Fish within the Chihuahuan Desert exhibit remarkable adaptation to a harsh environment and climate, yet these species rely on a delicate balance of limited natural resources and are thus extremely vulnerable to drought and human-induced stressors. As Texas suffers through a period of exceptional drought, the persistence of aquatic habitats is severely threatened. Threats to habitats in this region are exacerbated by decreasing water availability from surface and groundwater withdrawals, encroachment of non-native plant species, and land use practices.
The Rio Grande, which runs through the heart of the northern Chihuahuan Desert in the Big Bend region, is the centerpiece of an emerging bi-national system of lands dedicated to conservation. Three million acres of protected lands lie on both sides of the U.S./ Mexico border within the greater Big Bend ecosystem. In May 2009, United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Mexican Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Juan Elvira Quesada announced their commitment to strengthen cross-border conservation efforts in the Big Bend region. This presents a unique opportunity to unify Department of Interior agencies and other Federal, State, and local partners to lead strategic conservation planning, design, and implementation at broad, bi-national scales.
Rio Grande tributary watersheds, such as Terlingua and Alamito creeks, are important spawning and refuge areas for imperiled fishes, including the federally listed Rio Grande silvery minnow. The silvery minnow was once one of the most abundant and widespread native fishes in the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers. More recently, until reintroductions began in Big Bend, the fish had been confined to about seven percent of its historic range. Decline of the silvery minnow has been attributed to flow modifications, stream channelization, decreasing water quality, and interactions with non-native species. Projects that improve instream habitat, water quantity, and water quality in the Terlingua and Alamito Creek watersheds will contribute to persistence of Rio Grande silvery minnow and other imperiled fish species in the Big Bend region.
Because large portions of Rio Grande tributary watersheds, such as Terlingua and Alamito creeks, are privately owned, building partnerships between private landowners and conservation organizations is a critical component to restoring and conserving aquatic habitat in the region. Two of many aquatic habitat projects in the Big Bend region are in the Terlingua and Alamito Creek watersheds.
The Alamito Creek restoration project is one of DFHP’s 2012 priorities. Alamito Creek Preserve (The Preserve) contains a 3.5 mile section of scenic Alamito Creek that historically flowed much of the year. Perennial pools in this reach support populations of endemic fishes, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates, and a healthy riparian habitat. The Preserve and its segment of Alamito Creek are recognized by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) as meeting the criteria as an Ecologically Unique River and Stream Segment. The Preserve would like to restore natural, perennial creek flow by removing large areas of invasive mesquite which is the dominant upland vegetation in the watershed and is partially responsible for lowering the water table in an already arid habitat. Native grasses will be replanted to slow the rate of mesquite reinvasion and provide increased water quality via runoff catchment and erosion control. Feral hogs are abundant in The Preserve; their wallowing and rooting impacts water quality in perennial pools critical to the endemic aquatic species of Alamito Creek. The Trans Pecos Water and Land Trust will begin a feral hog removal program that will partner with a hunter safety program sponsored by TPWD.
In addition, another important aquatic habitat restoration project is occurring in the Terlingua Creek watershed. A large portion of a 276,000 acre ranch was deferred from grazing to restore native grasslands and riparian areas. Removal of mesquite and re-establishment of native grasses in riparian areas has increased spring recharge, improved instream and riparian habitat, and benefited endemic fish species.
Desert Fish Habitat Partnership
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Texas Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
National Park Service
US Geological Survey
US Bureau of Reclamation
US Army Corps of Engineers
US Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Agricultural Research Service
International Boundary and Water Commission
Comisión Internacional de Límites y Aguas
Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales
Comisión Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas
Departmento de Restauración Ecologia
Instituto Nacional Ecologia
Comisión Nacional del Agua
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Texas Water Development Board
Texas Department of Agriculture
Proyecto El Carmen, Maderas del Carmen
Alamito Creek Preserve
Davis Mountains Preserve
Big Bend Conservation Cooperative
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute
El Carmen Land and Conservation Company, LLC
Chihuahuan Desert Resource Conservation & Development
The Nature Conservancy
Rio Grande Institute
World Wildlife Fund
Texas Farm Bureau
Trans Pecos Water and Land Trust
Sul Ross State University
University of Texas –Pan Am
Texas A & M University
Texas Tech University
University of New Mexico
Utah State University