Ducks Unlimited and Partners Restore the Rio Grande Valley, Increase Wildlife Habitat

Ducks in Alberta are beginning to feel an itch. But it's not feather mites, it's the approach of fall. Mallards, wigeon, gadwall, and other prairie-nesting waterfowl have toughed out yet another challenging breeding season in Canada's western prairie. With continued below-average precipitation and spring wetland abundance, Southern Alberta's duck crop certainly wasn't bumper. But as the last of the broods begin to realize what those wing feathers are for, and the drakes don their better-looking plumage, they will have something to look forward to. Conservation partners in New Mexico have been working diligently to ensure that the habitat that greets these birds in the Rio Grande Valley is both abundant and healthy!

For the past two years Ducks Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, City of Albuquerque, State Forestry Division, Bureau of Reclamation, Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR, and the Pueblo of Santa Ana have been doing their parts to restore over 2,600 acres of wetland habitat along the Middle Rio Grande from El Ranchito to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. With substantial financial assistance from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), these partners are in the process of spending over $3 million in this effort, known as the Middle Rio Grande Valley Wetlands Project. Wetland species from ducks to dragonflies, fish to flycatchers, will benefit from this suite of restoration projects.

Much of the native bosque, shallow emergent wetland, and other floodplain habitats of the Rio Grande have suffered from altered river hydrology and invasion of exotic brush species. In fact, it is estimated that since 1935 at least 60% of wetlands in the Middle Rio Grande Valley have been lost. Through this recent effort, conservation partners will regain some of that loss.

Work through this partnership at the Pueblo of Santa Ana is part of a larger, comprehensive restoration program. Through the Wetlands Project, 500 acres of riparian wetland will be restored through control of Russian olive and salt cedar, and re-vegetation with cottonwood and black willow. This portion of the project is nearly complete, with final tree planting scheduled for spring 2005.

Downstream in Albuquerque, an old oxbow wetland, the San Antonio Arroyo, was permanently protected through acquisition by the City of Albuquerque in 1999. The City, with assistance from Ducks Unlimited and NAWCA, will restore this 58-acre site this winter via removal of jetty jacks, installation of a water control structure, enhancement of several deepwater areas, and control of a dense stand of cattail.

At Sevilleta NWR over 500 acres of riparian and shallow emergent wetland habitat are being restored by the US Fish Wildlife Service, State Forestry Division, and Ducks Unlimited. A new diversion structure, water control structure, and restored levee, coupled with exotic brush control, will allow managers on the refuge to provide quality habitat for ducks, geese, shorebirds, willow flycatchers, and a host of other riparian wetland species.

Finally, Bosque del Apache NWR will increase its quality wetland habitat by over 1,500 acres through the efforts of the Refuge, Bureau of Reclamation, Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR, and Ducks Unlimited. Nearly 900 acres of native bosque restoration are in progress via mechanical and chemical treatment. In addition, an extensive network of levees and water control structures, fed by a 2,000-foot concrete canal, will soon allow Refuge staff to manage over 600 acres of shallow emergent wetland habitat on the southern end of the Refuge.