Natural Resource Condition Assessments for Big Bend National Park

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program provides framework, funding, and publishing support to parks to aid in the synthesis and documentation of natural resource conditions. Condition assessment reports are a tool to describe selected park resources, and record a snapshot of their current condition, identify trends, and identify potential or current threats and stressors. Understanding the condition and trend of natural resources is key for parks and NPS planners to appropriately prioritize and allocate stewardship resources.

An aerial view of a visitor’s center in a valley surrounded by high peaks.
Spectacular view of the park.

NPS Photo

Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas. The Rio Grande runs adjacent to the park’s southern boundary, and also forms the border between the United States and Mexico. Big Bend is famous for its natural resources and spectacular geology.

The Park encompasses a wide variety of habitats, including deep canyons, grasslands, riparian habitats, and wetland areas found along the Rio Grande River. The park's varied array of habitats support more than 1,200 species of plants (including some 60 cacti species), 11 species of amphibians, 56 species of reptiles, 40 species of fish, 75 species of mammals, over 400 species of birds, and about 3,600 species of insects. The park boasts more types of birds, bats, butterflies, ants, scorpions, and cacti than any other national park in the United States.

Traditional NRCA Report: 2014

In an effort to better understand the natural resources and processes found within the Park, a Natural Resource Condition Assessment was written and published in 2014. This assessment was a collaborative effort between the National Park Service and St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. This team chose 21 resources to be evaluated:

- Fire

- Desert grasslands

- Spring habitats

- Rio Grande riparian community

- Montane forests and sky islands

- Birds

- Black bear

- Air quality

- Mountain lion

- Water quality

- Desert bighorn sheep

- Soundscape

- Bats

- Viewscape

- Macroinvertebrates

- Dark night skies

- Fish

- Hydrology and spring hydology

- Amphibians

- Soils

- Reptiles

Natural resource conditions at the park varied. Six components were considered to be in good condition: desert grasslands, birds, amphibians, reptiles, viewscape, and dark night skies. Only two components (montane forests/sky islands and bats) were of moderate concern. Eight components were deemed to be of high concern: fire, Rio Grande riparian community, desert bighorn sheep, macroinvertebrates, fish, air quality, water quality, and soils. The remaining five components were not assigned a condition score due to lack of data: spring habitats, black bear, mountain lion, soundscape and soils. Many of the park’s data needs involve the establishment of an annual monitoring program, as some of the park’s components have either outdated data or no data at all.

Several park-wide threats and stressors influence the condition of priority resources in Big Bend National Park. Those of primary concern include climate change, the presence of non-native species, habitat loss due to human activity, and alterations to the Rio Grande’s flow and water quality. Understanding these threats, and how they relate to the condition of these resources, can help the NPS prioritize management objectives and better focus conservation strategies to maintain the health and integrity of park ecosystems.

Other NRCA Publications

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    For other reports and natural resource datasets visit the NPS Data Store.

    Source: Data Store Collection 7765 (results presented are a subset). To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

    Last updated: August 15, 2022


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