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By Joelle Marier, Grassroots Organizer
New Mexico WILD!, Volume 12, Fall/Winter 2015

Did you know the deserts of the Southwest are some of the most wildlife-rich areas in the United States? The wild lands outside of Carlsbad are no exception. Despite extensive oil and gas development, a unique combination of desert rivers, salt playas, desert grasslands, caves, canyons, and forests supplies a surprising abundance of habitat for an astonishing diversity of life.

AplomadoFalcon trans bckgrndDesert Rivers
Desert rivers serve as literal oases for local wildlife amid a predominantly arid landscape. Riparian areas along the Pecos River, Black River, and Delaware River support a wide array of species ranging from fish, mollusks, and butterflies to amphibians, mammals, and birds. The Delaware River alone houses more than 20 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sensitive species and has been designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society for the vast number of resident and migratory birds it sustains. For endangered, threatened, and special status species such as the Texas hornshell mussel, Bell’s vireo, and plainbelly watersnake these desert rivers offer crucial habitat necessary for their productivity and, at times, survival.

Chihuahuan Desert
Don’t let its sparse facade fool you, the Chihuahuan Desert is bursting with life! A plethora of reptiles, like the western diamondback rattlesnake, mottled rock rattlesnake, and dunes sagebrush lizard call the Chihuahuan Desert home. Predator species, such as the endangered Aplomado falcon and kit fox, also find prime hunting grounds in desert open space. In the microclimate of desert springs, endangered reptiles and amphibians, such as the Pecos western ribbon snake and eastern barking frog, share habitat with rare birds like the green heron and varied bunting.

Cave and karst resources provide an integral habitat link for many wildlife species here. Migratory species like the cave swallow and Mexican free-tailed bat utilize the natural protection of the cave environment to raise their young. During the winter months the temperature-controlled cave environment offers would-be surface dwellers a necessary refuge. Over 350 species of birds and 17 species of bats have been documented around the caverns of southeastern New Mexico.

Guadalupe Mountains
Habitat extremes in the Guadalupe Mountains contribute a necessary contrast for area wildlife. Rugged topography and winding, steep-walled canyons offer protection and habitat for game species such as mule deer, elk, javalina, and Barbary sheep while adjacent rolling grasslands supply an abundance of grass species for forage. Carnivores such as cougar, bear, and desert coyote also call the Guadalupes home. At last count, the Guadalupe system provided habitat for 60 species of mammals, 289 species of birds, and 55 species of reptiles.

Keeping Carlsbad Wild for Wildlife
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is currently working to gain protection for important wildlife habitat in the Carlsbad area through the Carlsbad BLM Field Office Resource Management Plan revision process. Successful protection of these areas through recognition of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics and designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern will help support area wildlife and preserve the unique natural and cultural resources found here. For more information about how you can be involved in saving space for southeast New Mexico wildlife add your name to our Carlsbad wild lands supporters list.

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Photo Gallery: Southeast New Mexico's Wild Chihuahuan Desert