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Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
Contact Information
  • Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
  • 333 Broadway SE. Suite 115
  • Albuquerque, NM 87102-3497
  • 505-724-3660
  • 505-724-3688 (fax)
You are here: Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems / Research by Project / Fuel Reductions: Wildlife Populations

Effects of Fuel Reductions on Wildlife Populations and Vegetation

Project Title

Effects of Fuel Reductions on Wildlife Populations and Vegetation in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico


Clearing Russian olives and salt cedars
USDA FS, RMRS Albuquerque Lab
Workers clearing exotic Russian olives and salt cedars from a fuels reduction site along the Middle Rio Grande

Along the Middle Rio Grande, the proliferation of exotic woody plants has greatly altered the structure and composition of riparian vegetative communities, and increased the frequency and severity of wildfires. Exotic plants, in particular, salt cedar (Tamarix ssp.) and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), as well as dead and downed woody debris are fuels that lead to high fire risk in the bosque. Salt cedar’s high flammability places native bosque flora and fauna at increased risk from by fire. Native tree species, such as the Rio Grande cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. wislizeni) and Goodding’s willow (Salix gooddingii), are not fire-adapted, do not resist fire damage well, and do not regenerate well after fires. The increased danger of wildfires in the bosque has resulted in numerous fuel reduction projects to reduce fire danger. Little was known of what affects these habitat alterations might have on bird populations in the bosque.

In 1999, the Rocky Mountain Research Station, in cooperation with other government agencies, initiated a project to examine the effects of fuels reduction treatments. The project aimed to evaluate three types of fuel reduction treatments and their effects on bird populations. The intent was to identify the most useful fuels reduction and exotic plant removal practices that would simultaneously: 1) preserve cottonwoods and other native trees and shrubs, 2) reduce catastrophic fire risk via control of exotic plants and fuels, 3) have positive or least-negative impacts on native wildlife species and be cost effective. This project would help provide land managers with valuable information on the best fuels reductions methods to use to reduce fire danger and preserve bird populations.

Selected Publications

GSD Principal Investigators

Finch, Deborah    Program Manager and Supervisory Biologist    505-724-3671
Hawksworth, David    Wildlife Biological Technician    505-724-3675

Cooperators and Sponsors

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Bosque Improvement Group
Bureau of Land Management
City of Albuquerque Open Space
Colorado State University
Joint Fire Science Program
Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
New Mexico Department of Environment
New Mexico State Forestry
RMRS Middle Rio Grande Ecosystem Management Group
University of New Mexico
University of Oklahoma
US Forest Service – Region 2
US Forest Service State and Private Forestry Program
USDA Watershed, Fish, and Wildlife Program

Related Links

Bosque del Apache NWR

Project Ecoregions