June 2015 5
FOR THE PLANTS’ SAKE:
RESTORING THE BOSQUE THE YERBA MANSA PROJECT BY DARA SAVILLE, ALBUQUERQUE HERBALISM hroughout most of its history, the Rio Grande Bosque has been a system of wetlands, oxbow lakes, sandbars, and woodlands that migrated with the wild and changing meander of the river. Seasonal flooding cleared debris and enriched the soil. Cottonwoods and Coyote Willows germinated and thrived in the periodic floods and high water table. Although the valley has a long history of occupation dating back to Paleo times, it wasn't until the 1800s that humans began to have a significant impact on the ecology. With the growing numbers of Anglo migrants in the valley came large-scale agriculture, irrigation systems, livestock grazing, and logging. These activities in turn created soil erosion, a large sediment load in the river, and increased flooding. To control flooding, a series of major interventions ensued.
The 20th century was marked by the construction of several major dams along with hundreds of miles of irrigation canals. Additional engineering projects included the draining of wetlands, the dredging and trenching of the river, and the installation of jetty jacks. These intensive controls on the ecosystem along with increasing urbanization have resulted in a 60% replacement of the entire Rio Grande system with agriculture and urban development, river flows decreasing to 1/6 of their historic levels, a significant reduction in channels and wetlands, the invasion of many non-native species, increased wildfires, and a dramatic decline in the reproduction of the native keystone species: cottonwoods and willows. Today we find our Rio Grande bosque in uncertain times. The population of mature cottonwoods born in the last great flood of 1941 is nearing the end of its natural life with few young trees to become elders of the forest. Invasive tree species such as Russian olive, saltcedar, mulberry, tree of heaven, and Siberian elm have the advantage in the absence of flooding and are expected to replace the 2 million-year-
The attitudes we adopt and the actions we take are shaping the future right now. Living in Albuquerque with the Rio Grande bosque running through the heart of our lives, we are a functioning part of the ecosystem. We must ask ourselves what role will we play in that system of interactions and interconnections. Will we bring more demands or will we bring restoration? The Yerba Mansa Project is an all-volunteer community service project designed not only to restore the bosque’s riparian habitat but also to educate the general public and provide free educational opportunities for youth groups. This endeavor is organized by Albuquerque Herbalism in partnership with the City of Albuquerque Open Space and other organizations. It includes an ongoing community service project to restore the Albuquerque bosque along with new classes and community events.
A DELICAT E
ECOSYSTEM The population of MATURE COTTONWOODS born in the last great flood of 1941 is nearing THE END OF ITS NATURAL LIFE. old cottonwood forest by the end of the century if water management practices remain unaltered. Reduced water levels threaten native plants and create a high fire danger. The riparian zones of the Southwest have transformed and desert bosque environments have become some of the most threatened ecosystems anywhere. This shifting environment is the habitat that supports yerba mansa and a long list of other plants and animals. The balance between meeting the water needs of thirsty Southwest development and allowing enough water to remain in the wilderness for plants, animals, and the earth itself is always delicate and fraught with conflicting views. As the population grows, the demand for water diversion will increase and the resources available to our bosque natives will likely decline unless we make ecosystem conservation a priority.
The restoration work includes removing non-native understory plants in preparation to replant yerba mansa in targeted locations that meet its habitat criteria. The project also includes an educational component that will focus on the bosque as critical habitat and native medicinal plants with threatened habitats. Additionally we are working with environmentally focused classrooms, homeschools, and youth groups to join the field crews and create an electronic Plants of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque Field Guide for hikers to access via their cell phones at trailheads. The Yerba Mansa Project is an opportunity to consider what we can give back to the plants and the wilderness that nurture us. The Yerba Mansa Project needs your support! GET INVOLVED, DONATE, AND FIND OUT MORE: www.albuquerqueherbalism.com/yerba-mansa-project. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.albuquerqueherbalism.com YERBA MANSA PROJECT CLASSES: register and your tuition goes to fund the project • Bosque Wild Herb Walk: Saturday, June 6, 2–4pm • Medicinal Plants of the Middle Rio Grande: Saturday, June 27, 9:30am–2pm Details and registration: www.albuquerqueherbalism.com/yerba-mansa-project-events.html
FOR FLORA AND FAUNA MAKE ECOSYSTEM CONSERVATION A HONEYBEES WORK HARD!
HELP HONEYBEES C E RT I F I E D B E E K E E P E R S A P P R E N T I C E P R O G R A M BY SUSAN CLAIR ccording to the Canadian Honey Council, honeybees tap about two million flowers and fly 50,000 miles to make a pound of honey. Imagine! Perhaps that little gem of information will come to mind the next time you buy a delicious bottle of raw honey at your farmers’ market or favorite Co-op store.
The first National Pollinator Week—initiated by the Pollinator Partnership and unanimously approved by the US Senate (Sen. Resolution 580) and the USDA—was held in June 2007. As crucial as the pollinators are to our food supply, they really deserve more than seven days of appreciation. We voice our appreciation for their pollinating our food supply and beautifying our ornamental gardens, but there’s more we can do. In our gardens and out in the fields, we can choose to significantly limit or eliminate chemical pesticides. We can plant bee-friendly foliage on our properties and choose flowering plants that blossom at different times in the season, so the bees can always find pollen or nectar. A simple addition to your garden that will greatly help your neighborhood pollinators is a shallow pan of clear water—with rocks for them to climb on and not fall into the water—and ensure that it is kept full and clean. If you would like to participate further in the health and well-being of the local honeybee population, I encourage you to get to know some New Mexico beekeepers. You can attend free monthly meetings of the Albuquerque Beekeepers (http://abqbeeks.org/) and become a supporting member of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association (www.nmbeekeepers.org/). Both organizations provide useful information, bring in top-notch guest speakers, and can introduce you to local beekeepers who can serve as mentors or simply answer your questions about honeybees. Consider becoming a beekeeper! Last year, the New Mexico Beekeepers Association, in cooperation with the City of Albuquerque Open Space Department, launched the Certified Beekeepers Apprentice Program. It’s a two-year, comprehensive education program in which experienced beekeepers teach the best practices of urban beekeeping—the first-ever such program in New Mexico. All 24 of the 2014 group of students completed their first year of the program, and most have returned for the second year of classes and hands-on experience. A new group of 24 students are enrolled in the 2015 program, some traveling from as far away as Clovis, New Mexico, and St. Michaels, Arizona. Some of the students are already beekeepers but want to learn more, most have no experience working with bees and are eager to learn. These students are important for future honey yields and in helping to keep the regional honeybee population healthy and thriving. Susan Clair has serves as program coordinator for the Certified Beekeepers Apprentice Program, along with a dedicated and talented planning committee and first-rate New Mexico beekeepers.
P R I O R I T Y!