It is an anniversary of sorts. Two years ago today, the perimeter fence around the 560-acre Placitas Open Space was completed in order to prevent further environmental degradation to this area, which had been overrun by free-roaming horses. Today, the POS is slowly recovering from the severe overgrazing and soil damage of those years.
I remember taking an out-of-town friend to the POS during the height of the horse incursion in 2012. The loss of vegetation, trampled creek banks, swaths of compacted dirt and sheet erosion, and massive piles of horse manure in Coyote Canyon and elsewhere were truly depressing. The once knee-high grasses along Las Huertas Creek were gone. It felt like we were walking in a feedlot.
In what turned out to be quite a battle, the efforts of a small group of local residents (the Let Our Land Rest group) to protect the POS eventually bore fruit and, with the help of the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division, the fencing was completed.
Mountain lion track in Placitas Open Space, February 7, 2016.
Two years later, it’s peaceful along the trails, with springtime flocks of Western bluebirds flitting among the junipers. Here and there, clumps of native grasses are tall enough to waft in the breeze. Mule deer tracks seen in Coyote Canyon last fall and mountain lion tracks spied in the Las Huertas Creek drainage three weeks ago tell us that large animals are moving quietly in the night through canyons and arroyos. Although recovery will take years, this beleaguered island of habitat that lies between roads, pipelines, gravel mines, and residential subdivisions is breathing again.
It’s good to take a moment to celebrate.
A trio of Crissal Thrasher eggs. Photo courtesy of Zane Dohner
A bird-watching neighbor who regularly walks the Placitas Open Space spotted this Crissal Thrasher nest in an old Russian olive tree in the bottom of Las Huertas Canyon. He got a photo of the fuzzy hatchlings a few days later.
Two hatchlings. Photo courtesy of Zane Dohner
It’s always entertaining to watch Crissal Thrashers as they zealously dig through dirt and leaf matter to snag spiders and other insects. They may be drably colored, but they make up for it with their intense eyes and that serious beak. You can hear their beautiful song here.
The elegant Crissal Thrasher. Photo credit: John J. Mosesso, National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII)
A thoughtful and pointed piece in today’s Albuquerque Journal from two long-time Placitas residents familiar with the ecology of the area, who wrote, in part:
“Rayburn interviewed newcomers to Placitas who are enthralled by the “magical” sight of free-roaming horses in the (open space) and the neighborhoods.
Better she should have spoken to anyone who has known the (open space) for 20-plus years and has seen the ecological devastation wreaked by the rapidly growing numbers of horses, which would never survive in this high desert region without being fed and watered by humans.”
You can read the full piece here.
I was going to post something after our hike in the Placitas Open Space today, but my wife’s email to some friends says it better than I could. Here it is along with a short video.
We took a long walk on the open space today. We hiked down from the NE gate, northwest along the creek basin, then south over the ridge and down to the relatively shady Coyote Canyon (former “horse central”) tucked under the pipeline hill. Then back to the ridgetop and east, emerging above the cliff where the great horned owls used to nest. We dropped down to the creek and looped back along the northeast bank, where much horse damage remains.
It was beautiful out there today. Carpets of green along much of the creek basin and a profusion of blooming desert marigold and blue trumpet, along with paintbrush, bluets, bladderpod, desert zinnia, spiny dogweed, wooly milk vetch, blackfoot daisy, plains flax, white milkwort, white-tufted evening primrose, purple carpet verbena, and blue grama, ring muhly and feather grasses.
We counted say’s phoebe, house finch, lark sparrow, turkey vulture, scrub jay, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, and mockingbird. On the flats above the owl nest, in one of the LPA nest boxes, were four fluffy young house finches napping. In a second box by the creek, no birds, but an elaborate nest, built mostly of reddish brown horse hair, soft as a pillow. A few plump cottontails, no horses.
We took photos and video of the heavily trampled horse hang-outs that are only starting to recover, a steep horse trail coming down off the ridge with clearly-linked erosion below, some cryptobiotic soil crusts that have managed to remain untrampled, and lots of green vegetation and wildflowers. It’s really peaceful on the POS right now and worth a visit while it’s so lush with wildflowers.
An ever-vigilant Open Space Trail Volunteer came across this bucket on the POS the other day. Looks like it may have been used to water horses illegally let onto the open space.
It can be claimed at the Albuquerque Police Department 🙂
Allowing the Placitas Open Space (POS) to recover from the ecological damage caused by feral horses in the last few years has been an ongoing struggle. The recently completed POS fencing is critical to that effort, as it keeps out horses and preserves the habitat for wildlife that lives in or travels this important wildlife corridor (grazing is not permitted on any Open Space managed by the City of Albuquerque).
Last Sunday, two Open Space Trail Volunteers were working on the fence line on the south side of the POS when they were accosted by folks who were upset that a new section of secondary fence would prevent any horses inside the POS from accessing a watering tank that sits just outside the POS. The verbal assault was so threatening that the volunteers called the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) for assistance. Continue reading
A Placitas Open Space (POS) certified trail volunteer discovered a section of cut fence on July 19, 2014. He estimated that it had been cut within 24 hours. This is the second time that section of fence has been vandalized.
The Open Space Trail Volunteer notified the City of Albuquerque Open Space and the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. The City dispatched a work crew to repair the fence within a couple days. While working on the fence the city crew was confronted by a neighbor. The encounter was so contentious that the crew foreman requested APD backup from the City of Albuquerque dispatch.
Mike Neas, Open Space Trail Volunteer, tells us how it went down.