What do the Golden Gate Bridge, comedian Bill Cosby, the Appalachian Trail and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge have in common? All were born in 1937.
For 75 years, Bitter Lake Refuge in southeastern New Mexico has served an important role not only as habitat for thousands of migratory birds but also for an almostunparalleled number of rare resident species, including the Kosters spring snail, the Pecos Puzzle sunflower and more than 100 documented dragonfly and damselfly species.
This years annual Dragonfly Festival, hosted by Friends of Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge Sept. 79, will celebrate the doublewinged insects, the state of New Mexicos centennial and the refuges 75th anniversary.
Originally designated Carlsbad Bird Refuge in 1935, Bitter Lake Refuge at first glance appears as a desolate, barren landscape dotted by occasional sumps, sparse grasses and shrubs. Look closer and you will realize that the geologic features, bubbling springs and rare desert wildlife make the refuge a true oasis. In fact, several designationsGlobally Important Bird Area, National Natural Landmark and Ramsar International Wetland of Importancepay homage to the tremendous value of this transitional area between the Chihuahuan Desert and Southern Great Plains.
The 24,536acre refuges namesake, Bitter Lake, is a large playa that early explorers deemed bitter because of its alkaline appearance. Little did they realize that the lake and similar waters support a wonderful diversity of creatures, including a marine algae that normally is found only in lagoons along the Gulf of Mexico.
Situated along the floodplain of the winding Pecos River, Bitter Lake Refuge is dotted by sinkholeswaterfilled cavities caused by groundwater from the Roswell Artesian Aquifer dissolving the gypsum deposits above. That same aquifer bubbles to the surface along the refuges western edge, providing water and habitat for several resident threatened and endangered invertebrate, fish and plant species. And a recent oxbow reconnect on the river is showing encouraging signs for use by the threatened Pecos bluntnose shiner.
The original office, quarters and garages were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the late 1930s. The CCC, which was based from a permanent camp on the refuge, also built many of the water control structures, delivery systems and impoundments, several of which are intact and in use today.
Bitter Lake Refuge, like many rural refuges was and continues to be a source for social events. Years ago, town folk attended the annual carp fry sponsored by the refuge. In fact, the refuge was a major freshwater fishery as a result of past wetland management practices that held deep water in the impoundments.
Salt cedar control and eradication has become a major focus in recent decades. An American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project funded largescale removal in 2009, and the replanting of native cottonwood and willow trees shows encouraging benefits. Salt cedar control continues today and a songbirdbanding project will measure bird responses to the changes in vegetation structure.
Since 1937, 18 managers, numerous staff and many Friends and volunteers have witnessed the ebb and flow of the refuge processes. Currently, a severe drought that started in the spring of 2011 is stressing the refuges habitat and wildlife. But as James Montgomery, who in 2003 won the national refuge volunteer award and still studies and monitors sandhill cranes, small mammals and terns, said recently: Although this is the toughest drought that I have seen, these natural hardships have shaped the character of the refuge for so long, and you just have to wait out the cycles.
Floyd Truetken is refuge manager at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. More information about the refuges 75th anniversary is at http://www.friendsofbitterlake.com.