ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For District regulators, knowing a grass from a sedge is not just a trivial pursuit question. Jurisdictional wetlands are determined in part by what plants are present.
As the instructor said, in order to protect and restore, it’s important to know what’s there. Thus, being able to correctly identify wetland plants is critical in making wetland decisions.
As part of an ongoing series of collaborated training, the District reached out to other interested state and federal agencies such as the New Mexico Department of Transportation, Bureau of Reclamation and the New Mexico Environment Department.
“These interagency workshops not only provide valuable training, but are an opportunity for building relationships with regulatory partners and the regulated community,” said Chris Parrish, archaeologist in the District’s Regulatory Division. “And they're also just fun.”
Robert Sivinski, a botanical consultant who worked for 22 years as the botanist for the New Mexico Forestry Division and past-president of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, instructed a hands-on, three-day course, Aug. 16-18, 2016, to help the participants improve their skills in identifying New Mexico wetland plants.
New Mexico’s wetlands, while only a fraction of the state’s land at less than one percent, “are hugely important,” Sivinski said. Most wetlands are in the eastern and northern areas of the state. New Mexico's wetlands include forested wetlands, bottom-land shrub lands, marshes, fens, alpine snow glades, wet and salt meadows, shallow ponds, and playa lakes.
Wetlands play a big role in water quality, reduce the impacts and occurrence of floods, increase groundwater recharge, and provide critical habitat for many types of animals and birds.
The three day course started off in the classroom with information on wetland plant associations; available floras, field guides and other ID literature for wetlands in the Arid West, Great Plains and New Mexico/Arizona mountains. Sivinski then covered a short introduction to using a dichotomous key to identify plants to species level.
During the afternoon, Aug. 16, session participants traveled to the Kewa marsh at Santo Domingo Pueblo for hands-on experience.
“Kewa marsh is the best (maybe last) large natural spring fed wetland in the middle Rio Grande valley. It has riparian woodland, cienega, emergent marsh, and a floating spikerush bog,” Sivinski said.
The second day, Aug. 17, consisted of an all-day field trip. The first stop was an alkaline spring near San Ysidro, N.M., followed by a stop near Jemez Springs, N.M. That afternoon the group went to the Valles Caldera wet meadows.
The final day of the training was again in the classroom. Participants practiced identifying plants collected the previous day. Sivinski also presented more information on woody plants, grasses, sedges and rushes.
“This class was incredibly useful for staff who have limited wetland plant identification experience and was also a great refresher for staff who have significant experience,” said Marcy Leavitt, the New Mexico/Texas Branch Chief of the District’s Regulatory Division. “Collaborative trainings with other agencies helps to improve all of our skills and is an excellent way to foster good working relationships with key partners and permittees.”