This restoration project will identify ecologically and economically effective methods for restoration of giant sacaton grassland and will apply these methods to restore a total of three acres of floodplain invaded by non-native grasses. This work is a part of a USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife grant that will be completed on land owned by The Nature Conservancy at Sonoita Creek in Patagonia, AZ.
Grasslands dominated by big sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) have historically been an important and unique component of the borderlands biologically rich landscape, once occupying millions of acres of alluvial floodplain habitat in semi-arid southwestern North America. Sacaton riparian grasslands are recognized for their important ecological functions and landscape values — absorbing flood flows, controlling soil erosion, and intercepting and retaining sediments.
Established grasslands are exceptionally drought resistant due to extensive root systems reaching up to 20ft below surface level, and therefore resistant to habitat conversion and invasion by non-native species. Restoration of mature giant sacaton grassland is also of critical importance to regional wildlife management efforts. The large, upright and dense habit of big sacaton provides valuable cover for multiple species of birds, rodents, and mammals in semi-arid riparian and riparian-upland transitional systems.
According to a study by The Center for Science and Public Policy, Sacaton grasslands are now reduced to less than 5% of their original distribution. The project area was expected to have been sacaton grassland before agricultural use allowed the invasion or intentional cultivation of non-native and/or weedy species such as Johnson grass, amaranth, and bindweed. Low-disturbance methods of weed control (e.g. mowing) will be used to manage these species in-between planting areas until mow-able, native borders can be established.
We are working with partners to restore 3 acres of sacaton grassland using experimental methods As increased drought results in abandoned agricultural fields all over the Southwest, it is so important to figure out the most effective and low-input methods for converting these disturbed areas back into native plant habitat to prevent erosion, dunification, and habitat loss.