Big Bend Conservancy
Another bill would follow legislation in Arizona in protecting the Chihuahuan Desert plants that for years have been poached for resale along the West Coast. "These plants are being stolen by the thousands and then taken to California, where xeriscaping is now becoming popular," Shapleigh said. "We are seeing big parts of the Big Bend National Park being depleted of desert plants, and we have to do something about it."
One bill would transfer 1,800 acres owned by the Public Service Board to the Franklin Mountains State Park. The land -- mostly ranges on the northeast and west sides of the mountains -- would be preserved, and some money would be set aside to build a visitors center for the park.
Welcome to the Chihuahuan DesertThe Chihuahuan Desert is the easternmost, southernmost, and largest North American desert. Most of it is located in the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico, but fingers of the Chihuahuan reach up into western Arizona, southern New Mexico, and Texas, and down to the states of Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi in Mexico. This desert is quite large - about 175,000 square miles - making it bigger than the entire state of California. The Chihuahuan is usually called a rain shadow desert. That is because two massive mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Occidental on the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental on the east, border the Mexican portion of the Chihuahuan. These mountains block most of the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean from reaching the land, and are the main reason that this desert developed. One important characteristic of the Chihuahuan Desert is the many small mountain ranges which run through it, including the Franklins in Texas, and the San Andres and Do?a Anas in New Mexico. Between these mountains are valleys of lower elevation. In fact, the elevation changes in the Chihuahuan from about 1970 feet to about 5500 feet above sea level. There are also river valleys, formed by the Rio Grande and the Pecos rivers, creating large riparian areas within the desert. The presence of these river valleys and the changes in elevation produce a variety of habitats in the Chihuahuan that are not present in many other deserts. This means that diverse plants and animals can live within its boundaries. For example, in Big Bend in Texas where the elevation is low, there are many lizards which could not survive the cool winters of the desert mountains. And although fish are usually not thought of as desert dwellers, there are many in the Chihuahuan's aquatic habitats. BoundariesSo how do we tell where the Chihuahuan Desert ends if there are so many habitats within it? As in every desert, there are certain plants or animals that appear throughout the whole Chihuahuan and are called indicator species - in other words they indicate when you are in that desert. You are probably thinking that these indicators are cacti, because the neighboring Sonoran desert, is so famous for its saguaro cacti. Sorry to disappoint you, but this is not so in the Chihuahuan. Although barrel cacti and prickly pear grow in many parts of the desert, the real indicators are the Chihuahuan shrubs such as creosotebush, mesquite, agave, and ocotillo. There is only one plant that is endemic to the Chihuahuan Desert - meaning that it doesn't grow anywhere else - and it is called lechugilla, a kind of agave. All of these indicator species disappear in Socorro, New Mexico. So we usually think of Socorro as the northernmost point of the Chihuahuan Desert. Water in the ChihuahuanThe Chihuahuan Desert is a fairly dry desert, with only one intense rainy season in the summer, and mild rains in the early winter, usually in December. The summer rains, occurring in June and July, are called monsoons, and are caused by moist air that penetrates from the Gulf of Mexico. But living creatures need water during the entire year, and as in most deserts, it comes from several sources. The Rio Grande runs right through the center of the desert in New Mexico and serves as the border between Chihuahua, Mexico and Texas. The river provides riparian habitat for cottonwood and other trees, birds, and land animals, and homes for fish. It is also an important center for human development and a source of water for irrigating croplands. Other important sources of water for many animal and plant species are the ephemeral streams, lakes, arroyos, and even large puddles that form during the summer monsoons. And there is water underneath the desert that has seeped down over centuries from the surface. How deep and how much water there is depends on where in the desert you are located. For example, in the Mesilla Valley where the Rio Grande runs, there are large amounts of water in an aquifer that is only 15-20 feet under the surface. However, mountainous areas of the desert, or valleys that do not contain rivers often have their water as far down as 200-700 feet below the surface. In these places, pumping water is more difficult, and the water does not replenish nearly as fast as in the river valleys. There are some interesting results of having this sub-surface water in the Chihuahuan Desert, and one of these is the presence of oases. An oasis is a fertile area of the desert usually caused by the springing up of water from below. Oases provide habitats for many species of animals and plants that could not usually survive under desert conditions. The most famous oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert is in Cuatro Ci?negas Basin in Mexico. It has schools of fish, aquatic turtles, and other unusual residents of its many pools, lakes and canals. People even go snorkeling there! Desertification - How the Chihuahuan Desert Has ChangedAlthough there have been deserts in this location in North America several times between the ice ages, this particular desert that we call the Chihuahuan has only been in existence for about 8000 years. That may sound like forever, but when you think of how long ago the dinosaurs lived (over 125 million years ago), 8000 years makes this desert a youngster in geologic terms. The Chihuahuan has been through many changes during its history and particularly in the last 150 years. In the 1850s, the grass in the northern Chihuahuan Desert was said to grow as high as the belly of a horse. Since then, a process called desertification has been taking place very quickly. Lands that were once desert grasslands are now almost all shrub desert with the grasses fast disappearing. And this is affecting and being affected by all desert life because it is all one ecological system. There are several reasons for this desertification. Before technology was developed to dig cost-effective deep wells, the grazing in the northern Chihuahuan Desert was limited to small herds. However, about 150 years ago, people began to access water more easily, and large herds of cattle were brought in. Because people did not yet understand the effects the cattle might have, they did not manage this grazing well until years had passed. By then the large herds had trampled and eaten the grasses, causing patchy areas without vegetation which allowed the shrubs to move in. This is often called the shrub invasion. And once this process began, it continued with the help of other animals like kangaroo rats and jackrabbits. Actually, desertification started long ago in the southern Chihuahuan Desert because there had been grazing in Mexico much longer than in the US. And there are places in the Middle East where desertification has been slowly happening for thousands of years. Many people think that the earth's climate is gradually drying out, so that eventually desertification would have happened anyway. We really have no way of knowing. But when you add the animal grazing to the changes in global climate you get different desert plants. There are now few desert grasslands left throughout the world, and almost none in the Chihuahuan Desert. References1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Version 8.1 S) [CD-ROM]. Grolier Electronic Publishing. Grall, G. (1995, October). Cuatro Ci?negas: Mexico's desert aquarium. In National Geographic, 188 (4), 84-97.Kirk, R. (1973). Desert: The American southwest. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Desert USA, Digital West Media, Inc. (1996, August 15). Chihuahuan desert [On-line]. Available: Internet: http://www.desertusa.com/du_chihuan.html.Jornada LTER. (1996, August 15). Jornada experimental range [On-line]. Available: Internet: http://atlantic.evsc.virginia.edu/regionalization/jrn.html.Seager, W. Geology Department, New Mexico State University (personal communication with Sandra Bolotsky, July, 1996).Sherbrooke, W. C. (1981). Horned lizards: Unique reptiles of western North America. Globe, AZ: Southwest Parks and Monuments Asssociation.Van Cleve, K., & Martin, S. (Eds.). (1991). Long-term ecological research in the United States (6th ed.). Seattle, WA: Long-Term Ecological Research Network Office, University of Washington.Whitford, W., Jornada Range Experimental Research (personal communication with Sandra Bolotsky, July, 1996).Zimmer, C. (1995. February). How to make a desert. Discover.University of Texas at El Paso Centennial Museum's Laboratory for Environmental Biology. (1996, August 15).Chihuahuan desert region [On-line]. Available: Internet: http://museum.utep.edu/chih/chihdes.htm
desert region can be defined many ways. To a physical scientist such as a meteorologist, a desert can be defined as an area receiving an average annual rainfall of 10" or less. On the other hand, a biologist will consider how moisture moves through an ecosystem and the effect it will have on life forms. His definition of a desert region is an area in which the evaporation rate exceeds the annual rainfall. At the Fort Davis Headquarters of the CDRI, the annual evaporation rate is 36-48" while the annual rainfall averages 17". In addition, the evaporation rate on an open body of water such as a pond, river, or stock tank can be as high as 72" annually. Pretty dry! As a result, a desert region is usually defined by a combination of factors such as climate, topography, and plant and animal communities.The Chihuahuan Desert region stretches from the Rio Grande Valley in southern New Mexico and the San Simon Valley of southeastern Arizona to an area just north of Mexico City. It is approximately 800 miles long and 250 miles wide. Included in the Chihuahuan Desert region are parts of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and the cities of El Paso and Las Cruces in the United States, as well as parts of the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Durango, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi and the cities of Juarez, Cd. Chihuahua, Torreon, and Saltillo in Mexico.Elevation and Climate: Although the Chihuahuan Desert region extends farther south than other North American deserts, extensive portions lie above 4,000 ft. in elevation. The lowest portions of the Chihuahuan Desert region are about 1000 ft. in elevation along the Rio Grande while the highest portions, in Mexico, approach 10,000 ft. in elevation.Winters are characteristically cool, especially in the northern reaches where nighttime temperatures drop below freezing on average over 100 times per year. In the summer, daytime high temperatures in the Bolson de Mapimi have reached a reported 122 degrees F. The dry early-summer months of May and June are typically the hottest part of the year in the Chihuahuan Desert.The Chihuahuan Desert is dry because it is surrounded by Mexico's two great mountain ranges: the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental. As warm, moist air rises to move across these mountains, it is cooled rapidly causing rainfall. The result is that most of the moisture has been removed from these air masses before they ever reach the Chihuahuan Desert basins. While the other North American deserts each have a summer and winter rainy season (because of their location further to the west), rain typically comes to the Chihuahuan Desert only from July to October. As much as 90% of the annual rainfall takes place during this period. When rain does come, afternoon thunderstorms cool the desert. Floral Characteristics: The lower elevations of the region is characterized by botanists as Chihuahuan Desert Scrub. Comprising up to one half of the total vegetation in the region, it has been suggested that Desert Scrub communities have grown to their present extent through the invasion of eroded grasslands. In fact, it has been suggested that the Chihuahuan Desert region may have grown by as much as a third of its size in the last few hundred years due to man's activities including poor agricultural practices and water use management. Creosotebush, Larrea tridentata, is a prominant element of Desert Scrub often covering large expanses. Stem succulents such as Lechuguilla, sotol, and yucca are dominant features of the Desert Scrub landscape. Other common shrubs include mimosa, acacia, mesquite, Mariola, Fourwing Saltbush, Tarbush, Javelinabush, Goldeneye, Allthorn, and Ocotillo.Desert Grasslands are best developed on plateaus, rolling hills, and basin floors where the soils are relatively deep. Blue Grama, Bouteloua gracilis, is the dominant species here. Netleaf Hackberry, Little Walnut, and a number of oaks are common woody components. Extensive Tobosa Grass flats occur in low elevations where water run-off tends to accumulate while beargrass and sotol commonly occur on hillsides. Oak-Juniper-Pinyon Woodlands characterize the slopes and valleys at mid-elevations. Common woodland trees include oaks, junipers, pines, Texas Madrone, and Bigtooth Maple. Woodland shrubs include Texas Mountain Laurel, Scarlet Bouvardia, and Mountain Sage.Coniferous Forests can be found at the highest elevations. Typical tree species found here include Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, Alligator and Weeping Juniper, Arizona Cypress and a number of oaks. Other characteristic plants include Birchleaf Buckthorn and Needlegrass.Riparian Vegetation occurs along the major rivers in the Chihuahuan Desert region. Common riparian trees and shrubs include the introduced Salt Cedar, the Desert Willow, Cottonwoods, and the cane grass, Giant Reed.There is more diversity of cacti in the Chihuahuan Desert than in any other region. Many botanists believe that these plants originated here or to the south, and radiated out through the New World. The common cacti include the Prickly Pears, Hedgehogs, Living Rocks, Nipple Cacti, and Corys.Within each vegetation zone are specific plant associations that are often differentiated by associated soil conditions. Examples include the characteristic vegetation of stabilized gypsum, gypsum sand, quartz sand, and saline habitats.Faunal Characteristics: The Chihuahuan Desert region is home to a multitude of specialized invertebrates. Among the most conspicuous are the Desert Tarantula, Whip Scorpions or Vinegaroon, Desert Millipede, a number of scorpions, and Giant Centipede. A rich butterfly and moth fauna is also to be found here. Vinegaroon :?: http://www.petbugs.com/caresheets/M-giganteus.htmlAs with most desert regions, fish species have evolved through ages of isolation. Spring systems have become home for a plethora of endemic (unique) fish. More species of pupfish occur here than in any other desert region. I believe the pupfish is very much alive and well at Balmorhea...Common Chihuahuan Desert amphibians include the Barred Tiger Salamander, spadefoot toads, and the Rio Grande Frog. A recent introduction, the Bull Frog, has found suitable habitat along portions of the Rio Grande and Pecos River.A great number of lizards inhabit the region. Among these are the whiptails, spinys, horned, collared, and geckos. Snakes have evolved to take advantage of a wide range of conditions. While a few are diurnal such as the garter and coachwhips, most avoid the heat of the sun by prowling after dark. (remember that as you walk around camp or head to the restroom in your bare feet) Chihuahuan snake species include the beautiful Mexican kingsnakes, Trans-Pecos Ratsnake, and many species of rattlesnakes. The venomous coral snakes and Gila Monster are only known from the fringes of the Chihuahuan Desert region where they are rarely encountered. More species of birds have been recorded in Big Bend National Park alone than any other North American national park. Despite the high numbers, most are non-resident or seasonal. In addition, population densities are usually small.Mammals are diverse and tend to be nocturnal. The northern Chihuahuan Desert region has one of the richest bat faunas to be found anywhere. Eighteen species have been documented in Presidio County, Texas, alone. Most are small and insectivorous. Notable representatives include the Pallid Bat, Western Pipistrelle, and Brazilian Freetailed Bat.The larger predators have struggled for survival and while the Mountain Lion has been successful, Gray Wolves and Black Bear still hang on in northern Mexico. Grizzly Bears were known to inhabit at least one Chihuahuan mountain range until the late 1960s.Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, and Pronghorn are common residents while attempts to reintroduce the Desert Bighorn have met with mixed results. Other common mammals include the Coyote, Collared Peccary, Ringtail, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Spotted Ground Squirrel, a number of skunk species, woodrats, and many nocturnal mice.
Cradle of lifeBy ROBIN EMMOTTMilk thirst threatens rare desert oasis.MEXICAN dairy farming is endangering an ancient oasis in the Great Chihuahuan Desert that scientists say can help them understand earth’s beginnings, global warming and the chances of life on Mars. Farmers could dry up the warm water Cuatro Cienegas pools in northern Mexico by the end of the decade if they keep tapping underground water supplies to grow green alfalfa leaves to feed dairy cows, international biologists say. “The turtles are dying, the fish will soon be gone,” said Benigno Vasquez, a farmer turned activist striving to contain the proliferation of alfalfa in Coahuila state, near the border with Texas. Prized by NASA researchers, the 170 cactus-ringed pools at Cuatro Cienegas contain fish, snails, turtles, bacteria and unique living rock structures that offer a glimpse of the life forms that flourished on earth 200 million years ago. If I recall correctly, Balmorhea is also a Cienegas. “Each pond is an island of marine life in the desert. We can think of them as Mexico’s Galapagos,” said Valeria Souza, a Mexican biologist leading an international group of scientists to pressure the Mexican government to protect Cuatro Cienegas. (The Galapagos archipelago off Ecuador is renowned for its array of endemic species which inspired 19th century scientist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.) Cuatro Cienegas is home to rare rock structures, known as stromatolites, that were crucial for life on earth but became marooned when the sea retreated 100 million years ago. “This small piece of rock made life possible,” Souza said, holding up a stromatolite, an ancient colony of single-celled organisms. “It is a whole ecosystem in 5mm and it is dying.” Stromatolites’ ability to harness oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphates in the atmosphere at a time when phosphates had yet to be released into the oceans allowed them to form the basis of all life, serving as a platform from which complex, multicellular plants and animals developed. Scientists at NASA say understanding Cuatro Cienegas may help us know how the earth developed and hold clues to whether other planets like Mars have primitive, extra-terrestrial life. “We may also learn how earth could react to global warming. The range of water temperatures at the lagoons could allow for experiments to investigate how marine life can adapt to changing water temperatures and environments,” said Jim Elser, a limnologist, or expert in the study of inland water, at Arizona State University. For now, saving the pools is the most urgent task. One lagoon dried out six months ago and was briefly replaced by wild flowers. Winter rains have refilled the shallow cobalt pool, but the stromatolites have not recovered, Souza said. “Cuatro Cienegas is a biological world heritage site and we must protect it,” said Jose Sarukhan, one of Mexico’s most renowned biologists. A loophole in Mexican legislation means anyone can dig a well and extract water in the Cuatro Cienegas area, which lies on a huge underground water table. Scientists and locals in Cuatro Cienegas blame big dairy groups in the nearby city of Torreon, northern Mexico’s main milk-producing centre, for drilling wells to grow alfalfa and buying milk from producers who feed the crop to their cows. Mexico’s federal government and wealthy landowners deny Cuatro Cienegas is at risk. Environment ministry official Oscar Munoz said he has monitored 13 lagoons since 2003 and registered no change in water levels. Nevertheless, pressure on milk producers has forced Lala, Mexico’s top milk producer, to shut down eight wells. A Lala spokesman said the closures were “cautionary” and that the company would finance a study to see whether the wells were causing damage to Cuatro Cienegas. Coahuila state’s government is urging federal authorities to ban the opening of more wells but has no plans to prohibit alfalfa production. “We can’t just blame one person or one group,” said state environment minister Hector Franco. -- Reuters
Tucson RegionSE Ariz. desert 1 of 10 'treasures' at warming risk By Tony Davis Tucson, Arizona | Published: 04.09.2007advertisementArizon a Daily Star The transition from the Sonoran to the Chihuahuan desert starts about an hour's drive from Tucson's back door. Led by the prickly pear and the hedgehog, the area has more cactus varieties — more than 500 — than any desert in the world. Cooler, higher in elevation and drier than the Sonoran Desert, it has 1,000 plant species found nowhere else. But an environmental group has now put the Chihuahuan Desert on a list of 10 great natural global treasures that it says are threatened by destruction from global warming. Among threats to this region outlined by the World Wildlife Fund, as well as by some outside local researchers: ● Decreases in snowpack. ● Declining flows in the Rio Grande. ● Groundwater pumping sparked by urban growth and lowering rainfall. (golf courses perhaps?)● The prospect that drought could kill off an endangered plant and native fish living in Southeastern Arizona's portion of the Chihuahuan Desert. ● An invasion by exotic and ecologically damaging grasses such as buffelgrass, which already is plaguing the Sonoran Desert that envelops Tucson. "Deserts are on the ecological fringe, like any extreme region such as the Arctic or high mountain areas," said Hans Verolme, a Washington, D.C.-based official of the Wildlife Fund. "Some people drive through them and don't appreciate them, but I have lived in semiarid deserts, and I think they are amazingly beautiful places. Their species have a tough life, and they adapt to that life. "That doesn't mean we can keep turning up the heat," Verolme continued. "If we turn up the heat further, some of these species will go extinct." In a report on environmental threats released late last week, the fund ranked the Chihuahuan Desert with the Amazon jungle, coral reefs around the world, Caribbean turtles, Chile's Valdivian rain forest, the Upper Yangtze River in China, Himalayan glaciers, Alaska's Bering Sea, and tigers and people living in the Suderbans region of India and Bangladesh. They're all areas where the wildlife group is working on projects to either limit the damage or help people adapt to changing climate conditions. The fund's list emerged as the International Panel on Climate Change was releasing a major report outlining what it said are current and likely future effects of rising temperatures caused by a human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. On the map, the Chihuahuan Desert — this country's largest desert — pokes into Southeastern Arizona only as far as U.S. Highway 191, which slices through grasslands west of the San Simon River Valley and south toward Douglas. But mixtures of desert grasslands and shrub lands stretching as far west as Tombstone and the San Pedro River are thought of by some scientists as a transition zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, said Travis Huxman, a University of Arizona professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. The grasses, bright green in the summer and blond-colored when dormant in the winter, are similar to those found in Southern prairie regions, Huxman said. Creosote bushes increasingly dominate the landscape as the desert spreads to the area east of Tucson into the Sonoran-Chihuahuan transition zone. Ultimately, the Chihuahuan Desert stretches east into southern New Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley, down to Big Bend National Park in Texas. It also covers parts of four Mexican states. Drier weather, which scientists around the world increasingly believe will be caused by warming in the Southwest, threatens the Rio Grande, the Chihuahuan Desert's lifeblood, the wildlife group said. Because of erratic snowfall in recent years, the river now supplies less water to farmers and cities than it used to, and in some drought years it dries out before reaching the Gulf of Mexico, the Wildlife Fund said. Part of the river's problem is that all of its water is legally appropriated for other uses, such as cities and farms, and none for wildlife, said Tom Lalley, a Wildlife Fund spokesman. "A big concern of ours: Is there going to be enough water for the species?" Lalley said. Drought caused by global warming could threaten native fish living in spring-fed wetlands at the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Arizona, said Jennifer Montoya, who runs the Wildlife Fund's Chihuahuan Desert program in Las Cruces, N.M. Another species that could be harmed by warmer, drier weather is the endangered Canelo Hills ladies tress, a flowering plant that lives south of Sonoita in the Canelo Hills, Montoya said. "The spring sites could really suffer," she said. "Anything that's got a small population and is dependent on a moist environment could really suffer." Read more environmental news and features at azstarnet.com/environment● The Associated Press contributed to this report. ● Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or email@example.com.
ShaneA, I think you are right. Sure looks like Luna's Jacal in BIBE.
Quote from: "badknees"ShaneA, I think you are right. Sure looks like Luna's Jacal in BIBE.Either it's Luna's or a very accurate replica. Not the first mistake a journalist ever made. Here's a side-by-side comparison from roughly the same angle:Click on either image for the full size version.
Good evening from across the pond. We've got a debate going about your pic "Old prospector's house in Organ Pipe National Monument (Sonoran Desert, Arizona)" http://helios.bto.ed.ac.uk/bto/desbiome/mining.htm#top which actually appears to be actually in Big Bend National Park Texas? http://www.nps.gov/imr/customcf/apps/pgallery/photo.cfm?pid=131&aid=35&gid=35SEE the discussion @ http://www.bigbendchat.com/viewtopic.php?t=3477&highlight=Thank You.
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