“Voices of the Bosque” features voices of our community. It is a place where we can share what the Bosque means to us, why we are grateful to have this natural place as part of our city, why we come here to walk or pedal along, to witness the changing seasons, to observe the birds and other wildlife, to enjoy the solace and peace and beauty of nature, and why we want our great natural treasures to be preserved and protected.
If you'd like to contribute an essay, a poem, or other relevant ramblings (250-1000 words), please send your submission to email@example.com with the subject heading “Voices of the Bosque.” Photos and artwork are also welcome.
THE RIO GRANDE BOSQUE...A THREATENED HABITAT
By Dara Saville
Throughout 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 along with Gooding and Coyote Willows germinated and thrived in the periodic floods and high water table. Although the valley has a long history of occupation, 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 many major dams along with hundreds of miles of irrigation canals. Additional engineering projects included the draining of wetlands, dredging and entrenching of the river, and the installation of jetty jacks. These intensive controls on the ecosystem resulted in river flows decreasing to 1/6 of their historic levels, a significant loss of wetlands, the invasion of many non-native species, increased wildfires, and a dramatic decline in the reproduction of the native keystone species: the Cottonwood and Willows.
Today we find our Rio Grande Bosque in uncertain times. The population of mature Cottonwoods is nearing the end of its natural life with few young trees to become elders of the forest. Invasive tree species have the advantage in the absence of flooding and other weedy non-natives cover large areas. Reduced water levels threaten native plants and create a high fire danger. The riparian zones of the Southwest have been transformed over the last century and desert bosque environments are now some of the most endangered ecosystems anywhere. Yerba Mansa, which requires a high water table, overbank flooding, or a wetland habitat is a symbol of this concerning problem as we move into an era of population growth in marginal environments. The balance between meeting the water needs of the thirsty Southwest and allowing enough water to remain in the wilderness for plants, animals, and the earth itself is always a delicate one, 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.
See Dara's related photo feature in our "Visions of the Bosque" section here.
Dara Saville is the founder and primary instructor of the Albuquerque Herbalism bioregional herbal studies program. She has a BA from New York University, an MS in Geography of the Southwest from the University of New Mexico, and is a graduate of Dr. Tierona Low Dog’s Foundations of Herbal Medicine Program. She has been working in the Bosque as a BEMP (Bosque Ecological Monitoring Program) volunteer for many years. In 2014 Dara began The Yerba Mansa Project in a partnership between Albuquerque Herbalism and the City of Albuquerque Open Space with the goal of restoring native plants to the Bosque and providing educational outreach about the Bosque’s ecological importance to native plants and animals.