Saturday, November 24, 2007

Road Trip NM - Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Preserve

Bird watchers flocking south to catch the annual return of the cranes this year can expect to find new bird-watching blinds, hiking trails and other accommodations at the state’s Ladd S. Gordon waterfowl management area in Bernardo.

“It’s a neat little place, quiet, out of the way and a great spot for the public to view wildlife,” says Mike Gustin, Assistant Chief of the state Department of Game and Fish’s Conservation Services Division.

Every winter the 60,000-acre Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, located about 20 miles south of Socorro, attracts and serves as home to thousands of migrating cranes, ducks and geese.

The state’s mission at the waterfowl complex south of Belen is to minimize the impact of those visiting waterfowl by providing habitat and enough grain to feed about half of the estimated 40,000 cranes and geese that arrive each year.

By providing feed and habitat to the wildfowl, the state helps cut down on damage to surrounding farmers crops and fields, provides opportunities for bird hunters, helps disperse flocks to minimize the spread of disease and provides sanctuary and breeding grounds, Gustin says.

Gustin noted that the birds can be especially destructive for farmers who have planted alfalfa and winter wheat or still have red chile standing in the field.
“Cranes just love red chile,” Gustin said. “So we try and bring them to us so they’re not eating on private land.”

The complex is comprised of four parcels totaling about 5,800 total acres with three separate farms, three ponding areas and public accommodations at the Bernardo farm.

Over a million pounds of crops such as corn, milo, alfalfa and winter wheat are grown each year on the farms to attract the birds. Workers leave crops standing in the fields and then cut them down in measured order to attract and feed the wildfowl.

The birds are adept at finding food and have learned to find the free and easy meals as well as secure overnight accommodations at the state’s three farms in the valley.

The state also helps coordinate with bird hunters by steering them to private farms in the area where waterfowl are causing damage.

The birds in turn learn to steer clear of the hunters and in many cases settle upon the state’s farms for safety, Gustin says.

“They can be moved as easily as cattle,” Gustin said of the waterfowl.

Visitors to the Bernardo farm will find a three-mile, auto-tour route that winds its way through the farm, three elevated viewing platforms, a clean toilet, and plenty of wildlife to view. Picnic tables are slated to be installed soon too.

During a recent visit, deer could be seen grazing among the many cranes, geese, ducks and other birds resting, feeding and flying about the farm’s fields.

“It’s pretty cool when the cranes arrive, “ says Larrame Hammer, 28, who works and lives at the farm with his wife, Samantha, and their two young children, Latisha and Larrado. “But I’ll be ready for them to go in about two months. They get up mighty early.”

During a tour of the farm Hammer points out the standing fields of corn and notes how the birds will follow the farm tractor when it gets to cutting.

“As soon as they hear that sound, they’ll come in,” he said.

Hammer is following in the footsteps of his father who also lived and worked at the farm when Larrame was a youngster.

“I lived here for about a year in the first grade,” he says. “My Dad grew up across the river in Veguita.”

His father, Fritz Hammer, would later transfer to the Game and Fish hatchery in Glenwood Springs and then to another wildfowl farm down in Artesia where Larrame grew up and met his wife.

“I was teaching a wildlife class for the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and she was in it,” he says with as broad smile.

Samantha said she likes living on the farm because it’s a good environment for their kids to grow up in.

“They can run around and I don’t have to worry about them too much,” she said. “We don’t have to deal with a lot of things people in town do.”

Hammer said he hopes to continue following in his father’s footsteps by replacing him when he retires from his job as Assistant Manager at the Seven Rivers Waterfowl Management area outside of Artesia.

“All of our family lives down there, so it would be nice,” he said.
Hammer and other workers have been working hard to get the new bird watching blinds in place in time for the Festival of the Cranes in mid-November, says Dave Wilson, Farm Manager.

The festival is in its 20th year of celebrating the return of the cranes with a wide variety of activities from Nov. 13 through the 18th including exhibits and demonstrations at the Bosque del Apache over the weekend. For more information go to Friends of the Bosque.

The farm at Bernardo will host an open house on Saturday, Nov. 17th with staff on hand to greet the public, Wilson said.

Workers are also slated in the upcoming weeks to install a series of interpretive signs at selected spots along walking trails at the Bernardo farm to provide visitors information including details about the wildfowl and wildlife in the area.
Mule deer, coyotes, raccoons, quail, pheasants, owls, hawks and a variety of songbirds are commonly found throughout the farmlands.

The farm at Bernardo is normally is open to public during routine business hours and there is no fee to enter and enjoy the scenery. For more info see the department’s website at Wildlife.

The Ladd S. Gordon waterfowl complex is named in memory of former director of the state Department of Game and Fish fromn1963 to 1975. He was a World War II Navy veteran who received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of New Mexico in 1949 before starting his career with Game and Fish. He worked his way up through the ranks serving as a patrolman, conservation officer, researcher, area supervisor, chief of law enforcement and information and education and finally director, according to information posted at

Following his retirement, Gordon worked with the National Rifle Association and Ducks unlimited. Gordon is regarded as a leading conservationist for his time, according to a state Game and Fish brochure for the waterfowl complex.

If You Go: From Santa Fe head south on I-25 through Albuquerque past Belen towards Socorro. Get off at the Bernardo/Mountainair exit at US 60. Loop around and under the interstate and head back north of the frontage road, State Road 304, located on the east side of the freeway. Follow the signs to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl complex. At the railroad tracks stop, look and listen for approaching trains and then cross over to the farm. About 120 miles one-way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NM News - Gila and Cutthroat Restoration Updates

New Mexico Game Commissioners at a Nov. 1, 2007 meeting in Raton where problems with the state Game and Fish Department's native trout restoration projects were revealed.

The state Department of Game and Fish’s efforts to restore Gila and cutthroat trout to portions of their native territory has been marred by setbacks including the use of an impotent poison to try and kill off non-native fish in one stream and the apparent restocking of another with impure, native fish.

State game commissioners were advised of the problems during their most recent meeting in Raton on Nov. 2, 2007.

Department officials discovered during a recent follow-up inspection of Comanche Creek in the Valle Vidal that at least 25 fish had survived attempts to eradicate all fish from the stream this summer, reported Mike Sloan, Chief of the Fisheries Division of the state Department of Game and Fish.

The creek’s fish population underwent unlimited angler harvesting, physical removal through electro-shocking and then an application of the chemical rotenone to poison any remaining fish before the sterile creek could be restocked the following year with pure-strain, native, Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

The effort is part of an overall, restoration scheme to remove any non-native fish from most waters throughout the region and reintroduce the native cutthroat back into its historic habitat.

The plan is expected to reduce threats to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout’s survival and eliminate the need for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act which could result in land use and sport fishing restrictions.

Sloan told game commissioners that department officials were surprised to see any fish remaining in the stream. He speculated that perhaps the small fish had survived because at the time of the treatment they had yet to spawn, were hidden deep within a gravel bed and possibly protected by a fresh supply of spring water to ward off the poison.

A cutthroat trout caught by the author in Comanche Creek of the Valle Vidal sometime in the early 1990s.

Sloan said two fish seen in the stream during the follow-up inspection were thought to have escaped and their continued existence poses a problem for the department, as it wants to reintroduce a pure strain of trout to those waters.

After Sloan gave his presentation to commissioners, Jim Baker, Wildlife Manager for Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, which is located next door to the Valle Vidal, reported yet another problem with the cutthroat reintroduction effort on its property.

Baker said a shipment of cutthroat trout provided by state Game and Fish to the ranch several years ago to replace trout in a cleared out section of Costilla Creek is now thought to have been “contaminated.”

“We’ve seen a lot of hybrids in the upper stream,” he told commissioners.

Sloan responded that the department’s cutthroat rearing hatchery at Seven Spring from which the load of tainted trout had originated could be the culprit as rainbow eggs were used to test the facility before it came online.

Cutthroat and rainbow trout can crossbreed to produce a hybrid known as a cut-bows and it’s possible some such fish hatched and later made it into that load.

Sloan said the department would “make it right” with Vermejo Park Ranch before proceeding with any other reintroduction plans on the private ranch.

Turner has long pursued his own wildlife conservation and reintroduction efforts on his private ranches and is cooperating with state Game and Fish officials to reintroduce the cutthroat throughout the shared watershed in the Valle Vidal area.

After Baker’s remarks, another department official reported to commissioners that there was yet another problem with reintroduced native trout, this time in the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico.

A Gila trout.Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Dr. David Probst, Native Fish Biologist with the state Department of Game and Fish told commissioners that they have since discovered brown trout in the recently treated upper west fork of the Gila River.

“A few browns survived and reproduced and have spread throughout the system,” he said.

Probst blamed a batch of “poor quality” antimycin used to chemically clear the steam of fish for the problem.

Probst said in an interview after the hearing that antimycin is a bacteria derivative grown in a lab and the batch they used was found long after it had been used to have had substandard potency.

Probst explained that the difference between the two pisticides, antimycin and rotenone, is that the first breaks down rapidly and requires less to use while the latter, which is derived from a plant root, has longer life and requires a greater amount.

Their uses are dictated by conditions such as the amount of water to be treated, its location, temperature, turbidity and other factors.

“Sounds like there’s been a lot of complications,” Commissioner Dutch Salmon, said following Probst’s remarks. He and fellow commissioner, Jim McClintic, both voiced reservations about chemically re-treating streams a second time due to the controversy surrounding such work.

Both Sloan and Probst said after the meeting that they intend to weigh their options and see what course of action they can take to get their programs back on track.
Officials are striving to obtain a sterile environment in which they can reintroduce native cutthroats so they can rule out the possibility of cross breeding with rainbows and eliminate competition from hardier breeds such as brown trout, both introduced breeds of fish.

In other action the board approved a measure create a special bag limit of two Gila trout so the department can use Gila trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s fish hatchery near Mora to stock Gila waters with the native fish and allow anglers to catch and keep them.

Gila trout dart about in a holding tank at the US Fish and Wildlife Service's fish hatchery in Mora, NM.

The hatchery produces an estimated two to three thousand excess Gila trout each year from its rearing population of pure strain Gila trout. About 300 brood stock of 12-inches or more are scheduled to be stocked in the Forks area area of the Gila rivers in upcoming weeks.

See related story for more info on the Gila trout recovery and restoration project. Also see related story regarding the Rio Grande cutthroat restoration project on the Valle Vidal.

Originally published Nov. 7, 2007 in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Road Trip NM - Paliza Canyon, Jemez Mountains

Wren Propp and Karl Moffatt are the first to wed at the newly remodeled Paliza Group Campground in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico with Rev. Milton Propp officiating on Sept. 29, 2007.
Towering red rock cliffs, cool ponderosa pines and a brand new, covered pavilion make the newly remodeled Paliza group shelter in the Jemez Mountains the perfect place for a wedding, family reunion or large camping party.

Tucked away in the Santa Fe National Forest’s Jemez Ranger District canyon off State Road 290 above the village of Ponderosa the group shelter and adjacent family campground have been closed for remodeling for the last four years.

But with construction and final inspections recently completed, the campsite and group shelter will be now available for the next camping season.

“It was heavily used before for weddings, family reunions, by moon worshippers, all sorts of groups,” said Joan Hellen, landscape architect for the Santa Fe National Forest. “It should be even more popular now with all the improvements.”

Hellen, designer of the project, said the renovation work has provided improved vehicle access, brought in new site and unit amenities and meet accessibility guidelines without compromising the character of the landscape.

The group shelter and campground now has a large covered pavilion with an oversized grill and a serving table. Trails from the surrounding campsites to the pavilion helps minimize the need for vehicular traffic within the area.

There are 16 campsites surrounding the pavilion in an area called “Owl Loop”, five of which are double sites which can accommodate up to two vehicles and feature two picnic tables per site.

A lower section of the group campground designated “Red Tail Loop” features eight “walk-in” campsites, three of which are doubles featuring dual picnic tables and large, graveled tent platform areas.

“And the views to the red cliffs here are amazing,” Hellen added.

The group campground sits atop a hill with views of the Jemez Valley below and was originally a depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps base camp, Hellen said.
The renovation replaced the site’s vintage Forest Service wooden, pit toilets and picnic tables with newer, better units. Each site also features a metal post with arms from which lanterns and other items can be hung.

“They’re there to keep people from hammering nails into the trees to hang things,” Helen said.

Work at the adjacent Family Campground just up Forest Road 10 from the group shelter and campgrounds retained and reinforced three, rustic, CCC built rock and timber, three-sided shelters while also increasing the number and size of campsites and maintaining walk-in sites across Vallecitos creek.

Water will be supplied to the Paliza group and family campgrounds but there are no electricity or sewer hookups available.

A “host” site with its own shelter including water, electricity and sewer line vault has also been installed at the family campground and the District is looking for someone to staff it next year, said Derek Padilla, Acting Recreational Staff Officer for the Jemez Ranger District in Jemez Springs.

Anyone interested in serving as the volunteer host at the newly renovated family campground can contact him at the office at (505) 829-3535.

Hosts live rent-free, on-site in exchange for performing routine maintenance and other tasks related to the campground’s operation such as assisting guests.

“We’re looking for folks with good people skills,” he said.

Padilla said the two campsites should be available for online reservations starting Jan. 1, 2008. Visit the at Fe National Forest website Santa for more information.

Half the sites at the Family Campground will be available for reservations online while the group shelter can be had in its entirety or can be split up to accommodate up to two groups at a time with one group using the pavilion and the upper “Owl Loop” campsites while another group can use just the lower “Red Tail Loop” walk-in, tent sites.

Check the online reservation site for more information regarding fees and availability, Padilla said.
Those who find the online reservation service doesn’t satisfy their needs can contact Padilla at the Jemez Ranger District for further assistance.

Padilla said recreational activities in the Paliza Canyon area of the Jemez Mountains include sightseeing. He said the views of the Valles Caldera and the Sandia Mountains that can be found from Cerro Pelado are striking on a good day. The mountaintop lookout can be found by taking Forest Road 10 north out of the campground and then heading east on Forest Road 270.

Those who are more adventuresome and equipped with a high-clearance, four wheel drive vehicle can find another strikingly, scenic overlook by taking Forest Road 266 north out of the campground and heading southeast to above the Tent Rocks National Monument near Cochiti Pueblo.

Visitors to the campgrounds can also stop at the nearby village of Ponderosa and visit the local bar and for beer, ice and inquire of the proprietor about the village’s legendary blond haired, blue eyed descendants of early Spanish settlers.
Visitors to the village can also sample locally produced wines at the Ponderosa Valley Vineyard & Winery where Shannon Grenier says she’s looking forward to the reopening of the group shelter and campgrounds.

“It’s a little piece of paradise up there,” she says. “And we have so many people looking for camping in the fall and early winter because of our warmer weather here. There’s the balloon-a-tics, the cyclists, you wouldn’t believe how many people are on vacation this time of year. It’ll be great for business when they finally open that back up.”

Paul "Dino" Sarrategui of Chelmsford Mass., who served as Karl Moffatt's best man, found a little time before the ceremony to get in some fishing on the Guadalupe River just a few miles upstream of the Paliza Group Campgrounds.
Hellen and Padilla said the family campground couldn’t be utilized this fall due to a lack of a campground host, a finished water system and ongoing road construction.
A number of issues contributed to the project’s lengthy construction process, Hellen said, including a two-phase bidding, award and construction process required by budgetary limitations. And construction crews who typically work during the summer season lost several months of work due to administrative delays.

But now that the work is finally done and the campgrounds are slated to come back online in the spring, Hellen expects campers to find their way into Paliza Canyon for a quiet, scenic and memorable stay.

The Jemez Ranger District’s next project will involve renovating the San Antonio campgrounds near the village of La Cueva on the road to Fenton Lake, Hellen said.

Editor's Note: Karl Moffatt and Wren Propp had to obtain a special use permit from the USDA Forest Service to use the Paliza Group Campground for their scheduled September, 29, 2007 wedding. The campground was completed but still closed at the time. Special thanks to then Acting Jemez Ranger District Ranger, Mary Bean, for her approval of the permit and NM Rep. Tom Udall and Sen. Pete Domenici for their assistance in navigating the process.

If You Go:

From Santa Fe head north on US84/285 to Pojoaque and take State Road 502 to White Rock and then follow State Road 4 up the mountains and past the Valle Caldera and down through Jemez Springs, continue by the Walatowa Visitors Center and then turn onto State 290 to Ponderosa and follow Forest Road 10 to the campgrounds. About 90 miles. An alternative route involves heading south on I-25 to Bernalillo and taking State Road 550 west to the State Road 4 turnoff at San Ysidro, passing through Jemez Pueblo and turning at State Road 290 to Ponderosa and Forest Road 10 to the campgrounds. About 80 miles.

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