Southwest Restoration, Research and Monitoring

Dust Mitigation & Native Species Development Project

Airborne dust has resulted in extremely hazardous road conditions along Interstate 10 in southwestern New Mexico (Lordsburg Playa). We are working with the New Mexico Department of Transportation on a project to mitigate dust while improving our understanding of native species and sources of plant materials able to survive harsh conditions (saline soils, drought). Our researchers are assessing Chihuahuan Desert plant communities to identify plant materials that can withstand these conditions and mitigate for erosion and dust issues. Through extensive literature reviews, consultation with our Technical Advisory team, and species scoring matrices we have identified novel species (not commercially available) that are drought tolerant, quick-establishing, and show promise for reclaiming and controlling dust-generating soils in playa-associated habitats in southern New Mexico. Since 2018, we have been collecting seed from these species and from local sources of commercially available species currently used by the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) in roadside revegetation. Next summer we will install research plantings at five sites near the Lordsburg playa to test which species, seed mix, or seed source is most effective at mitigating negative impacts to public safety. These data will help the NMDOT enhance their revegetation efforts in challenging soils while actively restoring problem areas in the region of the Lordsburg Playa.  Determining which germplasm is most successful will improve revegetation practices and increase the availability of native plant materials by encouraging growers to produce these materials and share information regarding best ways to use the seed.

Planned research plot near Lordsburg playa
Photo credit: Kimiora Ward

 

Cienega Wetland Restoration

Just off interstate 25 near Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Lenora Curtin Wetland Preserve is an unexpected and calm respite from the heat and dryness of the Santa Fe desert. I am here with IAE Southwest Program Director Melanie Gisler and IAE ecologist Yvonne Hickerson, who have been working with partners to restore this unique ‘cienega’ ecosystem. “A cienega is a term unique to wetland systems in the American Southwest, and is one of the rarest ecosystems in the region,” explains Melanie. Key project partner and cienega expert Bob Sivinski likens the cienega to an oasis in this desert that brings in unique native plants and animals with spongy, waterlogged soils and standing water. But this preserve, managed by the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens and owned by El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, was overrun by Russian olive trees (Elaeagnus angustifolia) that robbed native cienega plant species of water and created a forest canopy over wetland habitat that would otherwise be more open, lacking trees in general.  Monitoring wells have recorded the water table on the preserve for a number of years. As Scott Canning, Director of Horticulture for the Botanical Gardens, told the a Santa Fe Reporter recently, “when the [Russian olive] trees leaf out in the spring, the water table drops four feet.” In recent years, native plants like checkermallow and milkweed, are now only seen further downstream, away from parts of the preserve infested with Russian olives and other weeds. IAE and the Botanical Garden knew that Russian olive tree removal was a critical intervention to save this rare and beloved ecosystem from drying out and dying off. Read More on our blog.