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TALKING CIRCLE OVERVIEW.. to expand and continue our understanding

February 9, 2016 TALKING CIRCLE notes:

Our topic gathered momentum from efforts to prioritize biodiversity, with conservation often focused on areas that support large numbers of endemic native species and/or unique landscape elements, while considering evident risk to the persistence of these elements within their native range. The group considered how biodiversity science grew quickly in response to imminent decline in areas of tremendous and often unknown ecological richness (where the necessity for ecological inventory became an acute need in the face of change). Resilience & displacement again surfaced as key attributes to managing biodiversity in our examples.

Acknowledging earlier approaches by biogeographers as well as topics considered in our previous Talking Circles, we considered the criteria and approach to conserving Biodiversity Hotspots, including the Sky Islands of the Madrean Pine-Oak Woodland areas in the Southwestern US and Northern Mexico.

The group discussed many examples for native species that serve keystone functions in the Sky Island region, as well as changes in ecological web relationships and the reintroduction of once-extirpated wildlife in some regions. Reflecting on Sky Islands as biogeographically significant features within larger arid life zones, such as desert or steppe lands, we discussed increasing levels of concern for: the decline of prairie dogs, conversion of steppe/prairie/desert native plant communities, effects to a host of small mammals that support raptors and predatory wildlife, missing or declining populations of native ungulates and carnivores, as well as the displacement of local knowledge connected to these areas.

As with any evolving perspective, thoughts and approaches by biodiversity specialists and conservation practitioners change with the context of the objectives that established the early hotspots from a range of global ecological types (sometimes referred to as "Global Habitat Types" on a world vegetation map). Once again, shifts in climate and significant changes in land use have created new challenges for sustaining areas that are themselves dynamic suites of interacting beings within their unique habitats. 

Several questions arose as participants gave many specific wildlife examples, including: 

  • Is everything, globally, at risk of immediate extirpation irrespective of and/or exacerbated by land use changes?
  • Do we understand resilience and continuation for ecological cohorts as embracing necessity for our mutual sustenance?   

Ute Mountain, a double shield volcano in the upper Taos Plateau region,

lies within a landscape currently undergoing unprecedented change. 

January 26, 2016 TALKING CIRCLE NOTES:

With a focus on "connectivity" and biodiversity across regional and local landscapes, our second 2016 Talking Circle touched upon some of the many concerns over habitat fragmentation, migratory species, displaced ecological webs, and changing predator/prey dynamics, as well as integrated land use changes and larger scale climate shifts. Touchstones to larger discussions were acknowledged as the group decided to focus their attention on connectivity concerns within the Upper Rio Grande and two tributaries, the Rio Hondo and the Rio Costilla. Participants described several recent restoration projects that emphasize improving habitat connectivity along watershed features.

The Upper Rio Grande has been designated an "Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society due to the number of migratory species that rely on its habitat, as well as having the nation's first Wild and Scenic River designation. The 2006 Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Act and the newly designated National Monument also embrace this unique feature, which spans many life zones and diverse landforms.

The Rio Hondo has served land-based peoples in many ways, including extensive traditional acequia agriculture, upland forests, woodlands, and important wildlife areas. The river's headwaters are also the site of mining and ski industry development, as well as recreation associated with the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, New Mexico's highest alpine site. In addition to describing biodiversity attributes of tributaries to the Rio Hondo, many of which originate in wilderness areas, we also discussed efforts to improve water quality and flows, as well as in-channel habitat improvement and restoration projects. 

While the Rio Costilla no longer has perennial surface-flow at its confluence with the mainstem of the Rio Grande, it remains an important wildlife corridor across a wide expanse of shrub-steppe, bunchgrass-steppe, active and fallow fields (mostly irrigated alfalfa now, but previously an area known to produce large quantities of winter wheat and bolita beans). The upper reaches of the Rio Costilla flow through abundant native habitat, supporting numerous wetland and riparian communities within the Sangre de Cristo portion of the watershed. Comanche Creek and other tertiary streams within the Rio Costilla floodplain support important native fish habitat and extensive wetlands. Many wildlife species rely upon the natural vegetation for breeding sites, nesting, forage/browse, pollination cycles, additional food sources, dispersal, hiding cover, links to larger migration corridors and travel to winter range (often seasonally).


During our first Talking Circle of 2016, we discussed a range of perspectives and examples focusing on biodiversity decline, habitat quality and landscape-level effects on wildlife and vegetation. Listening to unique perspectives enables us to explore important issues while respecting the voices and opinions of participants. Current research and restoration practice add an additional context, with references and case studies available at WILDLANDANCE (retail and library resources), as well as through collaborators and many research organizations.

Themes linked to group examples are outlined on the board, with the following observations suggested by participants as touchstones to further discussion (included here by permission):

1. Is it a form of disturbance for the river not to flood?

2. Do human beings, as a species, continue to disturb everything?

A brief illustration of one example from the January 12th Talking Circle discussion: Are invasive species still the leading cause for Biodiversity decline?

Native Riparian Biodiversity dominated by cottonwood, chokecherry, alder, and willow species

(Ranchitos, N. NM)

Non-native woody species displace native riparian and wetland vegetation just a short distance away...

Russian-olive, Siberian Elm, and Tamarisk have become common along the Rio Grande and tributaries, replacing native trees and shrubs

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