Thanks to The Nature Conservancy, a serious, but avoidable, mistake in managing the Corrales Bosque Preserve may be reversed by summer.

Continuity of habitat for wildlife using the riverside forest will be restored over the next decade as a result of the wetlands project underway at the mouth of the Montoyas Arroyo.

The wide, barren stretch of land between the east end of the Harvey Jones Flood Control Channel and the Rio Grande is to be filled in with vegetation that will be irrigated with stormwater coming down the expansive Montoyas Arroyo watershed as well as treated effluent from one of Rio Rancho’s primary sewage treatment plants.

Fragmentation of the riverine habitat that stretches from  the Alameda Bridge to Rio Rancho’s “North Beach” at the north end of the village has been a serious deterrent to Corrales’ bosque preservation goals.

The late Corrales biologist Jim Findley, who initiated the Corrales Bosque Preserve in 1980 and was asked  by the Village to develop a management plan for it in 2008, warned repeatedly about recurring approved forest clearing projects that fragmented habitat. The largest of those by far was clearing for the outfall of the Jones Channel, but others such as fire breaks had an even greater cumulative effect over a wider area.

Findley, retired University of New Mexico biologist and 65-year resident of Corrales, explained every chance he got that the well-documented richness of the Village preserve’s wildlife assets was due largely to the fact that the woodlands on Corrales’ eastern edge were generally unbroken.

Maintaining the continuity and density of that habitat had been considered essential to the riverside forest’s value as a preserve until the Village’s fuelbreak proposals began getting approved  in 2010.

No Corrales-specific assessment of the results of such fuelbreaks on wildlife were conducted before or after the first project was carried out more than two years ago just north of the Boy Scout Bridge.

Channels have been excavated in the Corrales Bosque Preserve between the outfall of the Harvey Jones Flood Control Channel and the Rio Grande to distribute stormwater to the proposed ten-acre wetlands.

Major earthwork has been underway since early November to use not only stormwater from the vast Montoyas Arroyo watershed but also treated effluent from a Rio Rancho sewage plant on the edge of the arroyo  near Highway 528.

The project is a collaboration among the Village of Corrales, the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (SSCAFCA), the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the City of Rio Rancho and The Nature Conservancy.

(See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.2 March 6, 2021 “Stormwater, Treated Sewage Would Be Used for Bosque.”)

The Jones Channel has functioned as a storm drain carrying rain from Rio Rancho and Corrales into the floodplain of the river since the early 1990s. Deposited sediments over those years will be re-contoured and new earthen channels will be opened.  Removal of accumulated sediment will allow bosque vegetation to connect to groundwater resources helping to sustain cottonwood trees and other plants throughout the year.

Stormwater from the Montoyas Arroyo and the Lomitas Negras Arroyo watersheds will be slowed and diverted  through the proposed wetlands before emptying into the river. But an even more consistent and reliable supply of irrigation water will come from Rio Rancho’s sewage treatment plant.

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 That effluent would provide a perennial four to five million gallons a day.

The sewage treatment plant has operated with a discharge permit to send effluent to the river through a pipeline that runs along the flood control channel.

A grader, two front-end loaders and dump trucks worked the riverbank area  between the Jones channel and the river in mid-November to create two paths for stormwater to follow on its way to the river. During major storm events when large quantities of water are pouring through the arroyo, the water would be directed more or less immediately to the river, while during lesser storms, the water would go to a more meandering, distributive channel.

Once the earthwork is completed, trees and other vegetation will be planted, probably in early spring.

Destruction of bosque habitat in 2008-10 from clearing of vegetation along the Corrales Riverside Drain (“Clear Ditch”) and east of the levee triggered intense interest in setting safeguards against future loss.

Over the summer of 2008, three different efforts were under way to bring wildlife needs into consideration when projects such as fire hazard reduction and Riverside Drain maintenance were proposed.

Two of the plans were submitted to the council September 9, 2008. One was a draft by Findley. The other which incorporated the Findley plan was developed by Anita Walsh, a strong opponent of the clear-cutting done along the Riverside Drain that spring.

A third, even more detailed, plan was produced by the Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission (CBAC).

The Findley draft for a management plan was mostly in outline at that time, and was based on a vegetation classification map similar to one produced in 1984 by two biologists, V.O. Hink and R.D. Ohmart.

Findley recommended an attempt be made to “assign acceptable use categories for each vegetation type. Some types might be ‘hands off under all circumstances.’ Some might be ‘limited alteration allowable for specific purposes’ (such as wetland creation). Some might be ‘limited clearing allowable if demonstrably critical for public safety.’”

The Village’s Corrales Bosque Preserve Ordinance No. 234 states  that the designated bosque is “to be protected in order to preserve its natural character for the use and enjoyment  of the residents of the village in such manner as will leave it unimpaired for future use and enjoyment in its natural and protected condition.”

Villagers were dismayed at the habitat loss that occurred in the bosque and along its western perimter this past spring. (See I Vol. XXVII, No. 2, March 8, 2008 “Clear Ditch Tree Cutting Stirs Villagers’ Protest.”)

In the aftermath of the public outcry that spring over the excessive clearing that had taken place, then-Village Councillor Sayre Gerhart suggested that a wildlife habitat plan be developed for the preserve. Findley agreed to work on such a plan.

The Rio Grande Conservancy District  (MRGCD) board of directors got a presentation on the Bosque Advisory Commission’s Habitat Management Plan February 13, 2012.

Bosque commissioners had sought such an opportunity for months. (See Corrales Comment’s nine-part series of articles starting Vol.XXVIII, No.7, May 23, 2009, “Bosque Preserve Habitat Plan Now Available”)

Management responsibility for the Corrales bosque had been contentious  for decades. On more than one occasion, the MRGCD attorney had fired off brusque legal challenges to Village proposals affecting district property which includes irrigation and drainage ditches and basically all of the riverside forest.

Village government has never claimed ownership of the bosque which it dedicated as a nature preserve in 1986.  But over the decades, MRGCD officials have concurred with Village proposals that the land be protected from abuses, that the municipality provide police and fire protection to the territory and that recreational and environmental values be enhanced.

The 2010 Habitat Management Plan, largely developed by Bosque Advisory Commission’s then-chairman, David Worledge, established what the community’s goals were for the preserve; it outlined fire protection measures and habitat improvements, and recommended restrictions on activities that would compromise those objectives.

Since its earliest years as an incorporated  municipality, Corrales has maintained a desire to manage and insure protection of the woodlands along its eastern fringe. Corrales Ordinance 61, dated November 18, 1975, noted that the Village’s annexation of the bosque had approval from the MRGCD and from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

That ordinance refers to the Conservancy District’s resolution on March 11, 1975 that concured with the Village’s annexation.

But MRGCD has repeatedly asserted that Village officials have no authority to pass ordinances that apply to district property without its expressed consent. That potential conflict intensified when the Village Council passed Ordinance 234 on October 23, 1990, “preserving and protecting the Corrales Bosque Preserve; prohibiting and making unlawful certain activities in the Corrales Bosque Preserve;…”

For the most part the “Corrales Bosque Preserve Ordinance” simply outlawed activities that the Conservancy District wanted to discourage anyway, such as littering, dumping, setting of fires and unauthorized excavations, and allowed the Corrales police department to enforce those laws.

In most, if not all, cases any Village-imposed restrictions were accompanied by legal terminology that said those rules in no way constrained the MRGCD and its crews from conducting their activities.

The 1990 ordinance said, for example, that “Law enforcement officers, fire department and emergency rescue unit personnel, authorized agents and employes of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, and other authorized officers, agents and employees of the federal, state and local governments, acting within the scope of their duties, shall be exempt from the provisions of Section 6-13-2” spelling out prohibited activities.

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