COS 125-7 - Bringing back the Big Bend reach of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo:  Lessons learned and implications for involving riverside citizens

Friday, August 7, 2009: 10:10 AM
Grand Pavillion I, Hyatt
Mark K. Briggs , Acting Director, Las Cruces Office, World Wildlife Fund, Las Cruces, NM
Carlos A. Sifuentes , Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, Soltillo, Mexico
Joe Sirotnak , Science and Resource Management, Big Bend National Park, Big Bend, TX
Background/Question/Methods: The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo defines the entire US-Mexico border in the Texas-Chihuahua/Coahuila region.  The combined influences of over-allocation of river water, river impoundment, contamination, invasion of non-native species, and the potential overarching affects of climate change have altered streamflow, channel morphology, and significantly reduced the diversity, extent, and distribution of native species throughout much of this reach of the Rio Grande.  Although the Rio Grande as a border receives attention, it is only recently that attention has been paid to the Rio Grande as a river.  Over the last eight years, the World Wildlife Fund, Big Bend National Park, Comisión Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and over twenty other agencies, institutions, and organizations from both sides of the US-Mexico border have been conducting a variety of activities to improve ecological conditions along the Big Bend portion of this river for native flora and fauna and the well-being of riverside citizens.  Conservation efforts to date have focused on collecting data to better understand current ecological conditions, understanding climatic trends, developing hydrologic models, conducting on-the-ground rehabilitation efforts to remove non-native plants and reestablish pre-dam channel morphologic conditions, establishing environmental flow, and monitoring ecological change. 

Results/Conclusions: Implementing these activities over the last eight years has provided a strong foundation for gauging the effectiveness of these efforts, lessons learned, and how to best apply these lessons to the future. Some of the main lessons include the importance of: i) binational collaboration and the participation of divergent disciplines, ii) developing long-term rehabilitation goals that are supported by a diverse binational team and strong science, iii) preproject planning that is based on a sound understanding of current ecological conditions, iv) prioritization strategies that allow effective focus of meager resources, v) monitoring to evaluate how well project objectives are being achieved, and v) involving riverside human communities in conservation activities. Our presentation will review the bi-national Big Bend effort and the lessons learned thus far, with emphasis on the challenges of involving riverside citizens and how to design conservation efforts in a manner that draws a direct link between ecology and the well-being of riverside human communities.  Along this reach of the Rio Grande, where economic conditions have deteriorated significantly (e.g., close of border tourism resulting in loss of revenue), any involvement of riverside citizens requires attention to how conservation efforts relate directly to their economic well-being.

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