Restoration Work (Chronologie)

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The founders of CLO were drawn to the Madrean Archipelago because of the area’s rugged beauty and the challenge of restoring the depleted landscape. They were enticed by photographs dating back to the late 1800s showing a once lush and verdant wetland – or cienega as it is locally known – a haven for wildlife and migratory species alike.

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San Bernadino Cienega in the late 1880s

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In the 1880’s the ecology of the borderlands region was severely altered by logging in the Chiricahua Mountains and large-scale cattle operations in the Valley. A detrimental side-effect of these industries was erosion that resulted from the removal of trees and grasses that functioned to hold soil in place and allow rainwater to penetrate into the ground. Years of severe drought further exacerbated the situation. The bare ground caked into a cement-like crust. When the rains finally came water rushed over the impenetrable ground gaining speed and force. Deep cuts opened up in the San Bernardino Valley floor. As the cuts eroded deeper and deeper the wetlands were drained dry.

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The process to restore the grasslands began with removing the cattle. Next, CLO began constructing berms and small rock dams, or gabions in eroded areas. This ancient, tried and true technique of harvesting the water works by effectively slowing run-off water, thus depositing silt and ultimately building up once barren grasslands and riparian areas. CLO also works to remove exotic species, aerate and reseed soils, apply upland seeding, and manage grasslands with controlled burns.

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The riparian zones responded very well to CLO’s soil stabilization efforts. Trinceras and berms served to catch sediment and slow water over the upland areas and the large gabions worked similarly in the riparian areas. Slower water flows protected the sides of streams and washes from erosion and year-round ground moisture meant that trees could become established along the banks. CLO has strategically planted more than 1000 trees every year for the last five years, along stream banks and berms. The water allows the trees to take hold and in turn, the roots help stabilize the soil.

“In some areas, things have gotten pretty thick, it’s tough to get good before and after photos because the after photos are too thick with vegetation you can’t tell it’s the same place.”

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.“Now that we have soil and water back on the land, grass is beginning to appear on the uplands and trees are growing in the riparian areas. Bringing the grasses back is the most significant marker of our work. It speaks to the health of the landscape. Every blade of grass helps bring water back into the soil and every drop of water in the soil means more grass can grow. It has been a learning process. We have been at this for several decades now and are better able to predict what needs to be done to prevent erosion and to bring back the water.”

– Valer Clark

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Significant Achievements to date

  • Constructed more than 40,000 small rock dams in washed and hillsides
  • Constructed more than 1000+ berms to slow erosion and capture water
  • Constructed more than 50 large gabions
  • Aerated and reseeded more than 5,000 acres of grasslands with native grasse
  • Planted more than 1000 trees
  • Water tables in the San Bernadino Ranch rose 30 feet in the middle of a 15-year drought and at least 15% of the historic wetland has been restored with 6 miles of river now flowing year round

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Restored Cienega (Wetland)

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The results of this huge undertaking are reflected in the photo series Before and After, and perhaps most importantly in the raising of the subterranean water table and the expanding of the lush native grasslands.

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