Fort makes significant contributions to recover endangered species
January 14, 2011
By Amy Sunseri
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Due to the efforts of Fort Huachuca's Environmental and Natural Resources Division, a rare plant, the Huachuca water umbel, can now be found in three more sites along the San Pedro River.
The plant, which looks like grass, is an herbaceous, semi-aquatic perennial with bright green leaves that are hollow and grow straight up from creeping roots. The leaves are often one to two inches high, but may reach up to eight inches in favorable conditions. In the late 90s, it was listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. Since then, the ENRD has been working to recover the plant.
The Huachuca water umbel is found in isolated sites in southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico. On post, the Huachuca water umbel is primarily located in Garden Canyon. Off post, the plant can be found locally in various sites along the San Pedro and Babocomari rivers.
Due to the fort's efforts, there are now 32 new plants located at Murray Springs, 16 plants at Frog Springs, and 16 plants at Horse Thief Draw. Since the plant can only be found at roughly 17 sites within its range, the introduction of plants at three new sites is a big step.
The plant was first identified in the Huachuca Mountains, hence the name "Huachuca" water umbel. "The population at one time was probably continuous when the permanently flowing rivers in this area were more extensive. Now it's found in isolated riparian areas which makes it more vulnerable to extinction," explained Tom Runyon, ENRD hydrologist.
"The goal of ENRD's efforts is to not only protect the Huachuca water umbel but to also enhance its population and eventually have it taken off the Endangered Species Act list," Runyon said, noting it will be years before that happens.
Since the plant was listed under the ESA, ENRD has been working hard to comply with the act. One of the fort's efforts is the off-road vehicle policy.
"One of the purposes of that policy is to protect sensitive areas that may be home to endangered species," Runyon stated. The fort has also placed boulders around areas in Garden Canyon where the Huachuca water umbel is found so people don't drive into those areas.
"We do things that help, so that we don't further harm the species," Runyon added.
As well as monitoring the plant on post the ENRD also looks at the fort's impact on the species off post because it is still possible for the post to harm the plant's habitat along the San Pedro River through the fort's use of ground water, according to Runyon.
"Basically the idea is the whole hydrologic system in this area, surface water and ground water, are tied together. If you [Fort Huachuca] pump ground water from the regional aquifer, you can actually reduce flow to the San Pedro River," Runyon explained.
That pumping of ground water can have an effect on the river which in turn affects the Huachuca Water Umbel. That's why the fort has made several efforts over the years to try to quantify their impacts.
Fort Huachuca works with the Bureau of Land Management to monitor the situation as well as other federal, state and local entities to make sure the fort's impacts are not degrading the river system, Runyon explained.
"The goal of the endangered species act is to recover those species that may be on the brink of extinction. So it's not enough just to protect them, you want to try to enhance their populations and habitat," Runyonm said.
Biologists on post are currently looking at ways to enhance the habitat on the fort and try to recover the Huachuca water umbel. One idea is to grow the species in a green house and then plant it at locations that can be favorable for growth. So far it looks like the fort's efforts and new populations of Huachuca water umbel will help improve the status of this endangered species.
"The ultimate goal would be to have a population that is resilient enough and found in a large enough number of locations that the species can be de-listed. In other words, it no longer needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act," Runyon added.