Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science Anne Castle spent September 29th floating the Rio Grande and highlighting the park’s participation and leadership in the Big Bend Conservation Cooperative. The cooperative seeks to conserve the Rio Grande watershed as a partnership model that is the foundation of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative.
“One of the primary goals of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative is to work with communities to conserve our land and water, reconnect people with nature, and strengthen local economies through outdoor recreation and tourism,” Castle said. “The Big Bend Conservation Cooperative has set an admirable example by fostering increased coordination among federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and private landowners.”
The purpose of the Initiative is to recognize, conserve, and enhance America’s rivers and provide opportunities for Americans to connect with their outdoor resources and natural heritage. The Big Bend Conservation Cooperative is led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), and includes more than 30 participating organizations together with state and local partners to support conservation efforts that benefit communities, outdoor recreationists, and native plants, fish, and wildlife.
Participants in the Big Bend Conservation Cooperative have successfully implemented projects resulting in conservation of the region’s precious natural resources. Projects have included the control of exotic species such as saltcedar and giant river cane along the Rio Grande; re-introduction of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow, pronghorn antelope, and big horn sheep; and the restoration of grassland, wetland, and riparian habitats on public and private lands.
During her visit, Castle met with personnel from the NPS, FWS, and USGS, and researchers from Sul Ross State University and the University of Texas – Pan Am who demonstrated on-going restoration projects as well as science and monitoring efforts that are providing information needed to enhance management of the Rio Grande and Chihuahuan Desert grasslands. The group also discussed hosting public meetings and a river clean up event this Fall to further engage local citizens and gather input on ways to improve and advance conservation efforts.
“The goals of the Big Bend Conservation Cooperative include bringing more grass, birds, and wildlife to the uplands and creating a healthier Rio Grande with improved water quality, diverse habitats, and an increased channel capacity to reduce flooding in communities along the river,” said Jeff Bennett, Physical Scientist for Big Bend National Park. “This will benefit the public by improving ecosystem services for local citizens and enhancing the natural beauty of the Big Bend region for those eager to enjoy the many recreational opportunities on our public lands.”
For example, science and monitoring efforts have made significant contributions to natural resource managers’ understanding of the Big Bend reach of Rio Grande and how it has dramatically narrowed in size, creating a very different array of aquatic and riparian habitats than existed in the mid-20th century. The riverine ecosystem is degrading and only large summer and fall flows restore the river channel attributes that are needed for a properly functioning and resilient ecosystem.
“Rehabilitation of the Rio Grande requires understanding the delicate balance between river flows and sediment that is transported through the river corridor,” said Jack Schmidt, Chief of the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, who is working cooperatively with the USGS Texas Water Science Center and other partners to better understand the dynamics of the river. “The USGS is leading efforts to measure the stream flows and associated sediment transport that are fundamental to understanding how the river has changed and how it can be restored.”
“In nature, each species plays its part in a healthy and resilient ecosystem,” said Aimee Roberson, FWS Biologist and Project Leader for the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative – Rio Grande Watershed Project. “We are taking a cue from nature and how ecosystems function as we work together to accomplish shared conservation goals. We are creating a synergy that is greater than the sum of our collective efforts if we were acting alone.”