Merriam’s of the Zuni Mountains

The Zuni Mountains, which lie to the west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, are situated in the Mount Taylor Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest and are the site of the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project.

The Zuni Mountains are full of game, including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, Merriam’s wild turkeys, black bears and mountain lions, and they’re also home to an endangered species of fish, the Zuni bluehead sucker.

“The area also is very resilient, and, today, we’re trying to remedy the impacts of decades of logging that took place without consideration for future forest conditions,” said Scott Lerich, NWTF’s senior regional biologist for Arizona and New Mexico.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

The project has grown from a start in 2010 with the $500,000 Bluewater Stewardship project on 997 acres to a project that is $9.7 million in value on 8,054 acres in New Mexico and 1,030 acres in Black Kettle National Grassland near Cheyenne, Oklahoma.

It involves clearing invasive species, such as ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees, leaving groups of trees that are more beneficial to wildlife and habitat and, through local partnerships, has created 45 to 50 jobs and a payroll of more than $1 million a year at the local sawmill.

Key partners include the Forest Service, the Mount Taylor Ranger District, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Forest Guild and the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute.

HEALTHY HABITAT

About 3,000 acres of trees remain to be cut and thinned on the Bluewater project, which encompasses the east side of the Zuni Mountains. The project then moves to the west side of Zuni Mountain and to Mount Taylor.

“This project could potentially go for another 10 to 20 years,” Lerich noted.

Black Kettle National Grasslands

Most of the Black Kettle National Grasslands — about 30,724 acres — are near Cheyenne, Oklahoma, and abuts the Texas Panhandle. The other 576 acres are just across the state line, near Canadian, Texas, and make up the Lake Marvin Recreation Area.

Part of the Cibola National Forest, the grasslands are an important piece of the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project. The work there is an extension of the Zuni Mountains enhancements, and the task on the grasslands is removing invasive woody plants, including Eastern red cedar and locust.

Gene Miller, NWTF’s regional biologist for West Texas and Oklahoma, explained the NWTF and its on-the-ground partners are using hand and mechanical cutting to remove the unwanted material.

To date, partners have treated nearly 900 acres of the national grasslands, a cooperative Wildlife Management Area with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The NWTF administers contracts to put work on the land, but all partners are involved, Miller noted.

“This project is beneficial for cattlemen, wildlife, sportsmen and for the health of the grasslands,” he said. “Citizens and sportsmen are talking about the work. People are noticing a difference on the land. It all starts with our dedicated members and volunteers raising dollars at local NWTF Hunting Heritage Super Fund banquets in Oklahoma.”

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