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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

San Bernardino NWR, Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, and Arizona Game and Fish Department Complete Habitat Conservation Monitoring on Local Ranch

Region 2, December 4, 2012
Big Tank, one of the ponds on El Coronado Ranch.
Big Tank, one of the ponds on El Coronado Ranch. - Photo Credit: n/a

El Coronado Ranch, located in the west foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains, had an HCP initiated in 1998 for the purpose of recovery of Rio Yaqui fish. San Bernardino NWR Staff in cooperation with Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and Arizona Game and Fish Department complete monitoring of Rio Yaqui fish on El Coronado Ranch. On October 2nd and 3rd Refuge staff along with Don Mitchell and Sharon Lashway from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Jeremy Voeltz from the Arizona Fish and Wildlife Office, conducted the annual HCP monitoring on the El Coronado Ranch. The monitoring is for the purpose of evaluating habitat and recovery of native Federally-listed fish that have been released on the ranch. Monitoring has taken place since 2000, with slight modifications to the protocol to better understand and evaluate the recovery of the fish.

Because of the long-term monitoring on the ranch, resource managers are gaining valuable knowledge into the life history of these fish and their responses to drought and other natural disasters such as wildfires and their effects.  The West Turkey Creek drainage, still recovering from the 2011 Horseshoe 2 Fire and its lingering effects, still has a ways to go before it will a be back to normal. This drainage was one of the hardest hit by the post-fire floods last year, the last of which was in December after a rapid snowmelt, and still shows effects from those floods in the form of the various pools located in the drainage having been filled in.

While there were floods this monsoon season, they were not near as damaging as last year’s floods. Some regrowth of vegetation on the upper slopes of the canyon helped to stabilize soils and slow run-off from monsoon rains, thereby reducing sediment loads in the creek and tanks fed directly by the creek.The drought is still having an effect on water levels on the ranch with very little winter precipitation. While there was adequate precipitation during the monsoons, it was not as beneficial to water levels in the creek, since they were so low to start with. Because there was little run-off from winter precipitation to feed tanks or the creek, the owners had to divert available water into their tanks to ensure adequate water for their operations to get them to this year’s monsoon. Then they had to continue the same practice to hold them over until next year’s monsoon. The creek was the most affected by this water manipulation, with very little water available below the diversion dam for Big Tank, and therefore little habitat for fish.

Following the severe drought conditions that dried, or nearly dried, all of the ponds on the ranch in 2006, the Yaqui chub populations had rebounded in all four regularly sampled ponds by 2008 (Figure 5). This was a result of restocking Tennis Court and Lodge ponds in 2007, and natural dispersal to Upper and Lower Guesthouse ponds. Last year, because of the Horseshoe 2 Fire fish numbers were set back to 2006 levels. With fish being moved (last year’s monitoring and this spring) to all ponds except Tennis Court, numbers have rebounded quite well, and with the stocking of fish into Tennis Court Pond this year and the predicted continued stabilization of the upper canyon soils, fish numbers should continue to climb.

Contact Info: Christopher Lohrengel, 520-364-2104 x.106, chris_lohrengel@fws.gov