BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The New Mexico B.A.S.S. Nation (NMBN) has been awarded the 2017 Aquatic Ecosystems Restoration Foundation & Aquatic Plant Management Society grant for a project designed to improve bass habitat in Elephant Butte Reservoir.
Elephant Butte Reservoir returned to Bassmaster Magazine’s list of top Western reservoirs this year at Number 23 after suffering from several years of drought and extreme fluctuation, sometime as much as 100 feet per year. Earl Conway, NMBN conservation director, wondered if there was any way to give nature a hand and work around the fluctuation by encouraging the growth of native terrestrial vegetation and creating the “new lake effect” every year.
After six years of research and fieldwork by NMBN members and local high school biology classes, one plant emerged year after year that could tolerate the extreme conditions and provide suitable habitat for bass and forage fish. Using grants from Friends of Reservoirs Foundation and the Shimano/B.A.S.S. Youth Conservation Initiative, the Ruidoso High School science class confirmed that the Goodding Willow could survive submerged as deep as 20 feet for several months and also survive 20 feet above the water table the rest of the year.
Starting plants from seed was found to be a challenge because the seeds are only viable for a few days and conditions had to be just right for germination. However, the research team found that the willow is very easy to propagate using pole cuttings. The bad news was that the shallower, northern half of the reservoir where most of the willows grow is designated as “critical habitat” for the federally endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and cutting the willows is forbidden.
With the AERF-APMS grant, NMBN will establish permanent stands of Goodding willows on nearby public and private land where pole cuttings can be harvested every year at the right time of the year for volunteers to plant as the lake level drops for crop irrigation. Another experiment will use floating islands to grow willows in strategic spawning coves. The NMBN will also produce a planting guide that may help habitat enhancement projects on reservoirs in the six other western states where the willow is native.
About AERF-APMS: The Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation (www.aquatics.org) is a non-profit foundation committed to sustainable water resources through the science of aquatic ecosystem management in collaboration with industry, academia, government and other stakeholders. The Aquatic Plant Management Society (www.apms.org) is an international organization of scientists, educators, students, commercial pesticide applicators, administrators and concerned individuals interested in the management and study of aquatic plants. Together with B.A.S.S. Conservation, these organizations help promote the preservation and enhancement of fish habitat through the responsible management of aquatic vegetation and the control of invasive species.