving seeds was not only necessary, but expected. The act of collecting the best seed from our gardens and storing them to plant in future years is a critical step to gaining food sovereignty. If you don’t grow your own food, you can collect seed from the native plants in your yard to sow a great pollinator garden next year, enhancing the amount of nectar and food for your winged visitors.
If you’re as curious or inspired by seed collection as we are, check out such groups such as The Indigenous Seed Keepers Network (ISKN) with the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, whose efforts center on providing educational resources and training for seed collection to a wide array of audiences, thus enhancing food sovereignty across North America.
By: Audrey Rader, Watershed & Habitat Restoration Program Manager
Due to drought conditions, habitat fragmentation, historic unsustainable grazing and timber harvests, and flooding events, watersheds within the Madrean Archipelago have been severely degraded. Smith Canyon is one such degraded site, located in the Sonoita Creek Watershed and part of the Nogales Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest.
In collaboration with entities such as the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Arizona Game and Fish Department, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Forest Service, United States Geological Survey, and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Borderlands Restoration Network staff has implemented various watershed restoration techniques across Smith Canyon in an effort to address the aforementioned habitat degradation concerns. Restoration treatments within Smith Canyon were designed to reduce erosion impacts and nonpoint source pollution downstream, with the overarching goal of improving the overall ecological function of the watershed.
Smith Canyon consists of mixed mesquite shrubland and oak grassland across roughly 90 structurally similar sub-basins. The unique, repeated pattern of these ~90 sub-basins presents an exciting opportunity for rigorous, large-scale experimentation when considering each sub-basin as a replicate unit.
In 2018, Roy Petrakis (USGS) developed a model to cluster sub-sets of these sub-basins based on their structural and biophysical traits. BRN staff then assessed each of these clustered sub-basins by level of restoration need (high/medium/low), allowing BRN staff to standardize best management practices across the adjacent Stevens and Little Casa Blanca Canyons for future projects.
Between June 2019 and November 2019, BRN staff installed erosion control structures per the restoration prescription in all of the clustered sub-basins. As an effective and low-cost technique employed around the world for thousands of years, erosion control structures are potent restoration tools in arid regions suffering from ecosystem degradation and the destructive effects of drought, fire and flooding. These structures consist of several parallel rows of self-reinforcing rocks or wood incorporated into the bed of the eroding channel. Often only one-rock high in profile but several rows wide, these structures rest at right angles to the direction of flow but remain passive to overtop flows. This arrangement allows these structures to trap organic-rich sediment upstream, while slowing flows and increasing water infiltration into the channel bottom and banks.
Erosion control structures temporarily detaining water in Smith Canyon after a rain event.
These structures extend the hydro-period for plant establishment without retaining water long term. When placed in a coordinated series according to landforms and observed water flows, each individual erosion control structure is part of a system that decreases erosive forces, increases surface water availability, and aids ecological recovery. Each of the 90 sub-basins received at least five erosion control structures constructed of rock and five erosion control structures constructed of dead and down woody material, depending on local resource ability. After installing the erosion control structures, BRN staff monitored each erosion control structure within the sub-basins for theoretical sediment yield by measuring their basin length, width, and height.
Finally, in collaboration with the Gornish Lab of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, BRN tested the effectiveness of various planting methods on reducing erosion in Smith Canyon. Planting methods included seedling out-planting (plugs), pelletized seed addition, and bare seed addition. The target species used for this study included Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi), and Soaptree Yucca (Yucca elata), chosen in order to tease out details on the influence life-form may have on treatment success and habitat value.
Planting treatments included forb seeds, forb pelletized seed, forb plugs, forb and grass seeds, forb and grass pelletized seed, and forb and grass plugs. These treatments were randomly assigned across six plots, with each treatment type replicated ten times. Five of the planting treatment replicates were installed in control sub-basins with no erosion control structures and five of the planting treatment replicates were installed in sub-basins with erosion control structures. Plots were 2m x 2m in size to cover the width of the sub-basin flow-lines. BRN and University of Arizona staff will monitor survival and recruitment of each planting method in addition to the relative cost of each. We hope this data will help improve the efficacy and cost effectiveness of planting efforts for practitioners across the borderlands region.
In the face of ever-increasing anthropogenic and natural stressors, it is critical to restore our degraded watersheds. Restoring watershed conditions to a trajectory of recovery improves water quality and quantity with additional benefits to surrounding habitats and downstream populations. We hope these projects will validate the effectiveness of various watershed restoration techniques and inform future management of the Madrean Sky Islands.
Special thanks to the Frances V. Seebe Charitable Trust for support of this project.
Contact Audrey Rader with any questions.
By: Cholla Nicoll, Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
The next time you're out at the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve, swing by the newly updated welcome kiosk! After many zoom meetings and wordsmithing marathons, Borderlands Restoration Network and Wildlife Corridors, LLC are proud to have some exceptional new informational signage at the Preserve's welcome kiosk, including trail maps and brochures,
Like most good things, these signs were a group effort. They could not have been completed without generous donations, hours of volunteer time, and the help and guidance of motivated staff. We hope visitors to the preserve will enjoy the new signs, have lunch or a post hike break at the picnic table, and refill a water bottle from the beautiful mosaic drinking fountain created by the Patagonia Creative Arts Association.
The kiosk signage provide insights into the creation of the preserve, our partners, trail maps, wildlife information, and usage guidelines. The welcome area will continue to grow into a shared space for humans, plants, and wildlife alike. Future plans include additional signage on the back of the kiosk, along with a gentle interpretive nature trail and demonstration garden. As those plans develop, we are hard at work designing new interpretive trail signs for the preserves much loved Smith Canyon Loop Trail.
One of the new interpretive signs will introduce all of the local wild cats known to this region. Wild animals, especially cats, can hide in plain sight giving many of us humans the misconception that they might not be there at all. If we look closely as we hike though, there are signs of these animals just under our feet waiting to be discovered. Learning how to identify wildlife tracks and sign can open the door to a much more interactive experience in nature.
We hope visitors will enjoy the new kiosk and the peace and tranquility of the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve. In the meantime, here is some sign we found including a mountain lion track and a humorous image of a gray fox leaving behind some scat.
If you are interested in learning more about wildlife tracking, my recommended favorite book is Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species Second Edition authored by Mark Elbroch.
By: Perin McNelis, BRN Native Plant Program Assistant Manager
This summer, BRN’s Native Plant Program team continued its collaboration with the USDA Forest Service with support from the USDA Agricultural Resource Service to document and collect crop wild relatives (CWR) in the Wild Chile Botanical Area of the Tumacacori Highlands and surrounding public lands for future research and safeguarding of genetic material that may play a role in food security in the face of hotter drier conditions.
Wild Chile Botanical Area
What is a crop wild relative, and why are they important, you may be asking. As defined by the United States Forest Service, a crop wild relative is “a plant species occurring in the ‘wild’ that is a species from which the crop was domesticated, or a closely related species in the same genus to a particular domesticated crop species. Crop wild relatives may contribute genetic material to the crop species, which may provide for increased disease resistance, fertility, crop yield or other desirable traits.
Almost every species of plant that we humans have domesticated and cultivate has one or more crop wild relatives. When humans find plant characteristics that may be useful to us in crop wild relative individuals, we breed those CWR plants with desirable traits until those traits are maintained in all offspring. During this process of domestication, we focus on bringing out parts of the phenotype, or how the plant appears on the outside, that we like through breeding which in turn slowly alters the genotype. We maintain these traits through continued cultivation. Once we have achieved our cultivar, often the crop wild relatives cease to be used, but usually continue to grow in the wild.
Why are CWRs important? As we face unprecedented climate catastrophe, future food security is more important than ever. Gary Nabhan and Colin Khoury, who have advocated for CWR protection and research in our region for decades, write that “to produce good, affordable food while reducing the environmental impacts of production, more diversity will be needed both in the variety of plants cultivated or foraged for the market, and in the genetic variation within domesticated crops. Crop wild relatives offer the world both of these gifts.” CWRs that have adaptations for surviving and thriving in hot and dry conditions seem especially pertinent for the future of food security in the face of global warming.
In their paper “Trans Situ Conservation of Wild Crop Relatives,” Gary Nabhan and Erin Riordan advocate for integrating in situ and ex situ strategies for CWR conservation by ramping up protective measures for landscapes where CWR plants grow, and maintaining ex situ backup in gene banks, while also promoting education, research, and relationship with these plants. BRN's CWR work is just a starting point that stemmed from this “trans situ” approach. Our work with CWRs started in 2019 and has primarily been focused in the Wild Chile Botanical Area.
Wild Chile Botanical Area outlined in red.
The Wild Chile Botanical Area (WCBA) is a 2,836-acre area under management of CNF and was designated in 1999 to protect the northernmost natural population of the chiltepin pepper (Capsicum annuum), the wild ancestor of many cultivated peppers. The special area was also created to provide protection and research opportunities for both the wild chile and other plants of economic importance or conservation concern.
At least 45 species of crop wild relatives (CWR) occur in the watershed containing the WCBA within the east side of the Tumacacori Mountains on the Nogales Ranger District. Many of these CWR species have proven or potential uses as crop genetic resources for improvement of domesticated crops already being grown commercially in Arizona and the rest of the U.S. and the world. The WCBA is also one of the most botanically interesting areas in southern Arizona, providing a fantastic snapshot of the unique biotic community of the Tumacacori Highlands, and is home to numerous plant species that are at the northern extent of their range and grow in few other locations in the United States. For this reason in and of itself, the WCBA deserves protective measures.
In 2019 BRN played a small role in a project that the USFS was working on with support from USDA ARS to conduct a thorough botanical inventory of the WCBA. We supported the survey work which was lead by biologists from the Forest Service Enterprise Program, we then used the geolocations from the surveys to collect voucher specimens and seed that was sent to national germ plasm banks for research focused on the specific crop and its relatives.
This year we are continuing and expanding the project with the primary objective to continue locating and inventorying CWR and to collect seeds and voucher specimens of priority species for conservation and research. This is being done primarily in the WCBA and Coronado National Forest land in the Tumacacori Highlands, Santa Rita Mountains and Patagonia Mountains, for species not observed in the WCBA. Results of plant inventories for CWR will be used to determine if further protective designation for the WCBA should be pursued as an Important Genetic Resource Reserve (IGRR) for plant species in addition to the wild chile.
Manihot davisiae or AZ Manihot, a wild relative of cassava.
There are over 300 taxa of CWR present in the Tumacacori Highlands area of southeastern Arizona, so BRN has partnered with Erin Riordan, a plant ecologist and researcher, to narrow down such a large list in order to prioritize species that have more urgent research and conservation needs, and to have a more targeted strategy for survey and seed collection work with limited timeline and people power.
Although the insufficient precipitation during the monsoon season this year has posed a challenge to voucher and seed collection, this project feels urgent and timely, and BRN is thrilled to spearhead this work.
Further reading from Erin Riordan on CWR.
Watch the zoom presentation by Perin McNelis to the AZ Native Plant Society, Tucson Chapter about our WCR work.
By: Cholla Nicoll, BRN Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
As October approaches, some of us begin to feel the magic that fall brings cooler temperatures, muted colors, and holidays celebrating the mysteries of life, death, and the unknown. Images of pumpkins, skulls, and owls begin to appear, and life slows down just a touch with the abundance of spring and summer fading. Lately, the preserve wildlife cameras have captured the same feeling highlighting one particularly hauntingly beautiful creature with quite the reputation for mysterious powers, the barn owl.
Barn Owl taking a bath.
The barn owl (Tyto alba) is a medium-sized owl with a worldwide range and 35 individual races with distinct characteristics depending on location. The North American Barn Owl (Tyto alba pratincola) is the largest of the barn owls, comparable to a crow's size. Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal and mostly prey upon small mammals. Barn Owls are famous in the animal world for having the best-known hearing in existence. Researchers have determined that Barn Owls can successfully capture prey in one hundred percent darkness using sound alone. This unique adaptation allows Barn Owls to avoid hunting at similar times of the night to their natural predator, the Great Horned Owl.
Great Horned Owl
Other unique characteristics Barn Owls poses include the ability to breed year-round and the vocalization of a screech instead of the typical hoot sound. Barn Owls' ability to produce offspring year-round makes them a great candidate for rodent control in agricultural settings. Research has shown that Barn Owls can significantly reduce rodent populations and at minimal cost to the farmer. Barn Owls are a great alternative to incredibly harmful rodenticides that kill thousands of unintended animals each year.
Borderlands Wildlife Preserve provides the ideal habitat for Barn Owls, a rough grassland with large open spaces. We are happy to share these amazing pictures of our local Barn Owls with you all, and for an extra boost of that fall feeling, please enjoy the videos of our precious nocturnal wildlife, including a Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Coyote. For more information on Barn Owls and how to create Barn Owl Boxes for agricultural and conservation uses please visit Barn Owl Box Company.
Coyote & Bat
By: Laura Monti, BRN Senior Fellow
On behalf of the Comcáac Health Relief team we are deeply grateful to all of our donors for your generous support. These extraordinary times of Covid-19 have required extraordinary commitment, tenacity and passion on all of our parts. The returns are incalculable: local healthcare teams galvanized and equipped, lives have been saved, and we hope the disease may be starting to diminish. Further, this community engaged approach to Covid-19 care is being used as a model by other indigenous communities in the region.
The funds raised and volunteer support has helped to mobilize resources directly to the Comcáac healthcare team, and to equip them to better respond to health care challenges related to Covid-19. The result is that the Covid response clinics are now established in the two Comcáac villages of Desemboque and Punta Chueca, staffed by 13 community health promoters and supported by medical and public health consultation.
Each clinic now has satellite internet to allow for consultation and emergency transfers. Two integrative healthcare teams now include six health promoters supported by five expert herbalists bringing together modern medical treatment with traditional desert plant medicine to treat patients with Covid-19. Dr. Laura Monti is overseeing the effort on the ground, working with the Comcáac healthcare teams backed up by medical doctors from the Sonora Public Health and Indigenous Health departments.
The health care teams in both villages have been working around the clock, seven days a week to care for patients with Covid-19 in their communities. During early July through August 10th, new cases of Covid-19 continued to rise with an average of 5-8 new cases per week in each village. During late June to mid-August, the number of cumulative cases of Covid-19 cases was just over 100, confirmed during a series of eight testing clinics carried out by the Public Health Secretary.
In each village approximately 50 cases were documented through testing, with at least 20 more persons in each village identified with positive Covid symptoms. Our conservative estimates are that since May 2020 in Desemboque (population 300 +-) has experienced a 25% infection rate. Punta Chueca, with over 700 people has had a 10% infection rate. While the numbers seem to have begun to decline, complicated cases have continued to occur, with one recent hospitalization.
While unfortunately five persons have died due to Covid-19, as of late August most patients under the care of the Comcáac health promoter team have recovered or are recovering.
The Health Promoters of Desemboque and Punta Chueca have provided the following services and activities:
● 125 consultations evaluating and caring for patients with Covid-19 symptoms.
● 50 oxygen and respiratory therapy treatments have been delivered.
● The herbalists have gathered bushels of medicinal plants traveling to remote
areas where specific plants are found.
● 100 patients have received a “Covid Kit” with hand sanitizer, masks and a two
week supply of plants known to be effective for Covid-related symptoms.
● 120 home visits to provide follow-up treatment and preventative care from July through mid-August to patients with Covid and their families.
● 24-hour care for 7 patients ranging from 1-3 days to 4 weeks.
In addition, Dr. Monti and the healthcare teams have initiated contact tracing mapping the locations of cases of Covid-19 by neighborhood and are providing follow-up care and prevention for Covid+ patients, families and neighbors in their native language. This outreach has reached dozens of individuals and families who have not approached the clinic or participated in the Covid testing clinics.
The health care team doubled their efforts in “hotspot” areas distributing protective gear, masks, face shields and hand sanitizer to all of the stores, fishing sector and their families living closest to the beach area, and to vulnerable groups that have not contracted the disease.
This science and community based public health approach, combined with excellent clinical care has reduced deaths and prevented many hospitalizations for Covid-19 patients in the Comcáac communities of Desemboque and Punta Chueca.
To date, no deaths have occurred under the care of the health promoters since the beginning of the Comcáac Health Relief Fund, a fact that Indigenous Health Coordinator of Sonora, Dr. Martin Maldonado says has made this indigenous Covid response program a model in the state and the nation.
“We send profound gratitude to our many friends that have supported us. Before this program began we were alone, without experience or knowledge confronting a situation that seemed impossible. We had no protective gear and were exhausted. Now it is a different story completely. We have a team and a circle of friends. Now we feel confident because many have recovered under our care.” -Desemboque health promoters-- Omar Casanova and Isabela Morales.
Thanks to the following individuals for their support:
Comcaac authorities and leaders Francisco Fonseca, Rogelio Montaño, Leonel Hoeffer and Reynaldo Estrella are currently providing ongoing logistical support. Work has begun to restore adjacent buildings to the clinics. Additional safe space is essential to keep the healthcare team healthy, to provide adequate space for patient isolation, a work room for the herbalists and equipment storage. The clinic water pump in Desemboque has been repaired and the clinic now has running water thanks to Solarex company workers. Restoration of additional safe space will begin soon with installation of electricity and running water to these much needed areas.
Our next steps of this project are to continue health promoter support, renovate structures adjacent to the clinics to assure safe space and working conditions for the health promoters and patients; support nutrition and home gardens and achieve affordable clean water for both community. We have raised approximately $31,000 at this point along with thousands of dollars of in-kind supplies.
Your continued contributions are needed as we move to the next phase and are greatly appreciated!
Questions? Contact Dr. Laura Monti, BRN Senior Fellow, Researcher, University of Arizona, College of Public Health and The Southwest Center
Read in Spanish here.
By: Francesca Claverie, Native Plant Program Manager
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