By Elizabeth Lockyear
COCHITI LAKE, N.M. – Albuquerque District staff at the Cochiti project office joined forces with 62 student volunteers and seven adults from Cochiti Elementary School to plant 125 trees along the southern aspect of the Cochiti Recreation boat launch shoreline area, Feb. 17, 2017. New Mexico Game and Fish also conducted a water quality and fishing clinic for the students.
The trees are part of an effort to restore the area to more closely resemble what it was like before Cochiti Dam was built in the 1960s.
“The building of the dam was such a massive re-engineering of the riparian shoreline, that no trees have repopulated the area except Siberian elms and some salt cedar. In some ways the cottonwoods and willows are a first small step towards reconditioning the soil along the western area of the lake for a self-sustaining population,” said park ranger Nicholas Parks.
Cottonwoods and willows are important not only ecologically, they are also culturally significant to the Cochiti Tribe and can be found in a multitude of tribal uses and activities.
“The Cochiti community sees this as an opportunity to help make the space behind the dam a little more habitable for a world of living things that have struggled during the dam-building era to survive the changes. It gives the kids an opportunity to see how in small, simple ways, they can affect change in their world,” Parks said.
Part of the project’s success depends on if the trees survive. They face several challenges including heavy traffic, poor soil conditions, beavers, and the possibility of lake level deviations. Lake deviations that inundate the crowns of these trees for more than a week often kill all the living part of the trees above ground.
In other ways the project can already be considered a success.
“We are working together on a daily basis with Cochiti Pueblo to build a coalition of community partnership and cooperation, which benefits life and the natural environment, all park visitors, and all other stake-holders, including Cochiti Tribal members,” said Cochiti project manager Mark Rosacker. “This is an example which could help provide for better understanding and cooperation between Native American Tribes and the Corps nationwide. I truly believe that we are making a positive difference in the world through these efforts.”