MAY 2019 • 31
Silver City, NM
The Children’s Water Festival offers youngsters the chance to experience the natural riparian areas of the Gila River and learn about the interactions of the natural world. (Photo by Carol Ann Fugagli)
NATIVE ROOTS • PATRICIA HURLEY
Looking to the bigger picture for garden lessons
hose of us attempting to create gardens around our southwestern homes have a healthy respect for intact riparian ecosystems. Planting here can be unforgiving. Many of us cannot help ourselves as soon as spring arrives, the urge to have our hands in the dirt is overwhelming. Spring is an unpredictable season, one day of beautiful sunshine, gentle breezes and a temperature approaching 80 degrees. The next day the temperature plummets 20 degrees and the dry, desiccating winds are so fierce the horizon is dulled brown from dust. Regardless, May is the time to plant. Setting out your herbs and veggie starts is usually safe by the first weekend of May as the danger of frost is usually past, but it is always wise to watch the weather up until Mother’s Day. It is a fine time to put in your trees, shrubs and perennials too. Spring root growth is important before plants devote their energy to growing leaves, flowers and fruit. Surround your food producing garden with native flowering plants to support native pollinators and beneficial insects, creating a healthy ecosystem. A few years back when I worked for the Gila Conservation Education Center, a nonprofit housed at the Gila National Forest Service here in Silver City, I developed curriculum and fun activities to teach kids about birds and bird migration. During the same time, I worked with the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance to develop curriculum on the natural history of the Gila River as well. I would ask the kids to close their eyes and imagine that they were a small warbler, vireo or
hummingbird that had raised its family in Canada, Montana or the Pacific Northwest. Now they are on the long journey to South America, where they would spend the winter. Along the way, there were many hardships: predators, thirst and starvation. Then comes the arid Southwest, brown and barren beneath them. Suddenly, there is a ribbon of green below them. I stop and ask the kids, “What is this ribbon of green? And why is it important?” Often some of them would pipe up, “It’s the Gila River!” As we discuss the importance of the Gila and riparian habitat, I introduce vocabulary: biodiversity, ecosystem, watershed, Continental Divide, riparian, meander, diversion, perennial, filtration, erosion, native and non-native species, threatened and endangered. We talk about the things that make the Gila special: it is deep and good for swimming, it is cool on a hot summer day with big shade trees; cottonwoods and sycamore’s, it is clean and smells good. I tell them that it is the last free-flowing river in New Mexico, that it is special because it is our river, it’s headwaters close to home, deep in the Gila Wilderness. The threats facing the Gila are numerous from diversions, dams, overgrazing, non-native plant and animal invasion, to agriculture and mining. We look at pictures of the Gila meandering through the Mogollon Box with stately trees towering along its banks, then compare them to pictures of the Gila near Safford, Arizona. There, the flow is diminished, exposed with stretches of shrubby, invasive tamarisk occurring between patches of
large riparian trees. There, the Gila is drying and dying. It would be wonderful to tell kids that the Gila will always be wild and free; that the migratory birds will always have this ribbon of green to quench their thirst and to stop and gorge on insects and berries to sustain them along their fall and spring journey. When I worked and traveled for the Arizona Game and Fish Department in the mid 90s, I remember the dismay I felt encountering dead and dry riverbeds. As I looked around at the remaining skeletal trees, cottonwood corpses, statues of a past flourishing riparian corridor, feelings of loss and immense sadness settled over me. The Gila is not something I want to lose, it is the last of its kind, and worthy of our protection; a gift to our children. To learn more about how you can help to designate the Gila as a wild and scenic river contact Nathan Newcomer at nathan@ nmwild.org or go to www.wildgilariver.org. For information on the Gila and how to take action visit www.gilaconservation.org. Tricia Hurley is co-owner with her husband, Mark Cantrell, of Lone Mountain Natives in Silver City. They have been growing, selling and learning about native plants for the past 13 years where they have a home nursery and sell at the local farmers market in downtown Silver City. Contact them at lonemtn@q. com or visit their website at www.lonemtnnatives.com.
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