This afternoon, a light wind is rocking the cottonwood trees here at Rio Fernando Park. A winter storm is set to roll through over the next 48 hours. We should get several fresh inches of snow. The spring-like warmth of the last few days has turned much of the park into a muddy bog…kind of normal for us here in Taos where we actually have six seasons…Mud Season being one of those times of year.
Rio Fernando River and Wetland Restoration Work
Of the twenty acres that make up Rio Fernando Park, seven of those acres are wetlands along the Rio Fernando, one of the most important waterways in our region. If you remember, when we bought this land in 2015 the wetlands were in pretty bad shape. We jumped right to getting the river back to its natural channel, removing invasive species and improving habitat for birds, beaver, bats and all the other critters that should find home along a healthy mountain river. From 2016-2019 we were able to achieve a tremendous amount with this restoration work. But there is still more to do.
Just this week we received confirmation that we will get funding for the next stage of the restoration work. We worked on this grant with our partners at the Rio Fernando Collaborative. Given that much of the invasive tree removal needs to take place while the ground is frozen we only have a few weeks left to complete the work. So…we are scrambling a bit to get our specialist and crew back in place.
The invasive Russian olive trees still dominate the southwestern half of the system. The beaver that moved in two years ago have done quite a job taking down man of the olives but there is still a lot to do. We are deciding how many of the olives we want to remove. We will leave a few olives in place for habitat while the native species we’ve planted gain a foothold and take off. We’ve fenced most of the large native trees that remain so that the beaver won’t take them but we will won’t be fencing any off the olives. If the beaver family wants those, they can have them.
In the meantime, other restoration work has kept pace. Angelo Flores, one our long-term and star interns (see below) has been busy planting trees along the river corridor. Two-hundred and thirty trees in fact. Angelo planted Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Thinleaf Alder (Alnus tenulifolia), Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricarpus oreophilus), Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina), Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides), Bluestem Willow (Salix irrorata), Water Birch (Betula occidentalis) and Box Elder (Acer negundo). We are curious to see how many of these baby trees will make it. We will report back on that in the spring. The goal is a healthy and vibrant riparian forest dominated by native species.
Angelo and our other intern Joey (who worked with us on the YCC program two years in a row) are now doing more clean up along the river. There is still quite a bit of plastic and metal trash in the water way. Cans, bottles, containers…A lot of that trash remains from the years of neglect and misuse we saw along this section of the Rio Fernando. Some of it still comes down from upstream. Angelo and Joey are getting that junk out of the river.
You might see some smoke coming from the wetland area later in February as we burn a lot of the brush piles and the Canada thistle and teasel stands we have yet to remove. We will be sure to announce that on our Facebook page before we start burning.
As for the upland areas….first, we will not plow those fields anymore. The rye we planted last summer has done an excellent job rejuvenating the soil and suppressing invasives. There is still a long way to go but the progress we made last year is impressive to say the least. We will allow much of the rye from last summer to reseed. We will keep one section as rye for the coming summer while in north section we will integrate native flowers and grasses into the rye. It will take several years of work to transition that section to a full native flower and grass habitat but it is going to happen.
If you have any questions or comments on the restoration work, please leave a comment below and we will get back to you ASAP!
We’ve partnered with the Taos Native Plant Society to set up and share a rather large greenhouse here at Rio Fernando Park. We jointly received a $1500 grant to purchase greenhouse supplies and work on pollinator habitat. Both Taos Land Trust and the Native Plant Society will use the greenhouse to grow starts for our gardens and to grow native plants for the restoration work done by both organizations.
Last week, Katherine Meyer from the Native Plant Society dropped in to teach our interns how to manage the greenhouse, choose seeds, move the shade cloth, protect against rodents, monitor the temperature inside the greenhouse and nail down frost dates and get things organized and started. Our growing season here in the mountains of northern New Mexico is very short and so this greenhouse will help us to extend that growing season and our ability to be as efficient and effective as possible. Angelo and Joey will start getting native grass seeds in the greenhouse soil here in the coming weeks.
Taos Land Trust has been blessed over the years with some amazing young interns who have helped move our work forward in huge ways. Last month we secured funding to keep two of our interns on board for six more months and to hire two more interns. These are paid internships offering work for 30-hours a week.
Angelo Flores will, thankfully, be returning as an intern. This guy has proven invaluable, working hard on much of the land restoration the past few years. Angelo graduates from Taos High School in May 2020 and has already been accepted to several universities including Colorado School of Mines, Northern Arizona and Oklahoma University. So he won’t be around forever. But he is thinking of joining the YCC program again this summer.
Joey Ironwood, one of our YCC crew members from 2018 and 2019 is now on board for a 6-month internship. Joey will be working outside on the land with Angelo. He is currently attending UNM-Taos as part of the Climate Change Corps program where he is learning skills that will help him find work in the sciences and natural resources.
Haylee Montoya…otherwise known as “Outdoor Haylee” is also a returning YCC crew member. In fact, Haylee was one of our YCC crew chiefs from last year. She will be working a lot out on the land but she will also be setting up a job board on our website (more on that later) to connect young people in need of work to natural resource and farming jobs in our community.
Last but not least, Hayley Kauffman….otherwise known as “Indoor Hayley”. She will be able to hang with us at least until the summer. She is at UNM-Taos in her first year taking classes in nursing. She graduates in May. Hayley will continue her work around the office helping with fundraising, communications and general administration.
We are proud to be able to employ so many of our local youth in the work we do. We are also very grateful to them for all the hard work they have done over the past few years. Interns, YCC, Americorps…we simply couldn’t not have achieved all our goals without these amazing people. Thank you!!!
We like to keep you in the loop!