Page 6

CONSERVATION CORNER

What does the future hold for Buck Springs?

by Jim deVos, Arizona Elk Society Director of Conservation Affairs

In this column, I’ve written about BUCK SPRINGS and have said it’s a special place, and indeed it is. From a wide variety of wildlife perspectives, it is special. With the exception of bighorn sheep and bison, all of Arizona’s big game species roam the area. I was recently at BUCK SPRINGS on a field trip and the diversity of song birds was amazing. An important native fish species, the Little Colorado Spinedace, finds important habitat in East Clear Creek and some of its tributaries. Everywhere, wildlife abounds. I also like giant, yellowbarked Ponderosa pines and Gamble oaks that are too large to get your arms around. Both species are widely distributed on the allotment. All of this said, although it is a great place, there is a lot to be done to make it better. One of the key ecological features at BUCK SPRINGS is the wet meadows that are the cornerstone of many biological processes. Wet meadows hold water from snow melt and summer rains and like a sponge, slowly leak the moisture into the streams acting as their lifeblood in dry periods. Over decades, a number of adverse impacts have reshaped these meadows and at least in part, have redefined their ecological role. There has been a cascade of events, one building on the previous, to markedly affect the importance of these meadows. Let’s look at what these meadows once looked like.

Prior to the arrival of early explorers to the region, these were wide, grassy meadows generally with a flowing stream that emanated from the many springs in the region. These streams were lined with broad-leafed deciduous trees such as Bebb’s willow and the meadows supported many aspen clones. As early explorers found these lush meadows and open uplands, they brought untold numbers of livestock to the region and humans began to leave their footprint on the area. The unique broad-leafed trees were reduced in numbers and from some streams, even eliminated. The lush wetland plant community was reduced. Concurrent with all of this was the initiation of a relentless invasion of ponderosa pines to the once-open meadows. These invading pines have changed and will continue to change the ecological balance of these unique habitats until the meadows regain their open nature. Again, think of these meadows as sponges holding water to be slowly released into streams and supporting the broadleafed community that adds huge diversity to the region. Well, these pines act like straws and suck up huge amounts of water from the area that is used via transportation to support the growth of the pines. Simply put, the pines are water thieves that affect the downstream environment. In a study of the issue in Arizona, researchers found that soil moisture was three times greater in open meadows than in meadows invaded by pines. Hard to be a sponge, when your water is drained as soon as it becomes available. One last bit of history on this issue. As all of the above happens, when snow melts and heavy monsoonal rains occur, the lack of vegetative cover facilitates rapid run-off and the streambeds begin to erode. Slowly at first, but a small headcut rapidly deepens and moves upstream, making the problem greater each year. There is essentially no headwater meadow on BUCK SPRINGS that doesn’t have at least minor headcutting and the namesake meadow for the region has extensive 6 The Tracker - 3rd Quarter 2012

Tracker Third Quarter 2012  

The quarterly magazine of the Arizona Elk Society (AES) with articles involving Arizona Elk and the AES's efforts at conservation of the hun...

Tracker Third Quarter 2012  

The quarterly magazine of the Arizona Elk Society (AES) with articles involving Arizona Elk and the AES's efforts at conservation of the hun...

Advertisement