Wetlands in the Bernardo Wildlife Management Area are getting a facelift this winter as part of an effort to benefit wildlife and outdoor recreationists alike.
Construction work will improve the 1,800-acre property’s water-management system, allowing for more efficient use of what is gradually becoming a more limited resource. Other improvements include habitat enhancements, the construction of a new primitive camping area for hunters, and upgrades to the property’s D-unit that will make it more accessible for hunters with disabilities.
“We’re trying to improve the property in all aspects – being water-wise, improving riparian habitat, allowing hunters easier access and more success,” said Carrie Parris, Habitat Compliance Biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “I’m really excited about this, and I can’t wait for us to break ground and get moving on it.”
Improving and expanding existing wetland habitat by removing invasive species and installing new infrastructure is one of the project’s primary goals. With thousands of waterfowl descending into the Middle Rio Grande Valley each winter as they migrate south from their breeding grounds in Wyoming, Montana and Southern Canada, adequate cover and food are crucial to the ability of ducks, geese and sandhill cranes to thrive.
“Birds spend one-third or more of their lifetime in the Middle Rio Grande Valley,” said Ryan Darr, the Department’s Wildlife Management Area Lands Manager. “Anything that happens in that area, be it lack of water, lack of food, lack of cover or any pressure, is going to impact the entire life history of these birds and may affect their long-term survival. Subsequently, hunting opportunities, as well as public recreation opportunities, may be negatively impacted.
“The water woes that we’re facing in New Mexico – and they’re going to get worse throughout time – make it necessary to do something now to improve our water efficiency and try to conserve these wetland habitats before they’re lost forever.”
Ducks Unlimited designed Bernardo’s new layout, as well as that of many other similar wetland projects across North America. The Department is also working with Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Audubon New Mexico, the Save Our Bosque Task Force and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to implement the project.
Todd Merendino, a biologist for Ducks Unlimited, said Bernardo’s upgrades will make it even more spectacular.
“This is going to be a gem – this is going to be a shining gem,” he said. “There will be tremendous benefits. It’s certainly a significant facelift that has been many, many years in the making. It’s really teeing up those areas for the next 30 years of hunters, birdwatchers and other folks who use the WMA and the waterfowl resources that use the WMA. It’s not off the beaten path where you have to go out of your way to find it – it’s right there off the interstate and easy to get to. This will be a really good opportunity for a lot of people to experience the new features on the WMA.”
Part of the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex, Bernardo Wildlife Area is located between Belen and Socorro between I-25 and the Rio Grande.