By: Perin McNelis, BRN Assistant Manager Nursery & Seed Curation
“Slow and steady.” The old adage has never been more true than in describing the steadfast and patient work of Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO). BRN’s third annual collaboration with the University of New Mexico’s Land Arts of the American West (LAAW) program took place during the second week of October at CLO’s El Coronado Ranch property in the Chiricahua mountains.
On day one, after a brief introduction to the biotic communities of the Madrean Archipelago and the work of BRN by Perin McNelis, Assistant Native Plant Program Manager who coordinates the annual collaboration, the cohort set out with Valer Clark, founder of Cuenca Los Ojos, to view a few of the many restoration sites on the El Coronado property. We hiked to three or four sites with different types of rock structures in various stages of their process catching sediment to reduce erosion, slowing flood waters, and infiltrating rain to recharge groundwater.
On the morning of the second day, the cohort shared their individual explorations and responses from the previous day, which included a recipe for a “soil sponge”, prose, prints and more. We then met with Jose Manuel, the director of CLO’s sister organization in Sonora by the same name and manager of their San Bernardino ranch property, who gave a presentation on CLO’s binational work to protect and restore habitat along a critical transnational migration route for numerous terrestrial and avian creatures.
Jose Manuel talked about the successes of CLO at San Bernardino in raising the water tables 30 feet in the middle of a 15-year drought, bringing back at least 15% of the historic wetland with six miles of perennial river flow that has positively affected surface water availability well beyond the boundaries of private property lines, encouraging the neighboring ejido that had been suffering from the same intense drought to implement these water harvesting techniques in their collective lands. Jose Manuel also spoke about the deeply ingrained culture of ranching in Sonora and Arizona and the importance of building relationships with ranchers in order to begin a dialogue about shifting approaches to allow for the rest and recovery of pastures to better support grassland health.
That afternoon, the cohort met with BRN’s Seed Curator, Allegra Mount, to discuss how climate change is affecting habitat connectivity by fragmenting resources and prohibiting necessary movement. She discussed the central role of plants in holding soil in place, preventing erosion with their roots, and pulling water down into the aquifer. We went on a plant walk and the cohort dispersed to spend an hour of intimate meditation time with one plant being of their choice, and then responded creatively.
On the third day, we were visited by Todd Miller, journalist and author of “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security”. We discussed climate change projections made by our federal defense agencies for many years into the future and the following militarized response to the expectations of mass migrations resulting from extreme weather events. These border reinforcing efforts further fragment habitat and limit movement necessary for life, both human and other species.
The cohort then got to get their hands dirty. We discussed seed collection protocols and “the honorable harvest” philosophy with Allegra, then collected camphor weed seeds at the ranch house and went out to the Barboot ranch to collect grass seeds and other early successional forb species that survive in disturbed, compacted, and exposed soils.
Over the next couple of days, we tried our hands at building rock structures in an eroded road-side gully that Valer showed the group, we pelletized the collected seeds while telling stories, our hands covered in clay and plant matter, and we dispersed the seeds, looking for areas that seemed to need some ground cover and a little tender care. On the final day of the collaboration, the cohort dispersed into the neighboring forest land to delve deeper into the themes of the week and to explore those themes individually using their own practices, but always allowing their bodies to be in relation to the land around them.
Photo credits: Perin McNelis & Jeanette Hart-Mann
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