Rangeland & Wildlife Division
The Range and Wildlife Division (RWD) was established in 2001 and is tasked with identifying, developing, and implementing projects and management plans that benefit approximately 75,000 acres of the Pueblo’s upland habitats and the people, wildlife, and livestock that depend on them. The RWD includes eight full time employees who are responsible for implementing projects such as the Upland Vegetation Assessment and Strategic Management Plan Development Project, the Rio Jemez Corridor Conservation Project, the Oneseed Juniper Density Reduction Project, the Santa Ana Mesa Environmental Quality Incentives Project, the Wild Turkey Reintroduction Project, and Surveying and Monitoring Southwestern Willow Flycatchers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Collaborators and partners in implementing these projects include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB), the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMGF).
Upland Vegetation Assessment and Strategic Management Plan
The RWD conducted an upland vegetation assessment to understand the current conditions associated with the Pueblo’s upland habitats and to understand the spatial and temporal characteristics of vegetation patterns and soil erosion and water infiltration rates on the Pueblo. The project was funded over a four year (1999-2002) period by both the USEPA and the Pueblo. The upland vegetation assessment resulted in: 1) the establishment of 145 permanent upland vegetation and erosion monitoring plots; 2) the characterization and mapping of twenty-two plant associations that cumulatively included two hundred and twenty-five plant species; and 3) the development of a herbarium that includes over 300 plant vouchers.
Information derived from the upland vegetation assessment was used by the RWD to develop a strategic upland vegetation management plan that prioritizes plant association management and defines management practices that will improve the quality and condition of these associations. This ecosystem approach to managing land insures the sustainability of available quality habitats for current and future generations. Management practices identified within the Pueblo’s upland vegetation strategic management plan include: 1) increasing the cover of desirable herbaceous vegetation to minimize soil erosion; 2) decreasing the density of woody species to reduce soil erosion and minimize the risk and consequences of catastrophic wildfires; 3) minimizing off road driving impacts through community education; 4) developing and implementing livestock grazing management plans; and 5) controlling livestock activities through the distribution of water sources and erection of fences.
Rio Jemez Corridor Conservation Project
The Rio Jemez Corridor Conservation Project is a collaborative effort between the NRCS (Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program), BIA, and USACE. The project involves the installation of fence lines along the Rio Jemez Corridor to improve and protect the quality of habitats associated with the Rio Jemez. Fence lines installed during the project created a 15,656 acre riparian and upland buffer along the Rio Jemez that will be managed specifically for wildlife and protected from livestock grazing until 2010. However, installation of fence lines eliminated the most reliable source of perennial water available to the Pueblo’s livestock. Therefore, the Pueblo sought additional funds to supplement water for wildlife and to meet the livestock demands outside the fence line boundaries. The project allows the Pueblo to improve environmental conditions within the Rio Jemez Corridor by reducing erosion along the river and improving the quality of riparian vegetation, wildlife habitat, and water quality throughout the entire system.
Specific activities and accomplishments associated with the Rio Jemez Corridor Conservation Project include installing 15 miles of fence lines, 8.5 miles of water lines, 2 solar-powered wells, 12 troughs, and 21 wildlife drinkers. The project also includes planting over 2,200 mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) shrubs, which will provide valuable browse for traditionally important wildlife.
Oneseed Juniper Density Reduction Project
The Pueblo, in collaboration with the USFS, BIA, and NRCS, developed a project that reduces the density of oneseed juniper (Juniperus monosperma) from areas where it has encroached significantly. Following initial juniper density reduction, the Pueblo will reintroduce prescribed fire as a management tool to promote watershed health. This low impact project involves manually thinning up to seventy-five percent of juniper trees from over 2,200 acres, scattering slash to promote herbaceous vegetation recruitment, and extracting salvageable fuel wood and providing it to the Pueblo community. The project reduces the probability and consequences of catastrophic wildfire and improves overall watershed health. Since the project’s inception in March 2004, the juniper thinning crew has reduced the density of juniper trees from over 780 acres, two sixty acre parcels have been burned, and over 210 cords of fuel wood have been dispersed.
Santa Ana Mesa EQIP Project
The Santa Ana Mesa EQIP Project is a collaborative effort between the NRCS (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), USACE, and the Pueblo. The project affects approximately 30,000 acres of rangeland and consists of installing fence lines, solar-powered wells, waterlines, and wildlife and livestock drinkers. In addition, the project includes grassland restoration by controlling woody species encroachment, specifically cane cholla (Opuntia imbricata). Overall, the project provides infrastructure for managing livestock activities and helps improve the condition of habitats across the mesa platform.
Specific activities associated with the Santa Ana Mesa EQIP Project include installing 17 miles of fence lines, 14.5 miles of water lines, 3 solar-powered wells, 15 troughs, and 13 wildlife drinkers. In addition, cane cholla densities will be reduced across more than 1,100 acres of Short Grass Steppe, which will promote herbaceous vegetation recruitment and help reduce overland erosion.
Wild Turkey Reintroduction
On March 11, 2004, funds were awarded from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Tribal Wildlife Grants Program (TWGP) for the project, “Proposal to Release, Monitor, and Manage a Viable Population of Merriam’s Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) on the Pueblo of Santa Ana, Sandoval County, New Mexico”. These funds allow the Pueblo of Santa Ana (Pueblo) to reintroduce, monitor, and manage the wild turkey, which has significant cultural and spiritual value to the people of Santa Ana, but has been absent for over forty years. After all grant agreement formalities were completed, the Pueblo immediately began implementing the project by trapping on the Mescalero Apache Tribe in southeastern New Mexico in mid-March 2004. The trapping effort was cooperatively accomplished by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMGF), Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Pueblo. Since trapping occurred late in the trapping season, only six turkeys were captured. However, on a calm early spring afternoon, the turkeys were released onto the Pueblo before an enthusiastic audience consisting of community members, Pueblo employees, and Service representatives. Following their release, all six birds roosted within cottonwoods along the Rio Grande and they began exploring their new home the following day.
To supplement the initial release of wild turkeys on the Pueblo, the Pueblo initiated a trapping effort on a private ranch in northeastern New Mexico in February 2005. The trapping event was a cooperative effort between the Spahn and Friends Bison Ranch, New Mexico State Parks, NMGF, Bureau of Indian Affairs Southern Pueblo’s Agency, and the Pueblo. The effort was a success that resulted in the capture of 30 wild turkey (23 hens and 7 toms), which were all released onto the Pueblo before a large crowd of on-lookers. Four of these turkeys were fitted with backpack VHF transmitters and two were fitted with GPS receivers.
In winter 2005 & 2006, the Pueblo will attempt (if weather conditions permit) to capture and release an additional 30 turkeys each from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and from the State of New Mexico. Like with the turkeys released this past winter, the Pueblo will outfit at least five turkeys with tracking devices to allow for the Pueblo to monitor wild turkey locations and obtain detailed information regarding turkey displacement. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyses of location data will allow the Pueblo to identify preferred habitat, nesting locations, and causes of mortality. This information will contribute greatly to the Pueblo’s ability to appropriately manage the newly established turkey population.
Although available habitats along the Rio Grande provide excellent forage resources for wild turkey, in spring 2005, the Pueblo will begin strategic plantings of silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea), three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata), Arizona grape (Vitis arizonica), golden currant (Ribes aureum), wild rose (Rosa woodsii), and wild plum (Prunus sp.) to supplement available forage and insure the success of establishing a self-sustaining wild turkey population. In addition, community members have expressed a genuine interest in supplementing available wild turkey forage by planting small sections of their irrigated croplands specifically for wild turkeys.
With the breeding season rapidly approaching, the success of this TWGP project depends largely on a successful year of poult (turkey chicks) recruitment. The turkeys are beginning to show signs of breeding behavior and have established nests. If all goes well, we will be monitoring poult activity in the near future.
Surveying and Monitoring Southwestern Willow Flycatchers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos
In February 2005, funds were awarded from the USFWS Tribal Landowner Incentives Program (TLIP) for the project, “Willow Swale Development and Surveys for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) on the Pueblo of Santa Ana, Sandoval County, New Mexico”. This project allows the Pueblo to conduct formal surveys for southwestern willow flycatcher (WIFL) and yellow-billed cuckoo (YBCU) within all suitable habitats across the Pueblo. In addition, the project provides the Pueblo with the opportunity to survey restored or created habitats to determine if restoration activities have benefited either species. In addition to documenting presence or absence of WIFLs and YBCUs, monitoring and environmental attribute data resulting from the formal surveys will be used to guide future riparian management priorities and strategies.
The project promotes Pueblo support for wildlife enhancement projects, generates community interest in ornithology, creates an opportunity to build the Pueblo’s capacity to provide for wildlife and their habitats, and reinforces the concept of wildlife management on the Pueblo.