1. The Rio Grande Corridor at Buckman is an extraordinary place full of cultural and natural history. Located approximately 15 miles west from downtown Santa Fe, Buckman represents one of the few places that the public can easily access the Rio Grande in Santa Fe County.
2. Because of its remoteness and easy access, Buckman unfortunately turned into a party destination and shooting range. In the late 90’s early 2000’s the people who used to enjoy the area for hiking, fishing, horseback riding, bird watch etc. were afraid to go there. It was a mess of invasive vegetation, garbage and glass shards from target shooting. It got so bad that even the trees were getting tagged.
3. The entire riparian area became a maze of spur roads for ORV’s, motorcycles and 4×4’s. All the beautiful spots by the Rio Grande became trashed out picnic areas.
4. The entire riparian area became a dump. Hundreds of illegal campfires and the remnants of picnics and parties made it difficult to enjoy the natural beauty of this extraordinary place.
5. It is unconscionable how so many people drawn to the natural beauty of this Buckman area, could treat it with such disrespect. Along with the visible garbage in this area there were millions of shards of broken glass. In this area alone, it took ten volunteers most of a day to clean up all the glass.
6. The Buckman Direct Diversion was built between 2008 and 2010 to bring Chama/San Juan Water to the City and County of Santa Fe in order to offset the ground pumping from the Buckman wellfields. It seemed to us that while all the stakeholders were convened, it would be a good opportunity to clean up and restore the riparian wetlands (bosque), restrict vehicle access, and turn it back into a safe place for wildlife and for people to enjoy. Rio Grande Return, the Thaw Charitable Trust and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation organized this initiative. This was the initial site visit to begin the process for what eventually became the “Rio Grande at Buckman Project Planning Recommendations” developed by SWCA Environmental Consultants in 2009. Pictured here in the foreground from left to right: Victoria Amato Natural Resource Planner SWCA, Jeremy Vesbach Executive Director New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Sandy Hurlocker District Ranger Espanola Ranger District USFS, John Bailey Assistant Field Manager Taos Field Office BLM, Brian Bader Senior Project Manager SWCA Environmental Consultants and a BLM law enforcement officer.
7. We received a River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (RERI) grant from the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Quality Bureau to implement the planning recommendations completed by SWCA. This grant included funds to complete the environmental assessment for both Buckman and Diablo Canyon. But before we could begin doing the actual restoration we needed to clean up the area. With the help of Steve Cary and Audubon NM we organized two clean up days. A group of amazingly devoted volunteers came out and helped us clean up over 4 tons of garbage.
Here Norma McCallan from the Sierra Club and Sarah Sisk from Rio Grande Return are shown amongst a pile of garbage that was collected in just a portion the riparian area south of the diversion.
9. A volunteer, Steve Cary of Audubon NM, and Alan Hamilton Executive Director of Rio Grande Return just outside the Buckman Diversion with another pile of garbage collected by the volunteers.
10. Alan Hamilton Executive Director of Rio Grande Return and Rich Schrader Executive Director of River Source getting ready to take some of the garbage collected by the volunteers to the dump.
11. The historic Buckman site along the Rio Grande had become a literal dump. Mattresses, beds, sofas, tires, diapers, and thousands of beer cans and bottles were dumped throughout the area. For the second clean-up day Santa Fe County brought out a dumpster and several recycling bins to help make the process easier for the volunteers.
12. This photo was taken only a week after the volunteers had spent hours cleaning up the area. It became more evident than ever that without fences to restrict vehicles to a limited parking area, and without some law enforcement, we were fighting a losing battle.
13. In March of 2013 the environmental assessment was finalized by the USFS and BLM and a restoration crew led by Jim Matison from WildEarth Guardians was hired to start the forestry work of clearing out the invasive salt cedar, Russian olive and Siberian elm that had grown in over the years and choked out most of the native riparian trees and shrubs.
14. This turned out to be a momentous task because much of the area needing to be restored was an almost impenetrable mess of invasive trees.
15. Acre by acre progress was made using an excavator to help clear the way for the sawyers and laborers who then cut and chipped the trunks and branches. Great care was given to identifying and preserving what remained of the native understory.
16. The biomass from all the cut and chipped material was used on the trails and spread out evenly throughout restoration area.
17. In the distance you can see in this photo shows how thick the invasive trees had become and how incredibly difficult it was to clear. There were still a few mature cottonwoods and some New Mexico Olive and Coyote Willow that had managed to survive.
18. Some of the taller Siberian elms were collared and killed so they wouldn’t remain a seed source but were left standing as snags for birds to roost and nest in.
19. A crew from Rocky Mountain Youth Corps was hired to help spread the chipped biomass.
20. Cottonwood and Coyote Willow poles were harvested from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Here the newly harvested poles are soaking in the Rio Grande prior to being planted.
21. After the forestry work was completed – the invasive trees removed and masticated – we came back with an auger and drilled holes 8 feet deep to the water table. This allowed us to plant the cottonwood and willow poles deep enough so they would stay wet and eventually root.
22. Todd Caplan from GeoSystems Analysis Inc., and Karen Menetrey Director of the River Ecosystems Restoration Initiative, planting a cottonwood pole. With the funding from RERI we were able to do the environmental assessment for both the Buckman and Diablo Canyon areas. Additionally, we had funding to clear and replant 9 acres of riparian wetlands 900 cottonwood poles and 2,000 coyote willow.
23. The SB foundation funded some additional work including the replanting of 250 cottonwoods in 2014 and the materials for fencing to protect the young cottonwoods from beaver.
24. With the conservation donations received from the sale of Rio Grande Return gift boxes, we were able to put up some pipe fencing across one of the arroyos used by motorcycles and ORV’s to illegally access the area. This fencing was torn down within two weeks. However, the Buckman Board approved some additional funding and built a more robust fence that has been successful in limiting vehicles from accessing the restoration areas. Consequently, there is little new trash and the restoration projects are thriving.
25. We included a vault toilet in the environmental assessment but the USFS was reluctant to build it for fear of it being vandalized. But the fencing and increased enforcement at the area has completely changed the culture from a notorious party spot to a valued recreation area. This couldn’t have happened without the help and perseverance of the USFS, BLM and the Buckman Board.
26. Rio Grande Return successfully submitted a proposal through NMED River Stewards program and began phase II of this project in 2015. This phase included clearing more invasive trees and planting 5000 coyote willows and 300 cottonwoods on the BLM property on the north end of the Buckman riparian area. Rio Grande Return again contracted with the restoration crew from WildEarth Guardians and a YCC crew for this especially challenging phase of the project.
27. This project was complicated because we couldn’t get the heavy equipment to the northern end of the project area without damaging the historic Chile Line. This section was completely overgrown with Russian olive that had to be cut and hauled out by hand. Here you can see some of the YCC crew hauling out some of the large diameter pieces by hand. All of the branches were stacked in big piles which the BLM fire crew eventually burned. Afterwards the area was reseeded and is coming back nicely.
28. After carrying these heavy pieces up to the trail by hand, they then had to be taken down stream another ¼ mile by wheelbarrow to where they were loaded into a dump truck and removed from the site.
This is an aerial photo of Buckman showing some of the smoke from when the BLM fire crew burned the huge piles of branches on the northern end of the project area.
30. This is an example of how we replanted area along the bank of the Rio Grande. This area was mostly salt cedar and Russian Olive and here you can see all the bundles of native coyote willow and the cottonwoods that will eventually mature into a native bosque.
31. Some of these cottonwoods are already 15’ to 20’ tall and all the coyote willow poles are now fully mature creating important bird habitat and armoring the bank of the Rio Grande.
32. River Source has continued to do the necessary monitoring the and have transects in several different parts of the project areas. They also have established many photo points with before and after photos that help monitor the progress.
Here it the tree that Karen Menetrey planted in 2013.
34. Here is Karen’s tree in 2016. The SB Foundation has helped fund ongoing maintenance of the restoration. Here in the foreground are a couple Russian Olive re-sprouts that have been cut down. Eventually the native trees and understory will be well established and able to outcompete the non-native vegetation.
Much of the area has been successfully reseeded as well.
36. Between the River Ecosystem Restoration Buckman I project, the River Stewards Buckman Restoration II project, and the mitigation work provided by GeoSystems Analysis Inc. on behalf of the Buckman Board, all the riparian wetlands on the entire east side of the Rio Grande at Buckman have now been restored!
37. As the riparian forest begins to mature we are starting to see more diverse species of wildlife returning to the area.
38. The trails going upstream along the historic Chile Line are now safe and easily accessible.
39. This is the historic Chile Line trail that follows the Rio Grande upstream to the boundary of San Ildefonso Pueblo. There is also a trail that runs downstream along the Rio Grande for several miles before heading up to Caja del Rio on the Soda Springs trail.
40. The trail head to get up Buckman Mesa and Otowi Peak is a bit hard to find but there are several maps available online to help you find it.
41. The Buckman restoration has been successful because of all the different people and agencies that came together to make it work. Buckman represents the epitome of public/private partnerships. Thank you all for making this a successful project and helping restore this extraordinary place.