By: Cholla Nicoll, Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
I was born in Tucson, AZ, in the 1980s. During my preschool years, we lived off Old Nogales Highway in a small adobe house. I grew up playing on huge stumps of long-dead mesquite trees from the once-famous mesquite bosque south of town, long-vanished due to over-harvesting and draining groundwater. Later in my childhood, we lived in central Tucson, and I remember when the city switched from groundwater to Colorado River water, our taps flowed brown for days as the new highly treated water stripped the old pipes. Many hot summers were spent standing two feet in front of the swamp cooler and climbing the one tree in the back yard to watch the monsoon clouds roll in, praying for rain. When the rain did come, it was the best feeling in the world, and my dad would drive us through the flooded streets to see the unfathomable torrent of water coming down the Rialto and Santa Cruz Rivers. Growing up in the desert creates a deep connection with the importance of water. My daughter seemed to love the rain from the time she could walk, instinctively knowing the joy it brings.
This past year we have all been missing the rain in a substantial way. According to drought.gov, the ongoing drought in southern Arizona has been at its highest level, exceptional drought, since the fall of 2020. One of Borderland's regional partners, Sky Island Alliance, is beginning to see a dramatic decline in vegetation and wildlife monitored through wildlife trail cameras as part of their Border Wildlife Study. Wildlife is facing a double-edged sword right now, not only needing to find ways around new stretches of a border wall, but also trying to survive an exceptional drought. Supporting organizations working to restore watersheds, protect wildlife and vegetation is vital right now. There are also some simple things you can do to help wildlife in your backyard too.
If you live in town, you want to be careful to attract small animals who will not cause conflict with neighbors and pets. Putting out fresh water daily for birds is a great idea. Adding a simple dripper to the birdbath creating a "drip" sound will attract even more birds than just a still pool of water (Google birdbath drip jug or bubbler for ideas). If you have a garden, use an extra thick layer of mulch, this will hold more water in the soil protecting micro-organisms and small creatures like worms who are extra sensitive to dry conditions. If you own a large enough piece of land that wildlife conflict is not an issue, consider installing or creating a wildlife drinker. Make sure small animals have a ramp to escape from the water. Lastly, if you own big or small livestock, be conscious of the drought. Wild animals may be desperate for food and water. Protect your domestic animals by keeping your property well-trimmed, removing outdoor food sources, housing animals in proper enclosures, or using other predator-friendly means such as guard dogs and electric fences.
Borderland Wildlife Preserve currently has four wildlife drinkers and two small ponds. Restoring the watershed and creating more surface and groundwater for plants and wildlife is at the core of what Borderlands Restoration Network does. Hopefully, with the help of many others, we will restore water to the region and help our wild friends along the way. We will always pray for rain in the desert, but with any luck and a ton of hard work, maybe my daughter's memories will be ones of lessening droughts, returning mesquite bosques, groundwater, and rivers.
Wildlife Monitoring at the BWP during 20201 - 2022, supported by the Wildlife Conservation, Climate Adaptation Fund, supported by funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The WCS Climate Adaptation Fund supports projects helping ecosystems adapt to climate change, including urban environments and projects incorporating joint mitigation and adaptation approaches.
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