Preserving Riparian Corridors

Ron Loehman, Conservation Chair

The wetlands along streams and watercourses are some of rarest environmental types in the Southwest. It is estimated that those riparian corridors amount to less than 2% of New Mexico’s landscape, but they provide some of the most important environmental benefits (technically, ecosystem services) of any landscape type. Those areas also attract some of the most intense activities and uses. New Mexico Trout members are among those users, since streams and their banks are where we fish. When we are on a stream, we may encounter hikers, picnickers, bird watchers, and other non-consumptive visitors. Rarely does one of those activities affect the others’ enjoyment and use of the area.

Cattle grazing in riparian zones is the exception to the uses described above. New Mexico and other Southwestern states have large areas of public lands managed by agencies such as the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Much of those areas are subject to grazing allotments, whereby private individuals get exclusive rights to graze cattle on specified areas for payments that are currently about $1.30 per “animal unit” (a cow plus trailing calf) per month. Ideally, the allotment holders negotiate yearly grazing plans with the USFS that are supposed to protect sensitive areas, such as the riparian habitat described here.

As we have seen on many of the streams that we fish, those plans have been ineffective in preventing riparian degradation. Much of New Mexico Trout’s volunteer work has been to repair riparian damage caused by uncontrolled or inadequately controlled grazing along streams.

The following video presentation describes a long-term restoration project along Dixie Creek, a small stream near Elko, Nevada. Thirty-two years ago, the BLM fenced a segment of the creek to exclude cattle. Over the years, BLM staff photographed the recovery of the stream and its adjacent riparian area. The amazing result is a testament to the resilience of natural systems and shows what can result if they are just allowed to recover.
We encourage you to watch the video and be encouraged that streams can recover if we are persistent.

About the video – Dixie Creek is a small stream near Elko, Nevada. Changes in livestock grazing practices resulted in the plants that naturally grow along streams to come back which eventually attracted beaver. The beaver built dams which captured and slowed stream flows, ultimately creating a landscape full of water and wildlife even during recent periods of severe drought. Interviews with stakeholders show how a recovered stream can benefit a wide range of interests and offer hope for a better future. The story of Dixie Creek’s recovery.

Direct link to video –