Photo Credit: WildEarth Guardians
Ecosystem restoration – restoring Western wetlands and waters
In the American West, rivers, creeks, and wetlands are the arteries of life for the majority of wildlife, despite representing less than two percent of the landscape. Their clean water and abundant vegetation provide necessary food, shelter, and migration corridors for a multitude of species, including grizzly bear, elk, deer, antelope, sage grouse, Southwestern willow flycatcher, meadow jumping mouse, and many, many others (not to mention the beaver, fish, amphibians, and reptiles that live there year-round).
Human activity has greatly impacted these critical ecosystems. Overgrazing, mining, logging, off-road vehicles, road construction, and agricultural practices have disrupted the natural processes necessary for these systems to flourish, depleting native vegetation, causing sedimentation, polluting the water, and causing the streams to become shallower, wider, and warmer.
Fighting for our Western wetlands and waters in court is only half the battle. For more than 20 years, WildEarth Guardians has been actively restoring these arteries of life, partnering with public land agencies, municipalities, private landowners, and other groups to eliminate or reduce impairments and restore the natural processes to allow these essential ecosystems to thrive. As part of our restoration projects, we have planted more than one million trees and innumerable native plants to stabilize streambanks, increase shade, and provide bird, fish and wildlife habitat for these vital landscapes in the American West.
Where We Work
San Antonio Creek
Rito Penas Negras Creek
Rio de las Vacas Creek
Santa Fe River
La Jencia Creek
Rito de los Indios
Santa Clara Creek
Each spring, WildEarth Guardians’ members, supporters, and volunteers help our restoration efforts by directly participating in our Stream Team events. They plant trees and other native vegetation, remove fencing, and engage in other activities to improve watershed health and wildlife habitat. Our Stream Team planting days, held throughout New Mexico, are a great way to get your hands dirty for the sake of the environment and reconnect to the wild rivers that sustain us all.
Each event is a breathtaking display of what can happen when we come together to heal once-degraded landscapes. At the beginning of the day, a barren landscape lies before us; a few hours later, the area is a forest of newly planted native trees—or a livestock pasture fence is removed or transformed into more wildlife-friendly fencing. These efforts aid in minimizing the impacts of human activities and allow natural processes to function as much as possible.
There is great satisfaction in seeing a bird land on a recently planted cottonwood, or in a beaver creating a dam and expanding wetland habitat using willow we planted. Connecting communities to these ecosystems, and their direct participation in restoration efforts, not only provides a sense of accomplishment, but also allows communities to take pride in ownership of the protection and restoration of nearby public lands.
How We Work
Riparian and wetland restoration
The majority of our restoration efforts take place within riparian or wetland ecosystems to improve water quality, wildlife habitat, and increase ecosystem resiliency as climate change further stresses watershed health. Many streams in the Southwest not only have less water than historically, but they also lack shade cover due to loss of riparian vegetation. This results in elevated stream temperatures, which is detrimental to the aquatic species that live in these streams and further reduces the amount of water in the streams due to evaporation.
A major component of our restoration efforts is planting native vegetation to shade streams, reduce stream temperatures, and provide habitat for wildlife—including beavers, which will utilize our planting material to build dams and increase wetland habitat and water capacity in these incredibly important ecosystems.
Removing fences and other restoration projects
WildEarth Guardians’ restoration focus is to provide the tools and conditions that enable our rivers, streams, wetlands, and riparian areas to function as naturally as possible, providing essential habitat to the species that depend on them.
Fences dominate our public landscape in the West to reduce the management requirements for cattle and sheep. A sad consequence of fencing is its negative impacts on native wildlife. Natural migration corridors are now littered with barriers and potential traps that have greatly reduced wildlife’s ability to roam freely. In partnership with land managers, we tear out old livestock fencing, allowing animals to travel unencumbered across their habitat. Additionally, if fencing must remain, we convert barbed wire fencing into more wildlife-friendly fencing (barbless) to allow wildlife to pass under or over fences and minimize harmful impacts.
More than 250,000 miles of roads are located on public lands in the Western states. Many of these roads are user-created or former logging roads that crisscross public lands, fragmenting wildlife habitat, accelerating erosion, and increasing sedimentation into our waterways, further degrading water quality. WildEarth Guardians partners with public land managers to eliminate unneeded roads by re-contouring them back into the natural topography. We also help improve needed roads to move them away from riparian areas, provide adequate fish passage, and make them more stable to reduce the sedimentation impacts to streams.
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