Thursday, January 31, 2008

BLM receives range management award

Submitted to the Current-Argus


LAS CRUCES — The New Mexico Section of the Society for Range Management presented its Excellence in Range Management award to the Bureau of Land Management recently for the agency's work to restore degraded rangelands and wildlife habitat in southeastern New Mexico. Linda Rundell, state director for the BLM in New Mexico, accepted the award on behalf of the BLM's state management team and the agency's Pecos District Office in Roswell.

The BLM worked with a variety of partners to restore more than 250,000 acres of degraded rangelands in New Mexico in 2007, far surpassing the 2006 total of 145,000 acres. What started out as a concept to restore and enhance landscapes three years ago has grown into Restore New Mexico, an effort involving the BLM, ranchers, agencies, organizations and the energy industry. The partnership will restore its 500,000th acre this year.

"The BLM under Linda Rundell has demonstrated that it won't be satisfied with being a custodial land manager," said Dr. Karl Wood, president
of the SRM's New Mexico Section. "Linda and her management team are getting the word out about the condition of New Mexico's rangelands and forming innovative partnerships to restore them."

BLM management honorees included Rundell, Jesse Juen, associate state director, and Ron Dunton, deputy state director for resources.

Field honorees included: Ray Keller, rangeland management specialists, Carlsbad; Dave Evans, chief of operations, Carlsbad; and Russell Fox, rangeland management specialist, Roswell.

Habitat fragmentation, erosion and the spread of invasive plants have resulted from decades of human impacts and natural ecological processes. Because fire has largely been excluded from the landscape, there's been a dramatic shift over the past 150 years from desert grasslands with scattered shrubs to vegetative communities extensively dominated by invasive shrubs; this has occurred on more than 6 million acres in New Mexico. The result has been reduced grass and herbaceous cover and a significant increase in the amount of bare ground. These factors have in turn severely reduced their biological productivity, while increasing their susceptibility to erosion and reducing the quantity and quality of groundwater.

"Regardless of how people feel about land uses or management priorities, everyone agrees we need to look at the land differently than we have in the past," Rundell said. "We are now beginning to restore entire landscapes. It's amazing what can happen when folks have a shared vision."

The BLM is expanding its efforts with partners this year to restore rangelands to a healthy and productive condition throughout New Mexico. Efforts are focusing on landscapes dominated by mesquite, creosote, juniper and other invasive species to restore native vegetation, which also benefits watersheds and wildlife habitat.

Starting the year, the BLM and its partners will also begin attacking cheatgrass, and exotic species that have taken over huge areas of Nevada, Utah and other Great Basin states. Partners under the program are also identifying and reclaiming orphaned oil and gas wells, pads and roads in the Permian and San Juan basins.

The goal of brush treatments to reduce the incidence of brush in rangelands to historic levels; in many areas, the percentage of brush in a landscape has increased from 10 percent to 90 percent or more over the past 150, years, radically reducing the biological productivity of these areas.

Restore New Mexico partners include ranchers, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, New Mexico State Land Office, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, several Soil and Water Conservation Districts, New Mexico State University and BLM.

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