Progress and a Measure of Success in Land Restoration

Before and after photographs, or repeat photography, are useful tools for measuring success of any prescription applied as an intervention in landscape restoration.  In the case of the area around the rustic cabin the first prescription applied was fencing.  The 240 acres encompassing the cabin and the river bottom were fenced to exclude grazers and create a seed reservoir for existing grasses to reseed the surrounding landscape, both on and off the estate.  Later topsoil restoration barriers were added to benches above the west side of the riverbed where only clay hard pan subsoil was present as a result of poor range management practices.  After 2 seasons plants are not only growing on the subsoil but the areas surrounding the hard pan have more plants.  While there are some native grasses, woody shrubs also are also present.  This is in contrast to early descriptions of the San Simon Valley describing a "luxuriant growth of grasses, affording excellent pasturage for all kinds of stock."  It is clear that a variety of factors combined to significantly alter the landscape and recovering the original grasslands presents a number of problems.  Since the soil types above the riverbed are sandy/gravelly loam, decaying biomass is essential to building healthy new topsoil and the first step is any plant that creates biomass and prevents further erosion, grasses or shrubs.  The conversion of soil minerals into useful Biomass provides a home to soil microbes and nematodes which will benefit the next plants (ideally only grasses) in a succession of species that leads back to a productive landscape. It should be noted that this plant growth is especially encouraging since the area has received less than 6" of rain this year (PRISM climate model average rainfall for the estate is 12.17").

Initial view with topsoil restoration barriers installed at the Rustic Cabin.  This is after fencing.  Note
the large area without subsoil or plant life.

Two seasons later and the return of plant life.  Especially noteworthy are plants growing in the hard pan subsoil
creating biomass for new topsoil.

topsoil restoration barrier

The same topsoil restoration barrier after 2 seasons.

Some online references:
1.  http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_p003/rmrs_p003_306_311.pdf
2.  http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MANUSCRIPTS/arizona/sansimonareaAZ1924/sansimonareaAZ1924.pdf
3.  http://www.malpaiborderlandsgroup.org/?section=conservation-action
4.  https://sites.google.com/site/sansimonassessment/actions-participants
5.  Slides from a landscape restoration talk presented at the the 2015 Chiricahua Peloncillo Heritage Days - https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9IXOUCL-_hoSTRQd3N0bWU1dGc/view?usp=sharing


  1. Today is the last day of August. I'll report rain amount to Howard tomorrow as it is supposed to rain today. I have over 4.5" rain so far in August.

    I don't have a working camera any more [need to get one] as we have photos of some growth from years ago. Repeat photography is a great tool!

  2. Excellent news, 4.5" is a respectable total. The estate received only 1.5" this month and I'm only about 10 miles north of you. The variability in rainfall over short distances seems to be a hallmark of the high desert monsoons.

    Your quite right about the utility of repeat photography, it is a good way to show the effectiveness of restoration prescriptions and I'm always on the lookout for historical photographs of the area where I can identify the specific location.

  3. It was a great idea for Howard to extend rainfall amounts all over this area because previously we only got Bob Morse's rainfall which we know is not representative of all of us.

  4. Extending the rainfall recording to include multiple stations around the valley gives a much better picture of local rainfall patterns. Some folks report rainfall to Rainlog.org and some report to CoCoRaHS and having all the information in one place makes it much easier to access.

  5. Hubbie makes fun of my "faith" in the weatherman. Yesterday NO prediction of rain and we had lightning and heavy rain after dark yesterday. The weatherman [or weatherwoman] can be 100% WRONG and KEEP his/her job. Boggles the mind.

    Today I have to call friends in Sarasota, FL to see how they fared or are faring in Hurricane Hermine.

  6. Hope your friends fared OK with the weather.

    Lots of lightning last night. I picked up a total of 0.22" with some early sprinkles but the real rain did not start until after dark. I'm finally at 50% for the average yearly total and almost at the total for 2012 when the garden was completely trashed by the wildlife.

    Many of the volunteer plants I've harvested and potted are surviving and I actually have 2 small oaks growing. All the past attempts with growing oaks from acorns failed at some point and I think it was the mice/ground squirrels/rabbits. The pallet garden raises things up and a layer of hog fencing and another layer of chicken wire seems to help. I really want more oaks for the estate.

  7. A neighbor said she'd give us an oak, but then gave it to her daughter. We have no oaks here; may have to plant one; for the FUTURE resident since they grow so slow.

    Our friends in Sarasota are on higher ground than downtown Sarasota that did flood; they have a leaky skylight during the rains; they still had power when I called; guess that could have changed but they were on the edge of that hurricane.

  8. Your welcome to acorns from the oak trees here if you want to try growing your own, but you may some oaks closer. Last year the estate hosted a group of landscapers who came down from California to specifically collect acorns from oaks in the Peloncillo Mountains. They were growing them for the Apple facility in Cupertino. They spent several days out collecting and seemed to find what they were looking for.

  9. Thanks very much but I'd probably buy an oak tree with several years growth since they grow so slowly. Or I may not get to it at all..............feeling lazy now.

  10. I can empathize, it is much easier to just buy them down in Douglas. Though I do like the challenge of starting from scratch and growing them from seed. Especially since I know nothing about the process and I learn something new each time I try.

  11. You call it "challenge" and I call it "frustration" since I have not a green thumb, but a black thumb.

  12. I was not blessed with a green thumb either and I find the whole process frustrating, but when I get one plant to grow out of many attempts I declare victory and find the energy to try again. Since I have a low success rate I prefer not to buy plants (money spent with little return) but rather start from scratch and grow my own.