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ASH MEADOWS NWR: Seeds Await Waters Return for 50 Years
California-Nevada Offices , March 7, 2014
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Ash Meadows NWR staff walk near the restored Fairbanks Spring in search of native plants.
Ash Meadows NWR staff walk near the restored Fairbanks Spring in search of native plants. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS
Fairbanks Spring now flows along its historic path after restoration work removed an artifical ditch.
Fairbanks Spring now flows along its historic path after restoration work removed an artifical ditch. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS
A new population of Ash Meadows gumplant sprouting at Carson Slough.
A new population of Ash Meadows gumplant sprouting at Carson Slough. - Photo Credit: Abram DaSilva

By Cindy Sandoval

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and refuge staff is still working to restore some areas transformed by human hands. Before the area was managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some springs and seeps that make the area a biological wonder were altered and water that once meandered across the desert was confined to artificial ditches. In an ongoing effort to restore the area to its former natural state, biologists are ditching the ditches and as water is returned to dry spring beds, rare species of plants are sprouting up.

Ash Meadows is one of the few areas with reliable surface water year-round in the Mojave Desert. This water makes the refuge a hot spot for rare and protected plants that have evolved to withstand the harsh sun and alkaline soil. The Carson Slough portion of the refuge was once one of the largest wetlands in southern Nevada, but was drained and mined for peat in the 1960s. After the area was drained and layers of peat were removed, the land was filled in with sand to be used for growing crops. In order to grow produce the free flowing Fairbanks Spring was confined to an artificial ditch.

In 2010, Fairbanks Spring was restored to its historic flow path to aid the native plants and animals, and the waters’ return had an unexpected benefit. The federally threatened Ash Meadows gumplant, a yellow flowering plant in the Asteracea family, only known to grow in southern and central portion of the refuge started to appear. Approximately 600 individual gumplants were found growing just east of the restored Fairbanks Spring this past summer.

How this population of gumplant became established more than three miles north of its previous northern most boundary remains a mystery. However, it is possible that a population of Ash Meadows gumplant existed in Carson Slough before it was drained and the spring water was confined. According to ecological restoration specialist Abram DaSilva, "the restoration may have brought water back to seeds that have been dormant for over half a century."

The discovery of this new population of gumplant is just another example of how the effects of restoration can turn back the clock on areas once thought altered beyond repair. While the peat may never return to Carson Slough, the rare gumplant is sprouting a new generation. Restoration work at Ash Meadows is still ongoing as the Service and partner organizations try to mend decades of misuse and help native species reclaim the landscape. Who knows what other pleasant surprises await the return of water under the dry soil of the refuge.

Cindy Sandoval is a public affairs specialist at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento, Calif. This story was written with the help of Abram DaSilva at Ash Meadows NWR.



https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/sets/72157626176973000/
Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov



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