Monday, February 13, 2012

The Galisteo Dam Project

I have not seen much of the Galisteo Dam since our contract ended in the summer of 2010. 
At that time the Corps told the public that the goats leaving the dam was simply the matter of a lack of funds and not a reflection of our work there. 
And that the goats would be invited back for more work when the Corps received money for it.
Indeed they were happy with what had been accomplished by the goats in just a few years, and was glad to have learned as much as we all did from them.  

Guppy inspected this mask that was secured by a rock alongside the road which leads to the dam, blowing in the wind flashing white.
It served an odd reminder that the land had had a herbicide treatment. 

The photo above was taken in late November, 2008. 
This was our first time through under contract to browse the dam face. 

The photo below was taken in early February 2012 after the dam face was cut and herbicide applied.

When our last contract ended at the Galisteo Dam in July 2010 we already were scheduled to work in Eldorado remediating the communal areas there, namely the greenbelts, as well as working on other out of balance areas for individual residents on their own properties. 
We stayed very busy that first year in Eldorado and have developed a fan base of enthusiastic folk that were uplifted by the goats and the work they did. 

We did keep in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as we were and are very interested in that ongoing Environmental Remediation project. We had thought as the Corps promised, that we would be contracted to continue on the first two phases of the project and then the third (which has not yet begun). Last year the Corps chose to utilize methods other than using goats. The dam face has been cleared using herbicides again. Chamisa and tamarix in this area has been cut and had chemicals applied. This process cleared the dam face of vegetation, but I have serious reservations about walking through this area, about the rain runoff, as well as proximity to the river below. We have experienced this method in the past and have experienced bad effects both in ourselves and the reproductive health of our goats. We have offered to work the dam for free at the same time as we contract work in the basin, because we have come to understand this is the best way to remove Chamisa from the dam face: to pen the goats on the dam letting them fill their off hours (goats love to browse in the middle of the night) with the Chamisa. This balance also serves to improve their appetite for Tamarix, Russian Olive and Cockleburr in the basin which aids their ability to eat down tall growth of Chamisa on the dam. 
This way both the dam face and the basin are worked simultaneously and the need for herbicide application is removed.
But the Corps chose to use other methods.

This is the hole in the dam where the Galisteo River flows during rain events. 

The dam is a siltation control structure. 
Silt is dropped in the basin so that it does not enter into the Rio Grande.

The dam often looks pretty brown this time of year. 
Grasses get munched by cattle that come in through various open gates and the river bed.

But this year it is especially bare.

Herbicide has been applied to stumps to reduce re-sprouts. 
This process generally requires 2-3 reapplications of herbicide to thoroughly prevent vegetative growth.

The dam was pretty quiet despite the wind. A helicopter overhead was the only air traffic.

I spotted some cows. Their paths showed they had not been around long.
Previous populations of cows had pretty well wiped out the grasses, but tiny bits of green were showing when I had visited a few weeks prior to this visit. On this day none of those bits were evident. 

Down in the bottom land I came across this hole. The land is a little dangerous out here: waterlogged to bone-dry soil fluctuations create deep cracks and sink holes. 
Our horses have proven themselves desert savvy never having stepped in one of these holes.

This one was almost a foot deep. Many are much deeper.

The other method that was employed by the Corps in 2011 was the mowing of vegetation in the basin.

Much of the material that was mowed was actually already dead- a result of the goats' consistent pressure on the trees. Though some trees still stood 5 or 6 feet tall when we left in 2010, the leafing out and blooming was later than ever, much less vital and most of the trees were only half alive. 
Three years into the project our influence was becoming obvious. 
Grass diversity and density was growing, tilth was improving as was shown by the increased fruiting bodies of fungi. 

The wood in the foreground here was the result of the original Tamarix removal. 
Carbon (in the form of tree wood and plant stems) was being sequestered by the goats as they stepped the organic materiels into the dirt and applied their fertilizing manure and urine. These nitrogen-rich by-products of the goat are the result of the goat's system composting vegetation on site which are then deposited on the ground. This helps to feed organisms in the soil that can break down the carbon on the ground turning it into mycelium food which feeds the mycorrhiza that feeds the grasses and other symbiotic plants that need mycelium to thrive. Without these various composters the wood and old growth of plants will sit on bare ground for years and years without contributing to the earth.

Last year was dry. This is as far as the ragweed went after the mowing last year.
Ragweed and other tenacious weeds like Russian Thistle are gateway plants that don't have a need to live in balance with fungi. They are tough and opportunistic and are the sign of soil that lacks tilth. Plants like this are necessary in the evolutionary process from bare disturbed soil to healthy grass and forbe-rich soil. But they cannot make the change alone. They need the organic material (stems) to come in contact with the ground and need nitrogen to aid in the breaking down of the carbon. And they need moisture. But that is not an element that can be helped here. In New Mexico we all need the rain.

Cockleburrs (a favorite of the goat) have thrived since overgrazing of grasses by too many cows for too long has opened up the ground to the sunlight.

Cockleburrs can be transitioned to grass through careful grazing. 
When the grass is reduced in the winter and spring the Cockleburrs have the head start and crowd out the grass. Grass will crowd out the Burrs if they are allowed to have the head start in the Spring.

A mowed Tamarisk tree.
We will see how quickly the trees grow back. They are partial to pruning as it causes an over balance in the roots revitalizing the plant allowing it to push forward with more vigor. 
This would be a great time to re apply the goatherd as their hunger for tamarisk is great. 

This is the main campsite where the goats were penned nightly for protection. 
The herder stays on site with our goats at all locations to ensure safety.

This is a close-up of the goat's pen area. 
You can distinctly see where the fence line was for much of the time. 
This hillside has the beginning stage of tilth happening. Cockleburrs, Ragweed and Tumbleweed are beginning to break up the ground and catch debris which has potential for feeding the microbes.
Prior to the goats this hill was little more than bare ground.

This photo looks to the south, where SunStar is located. 
The farm is only 3 miles away. 
This project at the Galisteo Dam for us is close to home (and far from ordinary).

The cows decided we were too close for comfort and moved on to a quieter location.

Happy Dog.

Close-up of Cockleburrs.
Short like the ragweed, but they still managed to reproduce.

This is one of the wetlands designated by the Corps to be off limits to goats. 
Cows did not obey the fencing however and have used the water and the Cat Tails for themselves.

Some tamarisk just outside of the wetland area that was not mowed last year.

Mowed Tamarisk 2011

This is the previous method of Tamarisk removal. 
Usually these stumps would be applied with herbicide like the Chamisa on the dam face. 
This particular phase did not apply chemicals as the Corps did not want to poison the goats who were contracted to browse the re-sprouts instead. These particular stumps are of trees that had already drowned as this area is another wetland where much water can sit for extended time. 
Something the Tamarisk does not like.

This photo is from February of 2011.

Even with twice as much cow pressure then there was a little grass in places.

This land was bare when the project started. 
But as the goats walked over this area and fertilized it some life has taken hold and begun a transition.

The Galisteo Dam is a wonderful place. 
It was once a swamp before the land was re arranged for siltation control.
This is a truly Wet land where ducks and all kinds of water fowl have reproduced. 

As we began to see increase in vegetation health with the application of the goats we also witnessed insect, bird and animal populations increase. 

We simply worked areas of 3-5 acres fenced with solar electric netting. 
West to East and North to South over and over. The 96 acre project area was browsed repeatedly allowing areas rest time between.

This fed the soil, trimmed the Ragweed (removing and preventing massive amounts of pollen and seed), and devitalized the Tamarisk. Little by little this land was transitioning.

Our herd is made up of bucks, does, kids and wethers. They rear their young on site. 
Each breed, sex and age group targets different elements of the plants. 

It is important that these animals are not exposed to herbicides, pesticides or any other harmful chemical.

These guys love their work. 
We work with nature so results are a process. 
We avoid applying too much pressure on the land or the animals. So they move frequently.

But their love of Tamarisk and Russian Olive is seen when they demolish these trees first.

A Tamarisk "raft". 
Floods float the movable debris and settle it into piles.  
These rafts do not grow anything. In some places the mud covers sticks over and all you can see of the buried carbon is a definite lack of vegetation. 
These are areas that need larger amounts of nitrogen from the goats.

A Spanish-Cashmere wether is a tree bark specialist.

Some native plants increasing their hold. 
There are cockleburs here, but the flowers and grass have the upper hand.

More local flora...

And some tasty smelling Artemisia...

Insect fauna growing large...

Tamarisk here has been munched. You can see the goats at work in the distance.

The fruits of our labor...


Even Bear!!

Carbon being introduced to the ground does not stop the progress of primrose- It encourages it!

Please encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue their Environmental Remediation at the Galisteo Dam using Goats. They are cheaper, better in the long run and simply an effective tool to balance landscapes.

Thank you.
From all of us at Horned Locust Remediation.

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