Turkey Creek Restoration Weekend

Back in July we participated in a restoration planting weekend alongside members of the Sky Island Alliance and the Nature Conservancy at Turkey Creek and Cobra Ranch (in/near the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness). We stayed at a fantastic house on the Nature Conservancy Property. They had a sleeping porch and it was AWESOME!! The only thing that was not awesome was that I hadn’t put on bug spray the first night and in one hour of being outside around 6pm, I had gotten over 20 mosquito bites. That has been one constant in my life; if there are biting insects within a one mile radius of me, they will find me!! HAHA

Nature Conservancy Guest House – Our home for the Planting Weekend. It sure beat camping!!!

The sleeping Porch at the Nature Conservancy House. Loved sleeping “outdoors” but with the screens to keep the bugs out!!

At both our sites we were planting Giant Sacaton. It is traditionally found in flood plain ecosystems. In the areas we were working, past land uses had disrupted the flood plain cycle and taken the area towards a more river-channel model. So historically this area experienced rain events and the water would be caught up in vegetation, spread over a large area and stay for a relatively long time and soak into the ground. However, with roads being cut into the earth by ranchers in the area (who have not been in the area for 50+ years) and grazing taking away much of the vegetation that used to slow down the water, now when there are rain events the water flows into the channels formed by former roads and speeds off the landscape. This then allows fewer plants to grow, due to lack of water, as well as these roads/streams continue to be cut further into the earth and when rain comes it won’t spread across the landscape because it now has to crest a stream bank. It is in an effort to stop this cycle and restore a floodplain cycle that BLM and the Nature Conservancy are manually filling in old road channels and planting Giant Sacaton to try and slow down the water of new rain events.

Turkey Creek

The whole goal of the involved planting process is to allow the small plants the best opportunity to survive in this desert environment they are suddenly thrown into. Holes are dug and then filled halfway with water. This water is then allowed to soak into the ground. This provides the plant with a moist environment so that it isn’t immediately stressed out when it is planted.

Hole that is pre-watered and ready for planting!

Once the holes are pre-watered a glop [a very scientific term, I know] of DriWater is added to the bottom of the hole. DriWater is a gel that is about 97% water and the other 3% is cellulose and some other materials. Apparently how it works is that when it is placed in the ground the microbes in the soil will eat some of the cellulose and other materials and the chemical reaction that that produces will release water to the plant(?!?!). That’s at least the gist that I got from trying to research the product.

Sky Island Alliance Volunteer Alan holding DriWater

Then the plants are placed in the holes and the dirt is back filled into the hole.

Planted Giant Sacaton

Then the plants receive a layer of water on top in order to help settle the dirt around them and to once again give them the best chance to survive. Then a layer of mulch is added to help trap water as well as keep direct sun off the dirt surrounding the plant. The more water you can give to and the cooler you can keep plants in the desert, the better!

This is a field of our plantings. They have been top watered and are just waiting for mulch. Everywhere you see a yellow or black tube, there is at least one of our plants there! We planted about 5 times the area you see in this picture.

And no trip would be complete without some seemingly disastrous turn of events forcing biologists to be resourceful in order to save their project!!! To begin with the water trailer we brought with us was leaky down where the hose joins the tank and the motor. And the drive out to the Turkey Creek planting site was…rough?…undeveloped?….insane? Any of these would work. And when we drove up there we had to haul the large water trailer behind our truck. Needless to say there was always concern that something bad would happen. We made it through the first day of plantings at Turkey Creek, using as much water as we could, as quickly as we could, in order to get as much out of the tank before it all leaked out. The next morning however, on that INSANE drive out to Turkey Creek, we were about 0.1 miles from our site when we looked behind us and the ground was getting soaked. On the last big set of rocks the leaky hose had been completely ripped off the tank. Then a 20 minute ordeal ensued of trying to get all possible water into buckets, while trying to plug the hole with hands and find some way to get it so we could drive to our site and start using the water. Eventually a pair of leather work gloves were shoved into the pipe and we were able to limp up to our site. Then using some wire off of plant flags and some major ingenuity, the leaky hose was attached and we were once again in a race against the leak to use as much water as possible. It was a level of excitement that we weren’t expecting that morning! But we were still able to use a lot of the water and complete our plantings!

The Water Trailer of DOOM!!

During this weekend I saw some other awesome animals. I saw my first tarantula in the wild. While walking in the stream bed at Cobra Ranch we saw a turtle near the bank. It kept trying to climb the bank to get away from us, but the angle was too steep so then he would tumble over backwards! 🙁 After he did that twice we placed him on the top of the bank so he could get away and stop stressing out. Later that day we startled a rattlesnake and in its attempt to run away it fell off and tumbled down the side of a fairly large stream bank too. We were just an epidemic of scaring animals that day!

The planting weekend was a great experience. It was fun to work with and learn from a group of dedicated and impassioned people who come out on their weekends to help restore ecosystems!

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ
BLM

How is it the end of August?!?

This last month has flown by once again. At the beginning of the month my Dad came to visit me and we took a road trip up to Northern Arizona. It was an amazing experience to see the Grand Canyon for the first time!

Beautiful Day at the Grand Canyon in Northern AZ

We have had 4 trips out to Bonita Creek for Green Sunfish Removal. It has been very interesting to see the stream change over the past 4 months. The site that we went to our very first day in Bonita was a large open expanse of water that we were able to walk through up to a few pools further upstream. When we visited that same site just last week the stream was almost entirely choked with tall plants and we couldn’t even walk through it. Nature is definitely not a constant thing!

Also, I SAW A COATI!!!!! Well, to be more exact I saw 6 coati, a mom and her 5 babies. We were driving into Bonita Creek and they scampered across the road and into the trees on the other side. I didn’t have my camera with me, and when I tried to get a picture on my phone you couldn’t see them in and amongst the trees. But I saw them and it makes me so happy! 🙂

I have also had the opportunity to get a GIS Tutorial, which is how to use a fancy mapping program (ArcGIS) to locate possible areas of interest based on preexisting water, vegetation and ownership maps (etc), without having to drive to every single site first. It will be very useful in selecting sites for Seeds of Success Collection. I also completed an online NEPA training which concerned the formation and structure of the National Environmental Policy Act. I think it is great to be able to take advantage of the resources available to me as a BLM intern and receive trainings like these. You never know when you will/can use some random information you learned!

This past week we had an American Conservation Experience Crew based out of Flagstaff come down and camp at Sands Draw for a full week. Sands Draw is a large livestock exclosure (keeps cows out) in the middle of the San Simon Valley. The crew planted and seeded native grasses and dug hundreds of planting holes for BLM to use in future planting efforts.

The plants are put in the ground, then have gravel placed around them (acts as a windblock, support and to catch more water), and then additionally have straw placed on top (keeps direct sunlight off to keep plants cooler and will eventually break down into a mulch).

The Crew’s last day in the field we switched over to working at a site called Howard’s Well. This was a large pool that houses native fish, but it becomes over-grown with sedges (cat-tail like plants). If this is allowed to go unchecked, then the sedges will completely choke the pond and it will dry up and all the native fish within it will die. So nine of us (the 6 crew members, then myself, Rosalee and Heidi) spent the whole day ripping and cutting the plants out of the pool. At the beginning we didn’t think we would get too far and hoped for getting half the pool done. But by the end of the day we had completely cleared the pool! That was definitely a great feeling of accomplishment.

Here is what the pond looked like at the begining of our day.

Here is what the pond looked like at the end of our day! Felt extremely accomplished to get everything cleared out!

The over-arching theme of this past month for me has been DATA ENTRY!! I have completed over 100 hours in the last month. I have been consolidating and cleaning up the data files for Heidi’s Green Sunfish removal from 2009, 2010, and 2011. I have also then been confirming all entered data against the physical data sheets. Needless to say this takes quite a bit of time, especially when some of the files are as messed up and confusing as these have been! However, I can’t complain too much. I am one of those strange people who likes to sit down and organize things, likes to sort and figure and get everything worked out. So though it is hard on the lower back to be crouched over a keyboard for 10 hours a day, I still enjoy it!

I am going home for a long vacation around Labor Day Weekend and I am very much looking forward to seeing my family! Once I return I am excited to knock out my last 3 weeks here in Safford. Then it’s back to California and on to other opportunities!

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ
BLM