Saturday, May 03, 2008

Restoration workshop on the San Francisco River, NM

"Join SIA, NMWA and UGWA along the beautiful San Francisco River just downstream from Reserve, NM where we will be doing restoration in support of UGWA's work on the Gila watershed. Come lend a hand to a very successful US Fish and Wildlife 'Partners for Wildlife' project that began in 1994 and has been going strong since. This is a unique opportunity to see what a southwest desert river is supposed to look like!"
On the weekend of May 2 the "Tres Alianzas" (Sky Island Alliance - SIA, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance - NMWA, Upper Gila Watershed Association - UGWA) convened on the Rio San Francisco in Catron County, New Mexico, to discuss and implement permaculture restoration projects. Break-out sessions included Road Improvement, Induced Meandering, Acequias and Terracing, Firesafing, Forensic Ecology, and Philosophy of Human/Nature Interactions.

The San Francisco flows through the hill country of west-central New Mexico. All along the Mogollon Rim, where the Blue, Pueblo, Gila and San Francisco cut deep canyons amid vast grassy meadows, juniper, oak, and pinon grade to parks of stately ponderosa, pillars of the revolving cosmos.

# In this case, an oak (Quercus spp), alligator juniper and pinon pine (Pinus edulus) compete under changing conditions - locked in a slow dance - what we see here is a single frame of a vast motion picture of ecological succession. Can we, from this single frame, determine the past and the trajectory of future succession?
It seems the juniper, because of grazing and, somewhat consequently, lack of natural fire, grew up under and around the old oak. But now, just at the height of its glory, a usurper, the pinon, has broken through the juniper to overreach the triumvirate.
How can we influence this succession to firesafe a Southwest woodland. Clearing brush to rush succession -- but what to cut? SW forests are actually carbon-limited: e.g. not enough ground cover, downed trees provide habitat, erosion control, and direct nutrient infusion. It is foolish to try to "speed" succession by salvage logging, when that dead and downed timber is exactly what the forest needs to recover.

# In this case a packrat midden is also aiding succession, but not in the direction we would like: a thicket of woody perennials and wildflowers has grown up. Packrats, beavers, ants, and humans: Gardeners. A life of wandering and dispersing seed (wildcrafting).

All species are gardeners in that they tend to produce better habitat for other species; some produce better habitat for themselves, e.g. "keystone" predators and builders. Some degrade habitat for themselves and others, e.g. parasites. Humans are sometimes selfish enough to create habitat only for themselves, at the expense of others. So: are we also a weed, doomed to succession by other, more mature, species? Agents of disturbance. CF: People move like predators. Science News. Davide Castelvecchi. March 22, 2008; Vol. 173, No.12, p.190.

#In this case, a natural log jam has noticeably raised the floodplain of this small ephemeral creek, a tributary of the Pueblo River. Similar structures can also be built to slow erosion and create ephemeral pools and irrigate fields. These beneficial effects are lost to watersheds that experience "salvage logging".

# In this case second growth overshadows the downed logs of old growth, although there remain a few old growth juniper and oak.
The fallen timber all has rootballs, and Craig suggested we are looking at the aftermath of an old (50+ years ago) stand-replacement wildfire. Type change: the dominant pinon and juniper used to be understory to ponderosa. Without the ponderosa a new, drier ecotype predominates.

But even if we do know what it used to look like, that doesn't mean we know how to get back to that state. Restoration is historical, while replacement, a more neutral term, simply denotes a succession from one ecotype to another. State transition models (STMs) (cite article in Quivira) can be developed to implement flow-chart style managed succession, but such model are often idiosyncratic (to variables e.g. aspect, slope, microclimate in general) and unavailable to the particular ecosystem of interest.

These notes end with more questions than answers, more reflection than action. Out of all the things we can do to help nature heal, which is the longest lever? We have only a limited amount of muscle and money to bring to the task. And nature will heal by itself. But between the extremes of doing nothing and doing everything lies efficiency, a laser drawing out the path of life. I think now, for me, is a time of reflection. Walking with tools in the hand yet not using them. Such constant motion there now must need be a time of stillness.

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