SILVER CITY – Huge machinery, backhoes, hard work and a lot of sweat will be part of a massive Mimbres River restoration project designed to save an imperiled fish found nowhere else in the United States and a frog that’s near extinction.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and The Nature Conservancy are joining forces in this effort to rebuild a robust population of the Chihuahua chub and enhance the status of Chiricahua leopard frogs. The work is happening on The Nature Conservancy’s Mimbres River Preserve in Grant County.
“We’re seeing great success from a similar project along the Mimbres and are excited to partner with The Nature Conservancy on this section of the Mimbres River,” says Mike Ruhl of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
For various reasons, the river channel has lost habitat complexity over the last 130 years. This change has increased water velocity during heavy rains, and reduced safe habitat for fish and frogs. Aquatic species took another hit on their home in 2013, when the Silver Fire burned the upper Mimbres River Watershed.
Directed by Game and Fish and Nature Conservancy specialists, heavy equipment will be used to clear pools of sediment and add places where fish can find more protected low-velocity flows. Workers also will use excavators and backhoes to move dirt and place large cottonwood logs and boulders to improve habitat for native fish and frogs.
“Imagine weighing two grams – less than a dime – in the face of racing floodwaters with nowhere to go,” says Martha Cooper, The Nature Conservancy’s Southwest New Mexico field representative. “This restoration project will offer Chiricahua leopard frogs much-needed safe refuge during high flows.”
Additionally, strategically placed rocks and root balls from dead trees will encourage the river to meander, enhancing Chihuahua chub habitat. As the river cuts into the banks, deep pools form. The fish need cool, slow-moving water to survive and reproduce. This work will help meet those needs.
Before the equipment moves in, Nature Conservancy and Game and Fish staff will spend several days relocating Chihuahua chub and Chiricahua leopard frogs to ensure their safety during construction. Both populations will be restored once the project is complete.
Work is scheduled to begin June 1 and the project will take three months to complete. The Mimbres River Preserve will be closed to public access the months of June, July and August while work is underway.