This Conservation section serves to supply members with information on issues pertaining to the conservation of native plants and habitats on public and private lands in New Mexico. We offer this information to assist interested individuals in learning about the laws, agencies and programs involved in plant related issues. Involvement provides the catalyst for change that can benefit our native heritage.
- Center for Plant Conservation
- New Mexico Biodiversity Collections Consortium The NMBCC Gateway to New Mexico Biodiversity NMBCC has integrated museum data at the University of New Mexico, New Mexico
State University, Western New Mexico University, and Eastern New Mexico University into a searchable geospatial format accessible via the Internet
- New Mexico Rare Plants NMRPTC OverviewThe New Mexico Rare Plant Technical Council’s (NMRPTC) primary goal is to develop an internet version of a rare plant inventory with information on the basic biology and conservation status of New Mexico’s approximately 190 rare plants. Photographs, line drawings, and distribution maps accompany the written reports. The reports are edited to preclude inclusion of sensitive information, such as detailed location data, which might further endanger rare species.
- The National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Invasive Species Information Node
- Invasive weeds of the Southwest
- Native Plant Conservation Campaign
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s “Conservation Showcase“
Articles and press releases
- Where Have All The Botanists Gone?, by Jim McGrath
- Botany:The Death of a Science in American Education, by Jack Carter
- Saving the San Juan Badlands, by George Miller
- Rooted in Place: Roadside Plant Rescue Honors Desert Plants, by Sandra Lynn. Wildflower, a publication of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas Summer 2008 issue
- Conserving the Process – Lessons in Plant Ecology, by Jim Nellessen
- The Ecological Balance: Natives vs. Non-natives, by Jim Nellessen
New Mexico Contacts
The Department of Biology and College or Arts and Sciences (NMSU) are pleased to announce the recent hire of Dr. Patrick Alexander into a half-time postdoctoral position as curator of the Department’s Herbarium (NMC). This two year position and University support for the herbarium is, in part, the result of many years of donations to the herbarium endowment and current use accounts. In particular, donations from numerous individuals and organizations made a big difference in the University’s decision to open such a position. We would like to thank these individuals and organizations (particularly the statewide NPSNM as well as the Otero and Las Cruces Chapters) for their support and hope that you will all be pleased to see the outcome of this generosity.
This development means that we can now offer public open hours for herbarium access to facilitate plant identification, botanical research related activities, literature use, and outreach activities to the region. The herbarium will now be open to the public from 8:30am to 5pm on Mondays and Tuesdays. However, as there may be days when Patrick is out of the museum or when school groups are occupying much of the collection, it is still best to contact Patrick or myself if you plan on traveling to Las Cruces to use the herbarium. More information about the herbarium, use of the collection, and visitation can be found on http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/~
Dept of Biology Herbarium, NMSU
Holy Ghost Ipomopsis (Ipomopsis sancti-spiritus) – a 2012 update (by Jim McGrath)
On July 29, 2012 I joined state Division of Forestry botanist Daniela Roth, former state Division of Forestry botanist Bob Sivinski, UNM rare plant botanist Phil Tonne and 3 others at 2 sites of the 2011 Holy Ghost ipomopsis plantings in Holy Ghost Canyon adjacent to the Pecos Wilderness. These plantings are part of the recovery program for this federally listed endangered species. I can report that our half day visit clearly indicated that the plantings we made in 2011 were doing quite well. The majority of the plantings were in flower at the time of our visit. Our purpose on this visit was to prepare a seedbed for certain portions of the plantings. As part of the recovery program for this endangered species we needed to remove the organic material (litter and duff layers) so that mineral soil would be exposed. In nearby areas of this “experiment” the organic material remained untouched. Botanical researchers want to know under what conditions the Holy Ghost ipomopsis reproduces best. Does mineral soil enhance germination and successful reproduction? Does the organic material (litter and duff) inhibit or encourage successful germination and reproduction? The ecology of this endangered species is discussed in detail by Phil Tonne in an article published in the Newsletter in 2011*.
Later in August Daniela documented more thoroughly the response from the 2011 plantings. She found that 84% of the 640 plants planted at the two 2011 treatment sites were alive in 2012. And 92% of those surviving plants were flowering. A total of 57% of the survivors were browsed in the 2 plots. Deer are presumed to be the browsing culprit, but elk or rabbits may be involved. There were no tracks or droppings observed.
Just because a plant is in flower does not necessarily mean it is reproducing. The flowers need to produce seeds. Because of the large degree of browsing impacts observed in August 2012 and the associated late flowering of plants that compensated for the browsing damage, Daniela returned to the two study sites in late September to determine the number of adult plants that had mature or maturing seed capsules. Only 52% of the total number of flowering plants produced mature or maturing capsules on one site, while 94% of the total number of flowering plants produced mature or maturing capsules at the second site.
According to Daniela more study is needed to determine what effect browsing has on the production of mature seeds.
*Tonne, P. 2011. “Painting the Canyon Pink: Efforts to Recover the Endangered Ipomopsis sancti-spiritus.” Newsletter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico Vol. XXXVI No. 4: 6-7.
August 31, 2012
Very likely the readers of this essay have never heard of the Leoncita false–foxglove. That’s because it is known from only two locations – one in Texas and one in New Mexico. And New Mexico botanists only became aware that this species is very rare sometime after 2007.
The Leoncita false-foxglove is an annual plant with linear leaves and pink flowers about an inch long that resemble the common garden foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). The species is a member of the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). The plant occurs only in alkaline wetland habitats derived from gypsum and limestone that are permanently saturated with water. These wetland habitats often stand out as green jewels within the larger dry and drab-colored plant communities of the desert southwest. Such wetland habitats are often referred to as ciénegas. These gypsum and limestone-based ciénegas are unique and rare themselves in the desert southwest. They are also home to several federally listed endangered and threatened plant and animal species, which are entirely dependent on this very specialized habitat. You can learn more about the Leoncita false-foxglove on the New Mexico Rare Plant website. All of the information about this species portrayed in this essay has been derived from a single document written by former New Mexico Division of Forestry botanist Bob Sivinski (Sivinski 2011) which can be viewed here (PDF).
As mentioned above, the Leoncita false-foxglove is known from only two locations. In New Mexico the plant has been found only in Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The federally threatened Pecos sunflower (Helianthus paradoxus) and Wright’s marsh thistle (Cirsium wrightii) occur side by side with the Leoncita false-foxglove at Bitter Lake. Populations vary from year to year but have been in the hundreds or thousands. In Texas, the plant has been found at the Diamond Y Spring, now a Nature Conservancy Preserve about 7 miles NNW of Fort Stockton. The preserve is already home to 5 federally listed plant or animal species. Historic plant collections have been made of the Leoncita false-foxglove at two locations in Coahuila,Mexico. The common thread connecting the four locations is the presence of very large wetland complexes or very large springs. However, the springs in Mexico have been drastically altered by urban and agricultural development. Therefore, the Leoncita false-foxglove is very likely no longer present in at least one of the locations in Mexico.
The Case for Endangered Status
We in the Native Plant Society of New Mexico feel that the Leoncita false-foxglove should be established as an endangered species. Although the species is persisting at two places where protection is already provided, we believe that endangered status is necessary for several reasons:
1. The Preserve Protection Fallacy. Just because a species is found within a preserve does not mean it is adequately protected. Proper protection within that preserve implies proper management that specifically focuses on needs of the species whose existence is in jeopardy. Proper management may not be consistent over the years. There is also the possibility that some natural or unnatural event may permanently alter the unique characteristics of the habitat required for continued survival of the species.
The most serious threat to the habitats protected by Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Diamond Y Spring Preserve is depletion of the ground water supply that is the lifeblood of the cienegas. Many springs and ciénegas in the southwest have either dried up or the amount of ground water feeding them has been drastically reduced from what it once was due to agricultural and urban usage. The original Leon Spring near the Diamond Y Spring ceased to flow around 1958 due to excessive ground water pumping. A recent proposal was made to pump 47,418 acre-feet of water per year from a nearby west Texas aquifer.
Ground water pumping may also be a serious threat to false-foxglove populations at Bitter lake NWR. The New Mexico state engineer’s office hydrologist stated in 2005 that current ground water pumping levels would not affect the spring flows at Bitter Lake NWR unless drought conditions become greater than historic drought conditions. However, the implications of global warming suggest that these drought conditions will be exceeded in the future.
Another factor involves the management at Bitter Lake NWR. The refuge has been historically managed for waterfowl and in 1995 the refuge began to focus on management of the Pecos sunflower, which at the time was proposed for listing as a federally endangered species. The refuge has a network of ditches, canals and impoundments that have resulted in the fragmentation of the natural cienegas at Bitter Lake. The original ciénega has been fragmented and altered to the point there is likely less suitable habitat for the Leoncita false-foxglove. The point here is that there are conflicting management objectives at Bitter Lake. Endangered status for the false-foxglove would ensure that refuge management objectives include proper management in the form of suitable protection and recovery of the Leoncita false-foxglove.
Ecological Obstacles that Require Specific Management Strategies
Aggressive species like the common reed (Phragmites australis var. americanus) at Bitter Lake may crowd out or otherwise alter the required habitat of the Leoncita false- foxglove. The absence of large herbivores at both Bitter Lake and Diamond Y Spring have resulted in dense accumulations of plant material that may inhibit germination and establishment of plants like the false-foxglove. Specific management strategies like prescribed fire may be required to substitute for the absence of large herbivores in order to maintain the existing populations and assist in recovery of the species. Endangered species status would ensure that such specific ecological management strategies are utilized at the sites of the known populations.
2. Endangered Species Status
The Leoncita false-foxglove is currently listed as a Species of Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the state of New Mexico. Species of Concern status simply does not attract the attention of governmental agencies or produce the necessary funding required to perform the research and employ recovery strategies for the species. But endangered species status will require the necessary governmental attention. It will also generate funding for the necessary research and other activities required to assure the continued existence of the Leoncita false-foxglove and to provide for its recovery.
This last point cannot be overemphasized. We live in an era when the importance of government is continually discredited. We see government agencies that lack botanists to address their botanical problems. The one situation where we see that botanists are actually consistently employed to perform botanical work is through the Fish and Wildlife Service via the Endangered Species Act. Daniela Roth, the new state botanist with the NM Division of Forestry, says that her job only exists because of Section 6 ESA funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I recently met Ralph Fink, a U.S. Forest Service range conservationist, temporarily “detailed” to fill a vacant botanist position on the Lincoln National Forest. Ralph’s job is to focus on recovery plans for the federally endangered Sacramento prickly poppy (Argemone pinnatisecta). That’s because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a finding that the poppy is in “jeopardy.” Do you get the drift of this discourse? While there should be much more funding for professional botanists, the fact remains that the one source botanists can count on exists only because of the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
PETITION TO LIST THE LEONCITA FALSE-FOXGLOVE AS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES – A NPSNM FIRST
Now that we have made the case for endangered species status for the Leoncita false-foxglove, the Native Plant Society of New Mexico by a vote of its State Board of Directors in February, 2012 has chosen to do something it has never done before. We have made a petition addressed to Mr. Ken Salazar, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, requesting that the Leoncita false-foxglove be listed as an endangered species in accordance with provisions of the Endangered Species Act. You may view the petition here (PDF).
Sivinski, R.C. 2011. Agalinis calycina (Leoncita False-Foxglove): A Conservation Status Assessment. 2011 ESA Section 6 Progress Report prepared for the NM Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 2. (view)
Jim McGrath, Conservation Chair, NPSNM
September 2, 2012
The elusive Cloudcroft Phacelia (Phacelia cloudcroftensis) flowered in mid July – much earlier than expected. Daniela Roth, the new NM Division of Forestry botanist, performed extensive searches for this rare plant this summer. She has found more than 250 adult plants! Recall that last year our NPSNM Rare Plant Field Trip found 14 adult plants and about 60 seedlings. During the previous year only 4 adult plants were found. Daniela found about 200 plants along Hwy 82 between mileposts 12 and 13 in the Sacramento Mountains in the same general area where plants of the previous 2 years had been found. Daniela found an additional 62 adult plants about a half mile from Cloudcroft along two parallel trails (T5001 and T5002). This population extends the known elevation range of the Cloudcroft Phacelia to 8500 feet. The Phacelia is known to have another population in an unnamed canyon south of Bent. On previous occasions former NM Division of Forestry botanist Bob Sivinski found no more than about 3 plants in this location – more than 11 miles from the Hwy 82 population. But in 2012 Daniela found no Phacelia plants at all in this location. On the opposite side of this mountain range she found only a single adult Cloudcroft Phacelia plant in Ysletano Canyon.
There is a consistent feature of the habitat where Daniela found the Phacelia this year: limestone gravel often in a disturbed environment. The Cloudcroft Phacelia is an annual plant that responds to moisture when it is available. Therefore, the plant may still be seen in the Sacramento Mountains this year. Last year, the plant was found as late as September 25.
So if you are out hiking trails or otherwise exploring in the Sacramento Mountains keep an eye out for this plant in disturbed gravelly locations. Look at the photos on the New Mexico Rare Plant website. You may discover the Phacelia and add to our knowledge of the distribution, reproductive success and habitat preference of this species. If you find the plant, count the number of adults and seedlings and take notes on the condition of the habitat. Then report your findings to Jim McGrath at email@example.com or Daniela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim McGrath, Conservation Chair, NPSNM
An estimated 1085 mostly Russian olive plants were removed during the Russian Olive Removal Event held Oct. 21-22, 2011 at the Blue Hole Cienega Nature Preserve. The preserve lies within the city limits of Santa Rosa. A total of 18 people participated in the 2-day event on the 116-acre preserve. The plants removed included small trees, saplings, sprouts and seedlings. Although Russian olive was the primary exotic targeted for removal, several sprouting clumps of salt cedar and about 75 salt cedar seedlings were removed.
Focus was primarily in some large Pecos Sunflower stands and in the southeast and southwest sides of the preserve.
The high success of this event was entirely due to two crews. The State Division of Forestry provided 9 people led by Botanist Bob Sivinski and the Native Plant Society of New Mexico provided an additional 9 volunteers organized by Jim McGrath. Bob and Jim wish to thank each of these volunteers for the effort they made on behalf of the federally threatened Pecos sunflower, the state endangered Wright’s thistle and the alkaline wetland and tall grass prairie embodied by the preserve. Each of these volunteers deserves recognition for their service. Participants from the Forestry Division included Shawn Beck, Carol Bada, Nick Smokovich, Dan Ware, Eugene Pino, Chris Romo, Arnie Friedt, and Mike Neathamer. NPSNM volunteers included Gary Runyan, Don Heinze, Doug Cone, Yvonne Chauvin, Phil Tonne, Dana Price, Jeremy McClain and Jennie Towne.
The invasive removal event was the latest management effort at the cienega. Besides controlling Russian olive and salt cedar infestations, management efforts on the cienega have included a prescribed burn in 2007. The trees, saplings, sprouts and seedlings just removed will provide fuel for another prescribed burn tentatively scheduled for January, 2012. Management efforts continue to improve the health of Pecos sunflower and Wright’s thistle populations as well as the alkaline wetland and tall grass prairie as a whole.
As a side note, some well known New Mexico birders (Matt Baumann, John Parmeter, Jerry Oldenettel) were also present on the cienega on this weekend. They reported the discovery of LeConte’s sparrow on the cienega. Le Conte’ sparrow is only reported in NM by birders about once or twice per year (Oldenettel 2011, personal communication). The unique prairie grassland mixed with marshy areas preserved at the cienega provides the special habitat required by LeConte’s sparrow.