Public-Private Partnerships Galvanize Landscape-Scale Grassland Restoration in New Mexico

Restore New Mexico Team

In 2005, the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management (BLM) launched the Restore New Mexico initiative with the goal of restoring disturbance to improve habitat on a landscape scale. Through an ambitious partnership approach, the initiative has become a widely successful restoration and reclamation program involving numerous agencies, organizations, ranchers and industry groups.

Thus far, over 1.4 million acres of impaired habitat have been treated, beginning the transition to healthy ecological states.

A major focus of the restoration efforts has been native grasslands. As a result of historic land use practices beginning as early as the mid-1800s, many of these areas have experienced a shift from largely perennial grasslands to shrublands dominated by invasive brush species such as creosote and mesquite. Landscape restoration in New Mexico has focused on controlling invasive brush species, improving riparian habitat, reducing woodland encroachment, and reclaiming abandoned oil and gas well pads, all of which improves wildlife habitat and allows for the reintroduction of key species, such as the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, a candidate for Federal listing as threatened or endangered, and the Aplomado Falcon, a Federally listed species that has been reintroduced at five sites in the southwestern part of the state.

Without herbicide application, these degraded grasslands will continue to function below their potential in terms of providing habitat to wildlife and benefiting watershed function. Restore New Mexico activities reduce existing shrub densities and thereby allow more desirable vegetative species to flourish. This, in turn, benefits the watershed by stabilizing soil and will ultimately increase forb, grass and favorable shrub production, resulting in improved habitat for a variety of wildlife. Monitoring data from brush control projects in southwestern New Mexico indicate positive responses for species including Cassin’s Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Black-throated Sparrows, and Scaled Quail.

Since New Mexico landscapes are important to many different stakeholders, developing partnerships with common goals has played an integral role in the success of the Restore initiative. Public-private cooperation, incentives for landowners and private industry, and other innovative approaches have engaged stakeholders while leveraging additional funds and resources to accomplish restoration goals. Success has been possible because of the many partners involved in this historic effort.

Within this cooperative framework, one partnership stands out. The BLM and the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have developed a remarkably successful formula for working together to benefit the land and wildlife habitat.

The BLM joined forces with NRCS to leverage funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This program is typically applied to restoration work on private lands. So where private lands are comingled with state and public lands, BLM provides funding to match available EQIP funds for various restoration projects that span landownership boundaries. This unique partnership between BLM and NRCS to implement the EQIP program across administrative boundaries was the catalyst that provided a kickstart for Restore New Mexico. Since 2006, the BLM has provided approximately $1.25 million annually to match available federal funds for restoration projects on private lands.

Despite these remarkable successes, another 4 million acres of public lands in New Mexico are in need of restoration. With a continued emphasis on innovative and collaborative partnerships, the BLM – along with our many partners – will continue to address the emerging challenges of managing natural resources through flexible, landscape-scale approaches.

Before and after shots of mesquite treatment at Eight Mile Draw show successful grassland restoration.

 

Image © BLM-New Mexico

 

Jesse Juen is the Acting State Director for BLM-New Mexico.