The Malpai Borderlands Group hosted our annual Science Conference on January 8th in the Cochise College Little Theater at the Douglas Campus. Bill McDonald, our Executive Director and a member of our Board, extended a warm welcome to those in attendance, noting that this year’s conference was the 14th that we have held.
We dedicated our conference this year to Charles W. Painter, who recently retired as herpetologist for the Endangered Species Program at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Charlie’s longtime colleague and collaborator Cecil Schwalbe read a short tribute, citing Charlie’s efforts to advance research and management of herpetofauna in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, as well as his history of working effectively with the broad spectrum of stakeholders in our Malpai Borderlands.
Approximately half of our program this year was devoted to catching up with the results of some of our collaborators who have been working in the Mexico portion of our borderlands region. However, logistics dictated that the first presentation this year was provided digitally by Jessica Parker, of New Mexico Highlands University. Jessica revisited our long-term research project on McKinney Flats on the Diamond A Ranches. Her work described the complex interactions between rainfall, primary production and small herbivores during the first years of the 21st century--years in which annual precipitation varied dramatically from year to year.
Transitioning to Mexico, Jed Meunier reported the results of his dissertation research at Colorado State University examining the interaction of climate and periodic fire on regeneration in the forests of the Sierra San Luis and Sierra Madre south of us in Chihuahua and Sonora. Citlali Cortés Montaño from the University of Durango followed with a broader look at the forests of northwestern Mexico, examining the relationships between history and fire disturbance on the overstory structure of old-growth forests in the mountains to the south of our border. In the last presentation of the morning, Matt Levi, one of our cooperators from the Jornada Experimental Range, described his work documenting the effects of variability in soils and climate on recent fire history in Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems.
After a lunch break, the program resumed with Chris Stetson, Fire Planner and Fuels Specialist with the Coronado National Forest. Chris presented a history of recent fire management, mitigation and restoration work. The Coronado has been an important collaborator in our efforts to restore periodic fire as a key element of our ecosystems in the Malpai Borderlands. However, like much of the West, we have experienced an increase in the size and intensity of wild land fires. As a result, the Forest Service has been forced to spend more of their limited resources on suppression and control, as well as on ramping up their forest restoration activities.
Returning to Mexico, Myles Traphagen, one of our key ecosystem science collaborators, described his work to examine the current status of the white-sided jackrabbit in its historic range in Mexico. This species is found in the United States only at the south end of the Animas and Playas valleys on the Diamond A Ranches and its status throughout its historic range in Mexico is uncertain. Myles’ initial investigations indicate the population in the United States is almost certainly genetically isolated from the nearest populations to the south of us in Chihuahua.
With the focus still on Chihuahua, Antonio Esquer brought us up to date on the collaborative conservation efforts of our longtime cooperators in the area of Janos, Chihuahua. Antonio described research and management activities on the 46,000-acre Rancho el Uno, as well as their outreach and education activities in the local community. Rancho el Uno is a key parcel in the 1.3 million-acre Janos Bioreserve. It is part of the largest remaining black-tailed prairie dog complex in North America. As part of the efforts to restore native grasslands and their biota, 26 bison imported from the U.S. were recently released. These animals will augment a small remnant native population that has been isolated from a larger group in the Playas Valley north of the border by the construction of the border fence along the international boundary with Mexico.
The final presentation of the day featured Rebekah Karsh who described her pioneering research on lamb mortality in desert bighorn sheep in the Peloncillo Mountains just north of our planning area. Rebekah was able to use emerging technology to detect parturition in bighorn ewes that had been radio collared and implanted with a vaginal transmitter. This allowed her to characterize preferred lambing habitat and to capture and radio collar newborn lambs. She was also able to characterize nursery habitat and identify sources of mortality among lambs in the first six months of their lives.
On January 7th, MBG staff and three of our board members met at the Malpai Ranch with members of our science advisory panel who were in attendance. We conducted a post-mortem on the conference the preceding day and discussed research needs identified by the MBG staff. We also had a very rewarding dialogue concerning ideas and themes for our 2016 Science Conference.
If you have questions, comments or suggestions about our science conference this year or ideas for future conferences, we would appreciate your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.