New Riparian Restoration Program for Streams on New Mexico National Forests

Ron Loehman, Conservation Chairman

The Carson, Cibola, and Santa Fe National Forests and the Kiowa National Grasslands have announced the release of the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for their new Northern New Mexico Riparian, Aquatic and Wetland Restoration Project (NNM RAWR). The Draft EA is available for review and comment. The actual EA can be found here.  I recommend it for anyone who is interested in getting more involved in conservation and restoration of riparian ecosystems in New Mexico. The deadline for comments on the Draft EA is June 1, 2020 and individuals can submit their personal comments through this link. I expect that New Mexico Trout will strongly support the proposed action. I welcome any input from members, which can be sent to conservation@newmexicotrout.org.

Environmental Assessments are structured as an evaluation of consequences and benefits of alternatives, one of which is to take no action.  In this case there is only one other alternative to doing nothing, Alternative B. The following is a brief summary of the rationale and expected benefits from adopting Alternative B in the draft EA, if and when it is approved.

Benefits of the New Process

The plan recognizes that, although riparian and wetland areas occupy only 2% of these forests’ 4.7 million acres, they are among the most important for wildlife habitat, species diversity, and as sources for clean water.  Additionally, many riparian and wetland areas have been degraded over the years and are particularly at risk from climate change.  The NNM RAWR Project is an innovative approach to increasing the efficiency and lowering the costs of restoration projects on these areas by adopting a tool kit of validated techniques that can be applied across multiple projects.

Before projects on Federal land can be undertaken, they typically must undergo detailed analyses of their environmental effects, resulting in publication of an Environmental Assessment (EA). This is an important process that insures all issues are addressed and that the public has input into the decision.  However, EAs are lengthy and expensive, which puts many worthwhile projects on waiting lists until personnel and funding are available to do them. Riparian and wetland environmental issues and their proposed solutions are similar across much of the NNM RAWR area.  Yet, if a proposed project is not already covered by an existing EA, a new one must be written, which can take a year and may cost as much as the project itself.

Restoration Categories and Design Criteria

This draft EA organizes restoration activities into five broad categories with fifteen specific types within each category.  The broad categories are:

  • Aquatic Organism Passage Projects
  • Instream, Side-Channel, and Floodplain Projects
  • Riparian Vegetation Treatments
  • Road and Trail Erosion Control
  • Restoration of Seeps and Springs

There are numerous activity types within the general categories.  For example, within the Instream, Side-Channel and Floodplain category are Streambank Restoration, Beaver Habitat Restoration, Restoration/Relocation of Recreation Impacts, and Erosion Control Structures (among others). The other categories are similarly detailed.

Project specific design criteria will be applied to design, implement, monitor, and document restoration work.  The intent is to have a consistent process based on the best science and the best management practices that is applicable to all the northern New Mexico National Forests.  To quote the draft EA, “The project is based on providing a more efficient process to accelerate project implementation that would aid in restoration of these habitats and the recovery of riparian and aquatic species on the forest, watershed health, and water quality.”

The application of these consistent categories and criteria means that if a new proposed restoration project fits, it can be approved without having to write a whole new EA.

What You Can Do

We in New Mexico Trout have first-hand experience in how well-established restoration techniques can be applied to different streams and riparian areas.  Many of those techniques were developed by Bill Zeedyk, who has been a leader over decades in developing and applying them to streams the Southwest.  We have done numerous restoration projects under Bill Zeedyk’s guidance. In 2015 Bill conducted a day-long stream restoration workshop for the Club. His book, Let the Water do the Work: Induced Meandering, an Evolving Method for Restoring Incised Channels, is a manual for applying consistent, scientific principles for stream restoration.  To me, the process described in the draft EA represents an expansion and formal application of the principles that Bill Zeedyk has taught and applied to Southwest streams over many decades.  The approval of this draft EA should allow more restoration work to be done at less cost, according to accepted scientific principles.  It deserves our support.

Featured image – photo by Ron Loehman of NMT restoration project on Rio Cebolla.

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