Restoration Along the Path of the Jaguar
By: Kurt Vaughn, BRN Executive Director
Borderlands Restoration Network is honored to have received a $245,000 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation Fund, established by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to fund critical ecological restoration work along the path of the jaguar in southeast Arizona. WCS's goal is to conserve the world's largest wild places in 14 priority regions, home to more than 50% of the world's biodiversity.
The Sky Islands region of southern Arizona and northern Mexico encompasses more than thirty mountain ranges and is recognized as a globally-significant biodiversity hotspot home to half the bird species in North America, and over 7000 species of plants and animals, including the last remaining jaguar in the United States.
Climate change is impacting habitat quality through increased aridification of the region, exacerbating drought intensity, and increasing extreme precipitation events. Increasing temperatures and declining annual precipitation have had severe consequences for many of the region's ecosystems, particularly riparian habitats.
This process of aridification combined with unsustainable groundwater use has caused a 96% reduction of surface flows in the historic rivers and streams in Arizona. Decreasing soil moisture availability and declining groundwater have left riparian habitats severely water-stressed. This regional aridification is further punctuated by seasonal and longer-term droughts. In the near future drought is projected to become more frequent, more intense, and more prolonged, resulting in water deficits in excess of those during the last 2000 years. Securing sufficient water availability to weather these extreme events is essential to the continued integrity of this migratory corridor.
During 2021 - 2022 BRN will perform restoration work in and around the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve, the critical wildlife corridor linking the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains, complementing and expanding upon our work in the area. 250 erosion control structures will be installed including one-rock dams, media-lunas, trincheras, stick structures, and one log dams. Borderlands Earth Care Youth will build 26 of these structures as part of their programming.
Scientific studies show ECS can increase surface water availability, extend seasonal flows and increase in-stream volume, decrease water stress in plants, increase vegetation cover and increase soil carbon sequestration. ECS are constructed of parallel rows of self-reinforcing rocks incorporated into eroding ephemeral stream channels. These structures, often only one-rock high in profile but several rows wide, rest at right angles to the direction of water flow and remain passive to overtop flows. This arrangement allows ECS to trap organic-rich sediment upstream while extending the hydro-period for plant establishment and increasing water infiltration.
In conjunction with erosion control efforts, we will actively revegetate the site with hardy, locally-adapted plants grown from hand-collected seed at our Borderlands Restoration Nursery & Seed native plant nursery to return degraded ecosystems, further stabilize soil, and provide habitat for fauna. Plant material will be selected based on resiliency to increased environmental stressors. Over 4000 seedlings and saplings will be planted with monsoonal rains on grazing-excluded sites, as grazing in conjunction with climate change has been determined to be one of the largest threats to sapling success. Plantings will be co-located with ECS to increase the likelihood of survival.
To address the 0ver 40 acres of bare soil surfaces across the project area, BRN will distribute native mulch and grass seed pellets. Mulch promotes soil moisture retention and revegetation of bare ground, further stabilizing the soil surface. It will also act as a seed refugia for hand-scattered seed pellets, further promoting vegetative recovery. Additionally, we will monitor wildlife camera data to better understand impacts on wildlife communities in the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve.
We are grateful to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund, established by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, for the opportunity to advance this corridor toward a trajectory of recovery and enhance the resilience of this landscape to current and future climate impacts.
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