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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Minnow as Metaphor: Rio Grande Silvery Minnow Conservation

New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office biologists net Rio Grande silvery minnow. Photo by USFWS

Stewart Jacks, Assistant Regional Director of Fisheries in our Southwest Region talks about the no-longer-quite-so-grand Rio Grande and our work to conserve this New Mexican fish.

If you need a reminder that the Earth is held together by stone, look to the Sandia and Manzano mountains in central New Mexico. Born of what must have been violent tremors, the Rio Grande slices down a natural rift left behind by massive movements of whole plates of planet Earth that birthed these mountains. Where the southern Rockies end, these new and different mountains emerge. From Placitas to El Paso the west face of a long chain of dry crags reveal the past.

In these tilted wedges, the remains of sea-dwelling creatures swim forever entombed in limestone 10,000 feet above sea level. Along this front of friable mountains, few people live. Night skies are inky black and you feel you can still reach out and touch the cosmos rarely concealed by clouds. No clouds—no rain. The sky governs fate in the American Southwest.

The Rio Grande, as grand as it is, is not the river it once was. Despite the remoteness and sparse population, the river has been thoroughly humanized by command of its water. Rio Bravo del Norte, as the river is called in Mexico, has lost its bravado.  It is wild and turbulent no more. A river that once flushed with spring snowmelt and summer freshets—pulses of water that told native minnows ”it’s time to spawn”—has been weakened by manmade structures.

A river wide and braided that carved new paths under its own power, as rivers are in the habit of doing, is now rather oddly perched above its own floodplain through long reaches. Under the summer heat, sun and sand may soak it up leaving cakes of mud and pools soon to pass. Fresh sodden spring sediment rich with ripe cottonwood seeds that regenerate mosaics of riparian woodlands are historic artifacts as prickly water-sucking non-native trees now dominate the depleted river’s rigid course.


Signs of Hope from Paris Climate Conference

Emily Powell

The North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) is a conservation partnership, consisting of federal agencies, states, tribes, universities and private organizations working together to find common goals and to share information and coordinate actions from southeast Virginia north to Atlantic Canada.

LCC staffer Emily Powell shares a personal account of her experience at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Read her story

Thinking Like an Ocean

Sea otter
A territorial male sea otter in Moss Landing forages for shore crabs in the pickleweed. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS

Recovery of Southern sea otters requires more than rescuing the species from the brink of extinction -- recovery is also about the restoration of ecological relationships. Lilian Carswell, the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Marine Conservation Coordinator, discusses these complex ecological relationships.

Read the full story

Costa Rica and U.S. Strengthen Conservation Partnership

A squirrel monkey living in Corcovado National Park, which is one of the biodiversity hotspots that will benefit from collaborative conservation efforts that continue to build in Central America. Photo by Christian Haugen on Flickr under a Creative Commons license 

On November 11, the governments of Costa Rica and the United States signed a new agreement to further collaborate on important conservation initiatives throughout Costa Rica.


Meet the Biologist

 Melissa Mata-Gonzales  

Melissa Mata-Gonzales is the lead biologist for 15  fish species in New Mexico and is also the Tribal Liaison for our New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office.

"The best part of my job is developing working relationships with state, federal, tribal and private partners to conserve threatened and endangered species," says Melissa. "As a young fish biologist, I am really interested and excited about working with species and their habitats, but as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, I am learning about all the people and organizations that are necessary for conserving a species. For example, we worked with both the Navajo Nation and the Zuni Tribe for the Zuni bluehead sucker listing recommendation in order to gather the most scientifically current species information, and to ensure we fully understand tribal needs and sensitivity. Together, we were able to develop a Fisheries Management Plan to aid in the conservation and recovery of the Zuni bluehead sucker."

Melissa is one of New Mexico's best and brightest, she holds two Masters degrees from Michigan State University; one in fisheries and the other in applied statistics. For fun, Melissa enjoys coaching basketball and is currently the girls' basketball coach at Del Note High School in Albuquerque, NM. ¡Ándale pues, Melissa!

Making a Future for Lesser Prairie-Chickens in New Mexico

lesser prairie-chicken
Lesser prairie-chicken in southeastern New Mexico. Photo by USFWS

The lesser prairie-chicken had an iconic presence in the plains of southeastern New Mexico.  Each spring, visitors from around the world would flock to the heart of lesser prairie-chicken country to participate in the annual High Plains Prairie-Chicken Festival in Milnesand, New Mexico.  The entire community fed, housed, and entertained guests, who would get up before dawn to watch amorous male chickens strut and boom as the sun came up over the eastern plains.  Unfortunately this festival has not been scheduled for several years because the prairie-chicken population dropped to levels that no longer sustained recreational viewing.   In fact, the population of lesser prairie-chickens in New Mexico fell from an estimated 9,443 birds in 2008 to only 637 in 2014. The dramatic decline was primarily driven by extreme drought.

Read about recovery efforts

Endangered Fish Rediscovered in Arizona’s Santa Cruz River

Gila topminnow
Gila topminnows. Photo Courtesy George Andrejko / Arizona Game and Fish Department

After a 10-year absence, the Gila topminnow has returned to the Santa Cruz River in southern Arizona. Last month, researchers found the native Arizona species, listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967, in the river near the U.S.-Mexico border during the annual fish survey.

Surface flows along most of the Santa Cruz River originate from effluent (cleaned wastewater) and have historically been so polluted that no fish of any kind were found for several years and odor alone was a deterrent to recreation. Scientists believe that cleaner water is what led to the fish’s return.

The implications of the endangered topminnow discovery extend far beyond Santa Cruz County, and even beyond Arizona. Many southwestern rivers and streams depend on effluent for continued flows. As water becomes ever scarcer in the desert southwest, the value of wastewater inputs will only increase.

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Birds, Bats and Burns: All in a Day’s Play at Camp Sepawonuk

Mike Health

Working with Native American tribes is a crucial part of our work. Some of consevation's most important land is stewarded by tribes, who value their natural heritage.

Read about our partnership with the Passamaquaddy Tribe and Maine Indian Education Program to help young people learn more about conservation and natural resources.

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Refuge forester Mike Heath teaches campers about forest succession and management. Photo by Maine Indian Education Program.

'Tis the Season for the Christmas Bird Count

Tufted TitmouseTufted Titmouse by Bill Thompson/USFWS

On a calendar, Christmas might appear as one day, but if you are a bird watcher, the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is actually a twenty-three day event. The CBC is one of the world’s oldest and longest-running citizen science efforts. Now in its 116th year, the count takes place from December 14 to January 5. It is organized into circles, and each circle counts as many birds as possible on one day, either on a predetermined route, or at their backyard bird feeder. Data is compiled, and used to learn about long-term bird trends. The data collected has been used in many reports and publications, such as the State of the Birds Report, which the Service produces.  

The CBC began on Christmas Day, 1900.  Previously, many families would have Christmas hunting competitions-- known as side hunts--to see who could kill the most birds. Frank Chapman, and early Audubon officer, wanted to offer an alternative. The first count took place in twenty five locations, from California to Canada, counting 90 different species.  

This idea clearly caught on. This was a time of growing awareness of bird conservation, culminating with the signing of the first Migratory Bird Treaty (the Centennial of which the Service will mark next year), so it came at the right time, and touched a chord with people. Today, there are thousands of bird circles, in all 50 states, and twenty foreign countries, with tens of thousands of participants. Last year, over 68 million birds were tallied!

Get Involved
By now, you might be wondering on how you can be a part of this tradition (if you aren’t already). It is pretty simple. You can find a circle near you, and get in touch with the circle lead to find out the day of the count and determine whether you will follow a route or monitor your feeder. After the data is collected, it is sent you your compiler, and added to a report. You are welcome to participate in as many circles as you wish.

Hundreds of national wildlife refuges from Alaska to Texas to New Jersey will be hosting Christmas Bird Counts, so be sure to check out wildlife refuges near you or check out the winter events

"The majority of refuges are within a Christmas Bird Count circle, which is wonderful because CBCs are one of the world's oldest examples of citizen scientists contributing to wildlife conservation," says Mike Carlo, National Wildlife Refuge System birding coordinator. 

Short-Eared Owl on Seedskadee NWR


Short-eared Owl by Tom Koerner/USFWS 

Legendary biologist, founding author of the Golden Guides, and retired 60 year U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee Chan Robbins had this to say about the CBC: “If we had not had a Christmas Bird Count in those early years, we would not have as strong an understanding of long term bird trends. Many of these changes take place gradually.”  

It is a busy season, but if you are considering starting a new tradition that gets you outside, contributes to bird conservation and understanding, and helps build lifelong relationships, consider being part of the Christmas Bird Count this year.

-- Chris Deets, Outreach and Education Coordinator, Migratory Bird Program

New Mexicans Celebrate Acquisition of Double E Ranch

 Double E Ranch
A sunny day exposes the beautiful cliffs on the Double E Ranch Property. Photo by Vanessa Burge/USFWS

Vanessa Burge is an Information Coordinator in the Southwest Region's Ecological Services Program.

New Mexico.  Land of Enchantment.  This “enchantment” can be seen throughout our vast state.  Its rich, diverse landscape supports a variety of habitats from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico to the plains of eastern New Mexico.  As New Mexicans, we value our open spaces and our connection to the natural world.  

The Double E Ranch property in southwestern New Mexico exemplifies this “enchantment.”  The 5,867-acre property, recently acquired through National Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration  settlement funds and State Wildlife Grants funds, represents both natural beauty and open space.  The property provides important riparian and upland habitat for migratory birds and other resident wildlife, and also lies within the Gila River Valley System; one of the Southwest’s remaining free-flowing rivers.  About 3 miles of Bear Creek, a perennial stream that joins the Gila River, runs through the Double E Ranch which further protects the Gila River Valley watershed.  Habitat for two federally protected endangered species, the loach minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher, and 4 threatened species: Yellow-billed cuckoo, narrow-headed garter snake, northern Mexican gartersnake, live on the property, and a robust population of Chiricahua leopard frogs inhabits Bear Creek.  

New Mexicans and visitors alike can celebrate this conservation win for our beautiful state.  This acquisition provides long-term benefits to fish and wildlife, our natural areas, and the American public.  ¡Celebramos esta victoria de conservación!  Let’s celebrate this conservation victory!

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