Past range management decisions, beginning in the late 1800's with corporate ranching combined with changes in rainfall have resulted in a generally altered rangeland in many areas of the valley. A decrease in grasses combined with an increase in woody shrubs, notably mesquite and creosote, have reduced the current productivity of the landscape. A local attempt to restore and sustain the grasslands is spearheaded by the Malpai Borderlands group whose goal "is to restore and maintain the natural processes that create and protect a healthy, unfragmented landscape to support a diverse, flourishing community of human, plant and animal life in our borderlands region." Through their efforts much of the bootheel is managed for both cattle and wildlife. Yet there are other areas (notably public lands, state and federal) where management practices are not producing an increasingly productive landscape but rather a continuing decrease in productivity is observed (see image below). One of the goals at the Painted Pony Resort is to increase range land productivity on the estate through the grasslands restoration project.
The estate is composed of 750 deeded acres spanning the both sides of the San Simon Riverbed, it includes 6 types of soil, and last year received about 10.75" of rain (CoCoRaHS rain network, NM-HD-17). The ground cover varies significantly across the estate and ranges from areas denuded of grasses where erosion has eliminated the topsoil to other areas such as the riverbed where fencing has created a seed reservoir used for spreading native grass seed back onto the surrounding landscape. After successful preliminary experiments with simple top soil restoration barriers as a tool to slow erosion and encourage new grasses these barriers were expanded in both scope and materials. Instead of simple barriers constructed from cut weeds, mesquite from the riverbed was employed to create topsoil restoration barriers. Mechanically removed mesquite is transported up out of the riverbed and placed in rows perpendicular to either the dip or to the prevailing winds on a scarified subsoil base. Grass from the riverbed is then harvested and placed on the upwind (up dip) side of the mesquite barrier followed by some soil from the riverbed to reintroduce microbes and nematodes crucial to developing new topsoil. The branches of the mesquite combined with raked grasses create micro climates on the exposed subsoil leading to new plant growth.
The result of this effort is already producing results. As shown below the mesquite topsoil barriers have caught wind blown seed, slowed water flow and new grasses are developing along the restoration barriers. A simple technique that can be implemented by anyone, the topsoil restoration barriers are useful tools for building new topsoil and restoring the landscape and best of all require no investment beyond time and energy.
|Blowing dust on New Mexico State land, the result of poor range management decisions.|
|Soil map showing the boundaries of the Painted Pony Resort.|
|Three topsoil restoration barriers installed on the exposed subsoil, click to enlarge.|
|New grass along a mesquite topsoil barrier|
|New grass along a topsoil barrier|
|A topsoil restoration barrier with new grass created from road waste.|