By: Tess Wagner, Watershed Restoration Program Manager
The past few months we’ve been working hard on restoration and outreach for our climate resilience and adaptation project, Along the Path of the Jaguar. Funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation Fund, this project enhances climate resilience and adaptation along a critical wildlife migration corridor between the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains through ecological restoration work.
Restoration methods include the implementation of rock erosion control structures (ECS), the mulching of bare soil, and the distribution and planting of native seed pellets and seedlings. By building ECS in eroding drainages, we are slowing water flow, trapping sediment, and increasing infiltration. Planting native vegetation enhances important wildlife habitat and forage, holds water in the landscape, and stabilizes soils. Increasing the capture of water flowing intermittently through our landscapes helps our fragile desert ecosystems adapt to aridification resulting from climate change by making the most of the little water that passes through. Re-establishing native plant communities that form the foundation of our desert ecosystems strengthen these systems, making them more resilient to stress caused by the increased heat and aridity that accompanies climate change in the sky island region.
We’ve begun restoration work with the construction of 73 ECS in Smith and Stevens Canyons - two canyons with headwaters on Coronado National Forest land that pass through Borderlands Wildlife Preserve (BWP) and drain into Sonoita Creek. In Smith Canyon, we are revisiting drainages we’ve previously worked on, repairing old ECS and building new ones as needed. Restoration work has not been previously conducted in Stevens Canyon, so in this location we’re building new structures. In both canyons we started restoration work at the top (northwest) of the watershed, and we will continue to build ECS following the path of water downslope. Starting at the top of the watershed allows us to limit the downstream spread of erosional impacts such as sediment pollution and increased flow velocities and volumes that can fuel additional erosion.
A highlight of our work in Smith and Stevens Canyons was having the opportunity to work with the Patagonia Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) program in mid-June. They joined the watershed restoration crew for two brutally hot weeks of ECS work in Smith and Stevens Canyons, completing an additional 89 structures with funding provided by the USFS. Thank you BECY participants for your tenacity and hard work, despite the difficult work conditions!
Looking forward, we will continue building ECS in Smith and Stevens Canyon and we will begin the process of mulching a total of 40 acres across BWP. Mulching increases soil moisture retention and reduces soil erosion on sections of bare ground that have been denuded through the targeted removal of invasive vegetation - primarily Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) and Russian thistle (Salsola Tragus)- and by off-road vehicle traffic. Seed pellets and plantings will be distributed throughout the mulched areas, assisting in the re-establishment of native vegetative communities. We will also be hosting planting, watering, and erosion control volunteer days in July, September, and October.
To learn more about this project or to sign up for volunteer opportunities, please visit the project page here.
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