Bird Conservation Plan Chapter 2

Chapter 2     The Planning Unit

2.1   New Mexico Geography, Biogeography and Climate

Because of its size, geographic location, and topographic variation, New Mexico includes portions of several distinct biogeographic regions and contains a diversity of habitat types. Included within its borders are the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, the western edge of the Great Plains, the northern portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, the northern extension of the Sierra Occidental, and the southeastern edge of the Great Basin. It includes habitats ranging from Chihuahuan desert to alpine tundra, at elevations ranging from 2,800 to just over 11,000 feet.

The New Mexico landscape includes several distinct upland regions. To the north, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains represent the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountain chain and contain the state’s highest peaks. Moving south from the northwest “Four Corners” area, middle-elevation forests and cold desert uplands of the Colorado Plateau give way to the higher montane region of the Mogollon Rim along the south-central portion of New Mexico’s border with Arizona. Included in this area are the San Francisco and Mogollon ranges, and the large Gila/Aldo Leopold Wilderness complex.

Perhaps New Mexico’s most distinctive upland areas are its isolated “sky island” mountain ranges. Characteristic of the state’s basin-and-range topography, these ranges extend from the Sandia Mountains and Mount Taylor southward in a widening band to (and up to 100 miles beyond) the Mexican border. The sky island ranges represent stepping stones of montane habitat linking the distinct biological regions of the Sierra Madre Occidental to the south and the Rocky Mountains to the north. The lower-elevation grassland and shrubland areas from which they arise constitute the only significant break in the continental mountain chain extending from the volcanic belt of southern Mexico to northern Canada. Important sky island ranges (moving generally north to south) include the Sandia, Manzano, Magdalena, San Mateo, Sacramento, Animas, and Peloncillo ranges.

The Mogollon Rim and sky island regions of central and southern New Mexico are particularly significant to avian biogeography. A large number of species reach either their northern or southern range boundary in this area, and bird communities may include unusual assemblages of species not normally found together. A second important biogeographic divide exists where the varied mountain and desert topography of the western two thirds of the state gives way to the southwestern portion of the Great Plains, in areas east and north of the Pecos River. Here, a number of species reach the eastern or western extent of their distribution.

Lowland areas (mostly plains, desert grassland, or shrubland) occur in all parts of New Mexico except for the north-central mountains and highland areas of the Mogollon Rim. Some, such as the Tularosa Basin near Alamogordo or the Jornada del Muerto north of Las Cruces, are closed basins. The Rio Grande, New Mexico’s largest river, divides the state from north to south and, with its associated floodplain of riparian, wetland and agricultural habitat, serves as an important migration corridor. Two other major river systems, the Pecos and the San Juan, also drain extensive areas and contain broad floodplains. Other important drainages include the Canadian and Dry Cimarron rivers in the east, and the Mimbres, Gila, and San Francisco rivers in the southwest.

Latitudinal and altitudinal variation produces a varied climate. Most annual precipitation is associated with the southwest monsoonal pattern and arrives in the form of local, high-intensity storms from late June through September. Mountain snows are delivered by frontal storms during the winter months, and snowfall plays a critical role in maintaining flows in the state’s major river systems through the spring and early summer. Average rainfall statewide is about 15 inches, though some areas receive considerably less. Precipitation increases at higher elevations and is somewhat higher in the eastern plains than to the west (Dick-Peddie 1993).

Rain and snowfall patterns can be erratic geographically and from year to year, and are influenced by larger-scale climatic patterns. A major cause of yearly climatic variation is the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, a periodic pattern of ocean warming and cooling across the central tropical Pacific which influences climate in many parts of the world. Studies using both meteorological records and tree-ring data spanning over 2,000 years have demonstrated a strong correlation between ENSO patterns and climate in the southwestern United States. ENSO effects in New Mexico are most significant during the winter months, with precipitation often 50 percent above long-term averages during an El Niño (or warm) phase, and a similar amount below normal during a La Niña event (Sevilleta LTER Research Report 1999). Tree-ring data also reveal a long history of wet and dry periods of varying magnitude and periodicity. Following decades of high precipitation during the 1980’s and 1990’s, New Mexico may currently be in the early phases of an extended drought, such as occurred across much of the southwestern United States in the 1950’s (Grissino-Mayer 1995).

The yearly number of frost-free days varies from over 200 in the southwest, portions of the southeast, and along the lower Rio Grande Valley, to 100 around Taos and Tres Piedras. Summer high and winter low temperatures span a wide range from north to south and, to a greater degree, across local altitudinal gradients (Dick-Peddie 1993).

2.2   History of Land Use

The history of land use in New Mexico is a vast and complex topic (Crawford et al. 1993, Dick-Peddie 1993, Scurlock 1998), and only a very brief outline of changes to major habitat types is presented here. Native Americans have resided in New Mexico for centuries. Large population centers were established by “Anasazi” and ancestral Pueblo peoples for commerce and protection as early as 800 A.D., primarily in the western and northern portions of the state. Archaeological evidence indicates that terraced farming was practiced as early as 1000 A.D., and beams for buildings were cut in forests and hauled tremendous distances, as evidenced by the ruins at Chaco Canyon. However, these ancestral Pueblo communities were often abandoned after several hundred years, and most were deserted by around 1300 A.D., probably due to a combination of demographic pressures and prolonged drought.

At approximately the same time, the current Pueblo settlements began along the middle Rio Grande Valley, making this one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas of the United States. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Pueblo farmers practiced floodwater agriculture relying on overbank flows and surface run-off, and also limited diversions for irrigation. When Coronado’s expedition reached the Middle Rio Grande in 1540, it is estimated that 25,000 acres of land were under cultivation. The Spanish colonial period, beginning in the late 1500’s, brought more intensive cultivation based on ditch irrigation and floodplain clearing. Wood cutting and livestock grazing expanded throughout the colonial period, and in subsequent centuries, the grazing of large numbers of sheep, goats and cows has had a transformative effect on the New Mexico landscape.

Over the past two centuries, a combination of natural factors and increasing human impacts has greatly altered New Mexico’s natural vegetative communities. Drought has been a recurrent fact of life in New Mexico since the last ice age. Tree-ring records reveal that cycles of moderate to severe drought have occurred regularly, at intervals of 2-3 decades, for centuries. Impacts of land use practices on forests, grasslands, and riparian areas are often compounded by drought.

Riparian areas in New Mexico have been greatly impacted by livestock grazing, groundwater withdrawals, and various surface water management practices. Along the state’s three major river systems, the San Juan, Pecos, and Rio Grande, natural hydrological cycles have been disrupted over the 20th century by the construction of flood control dams, agricultural diversions, storage reservoirs, and levee systems. Lack of regular flooding along the Middle Rio Grande in central and northern New Mexico has inhibited the regenerative capacity of this area’s signature cottonwood “bosque” habitat.

Since the 1900’s, forests in New Mexico have been reshaped by a combination of factors including fire, fire suppression, grazing, and logging. Naturally occurring fire has played an important role in the ecology and evolution of forests in New Mexico. Low-intensity fires burned historically every 2-10 years in ponderosa and in lower elevation mixed-conifer forests, sparing the larger trees and clearing accumulations of dead wood and understory growth. Prior to European settlement, regularly occurring fires maintained healthy open stands of larger trees with a grass understory. Hotter, stand-replacing fires occurred with less frequency, mostly in denser forest types such as spruce-fir. Fires occurred more frequently during drought years, and were most severe when the drought was preceded by abnormally wet years, which resulted in a build-up of fuels.

Extensive commercial logging began in the early 1900’s, and coincided with a decrease in fire frequency. Low-intensity, largely grass-fed fires had already become less frequent due to overgrazing in the 1890’s. Fire suppression also began around this time, and by the 1940’s, full fire-suppression become a statewide forestry practice. This combination of factors effectively eliminated much of the park-like forest habitat that had been the historical norm. Older and commercially valuable trees were removed, and mature forest habitat was replaced by dense thickets of young trees and extensive underbrush. High fuel loads made these areas subject to catastrophic, stand-replacing fires, which then reinitiated the cycle of dense, even-aged forest growth. Full-scale fire suppression lasted until the mid-1980’s when policies of prescribed burning and thinning began to be applied.

Cattle and sheep grazing began to affect New Mexico’s grasslands and forests in 1820. By 1890, very large-scale and non-sustainable grazing was common, especially in the southern half of the state. Grazing has since tapered off, but the legacy of historical grazing practices remains, particularly in the conversion of former grasslands to shrublands. Dick-Peddie (1993) notes that “reduction in grassland in New Mexico has been so pronounced that some people today question if it was ever very extensive.” He goes on to cite numerous historical accounts attesting to vast and high quality grasslands extending across much of southern New Mexico in the early and mid-19th century. Grassland reduction in the last 150 years has resulted primarily in an increase in desert shrub and juniper savannah habitats.

Cities and towns in New Mexico did not experience significant growth until the 1950’s. Since then, however, population centers have shown varying but consistent growth patterns. Significant population growth occurred throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s, a period of abundant rainfall by historical standards. This growth, in combination with recent drought conditions, has placed enormous pressures on the state’s surface and ground water resources, and conflicts over water use and rights (including water to maintain riparian habitats and endangered species) have become common. Urban and suburban development, both around existing population centers and in rural areas, continues to eat away at remaining pieces of natural habitat. According to 2005 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the largest population centers in New Mexico are the Albuquerque area (over 600,000 people, including adjacent Rio Rancho and the North and South Valleys of Bernalillo County), Las Cruces (over 80,000 people), and Santa Fe (over 70,000 people).

2.3   History of Avifaunal Studies and Conservation

Due to its wide diversity of habitats, New Mexico has recorded the second highest number of bird species of any non-coastal state in the U.S. More than 280 species of birds breed in New Mexico, and its extensive grasslands are important areas for wintering birds. The Rio Grande serves as an important flyway for migrants. In the east, the Playa Lakes region is one of the most significant wetland habitats in the southern quarter of the Central Flyway for migrating and wintering birds.

However, not all of New Mexico’s bird species have flourished. Sharp-tailed Grouse and Sage Grouse, once a part of New Mexico’s breeding avifauna, were hunted by settlers and miners. By the early 1900’s, both were extirpated from the state. The Aplomado Falcon, once regular throughout the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands, experienced steep population declines in the 1920’s and 30’s. Buff-breasted Flycatchers were also recorded with some frequency in the southwestern forests until the 1940’s, when they disappeared. Only since the 1990’s have these two species sporadically reappeared in New Mexico. The reasons for their declines are poorly understood but may reflect the changing landscape in the state or elsewhere on the continent.

New Mexico has a long history of ornithological study. Twenty-nine species of birds have been identified in late prehistoric kiva (Native American religious buildings) murals. Spanish expeditions recorded large numbers of cranes, geese, turkey, quail, prairie-chickens, and grouse. Anglo explorers also remarked upon these same birds. Army doctors, first attending expeditions in the 1850’s, and then stationed at established forts, were the first to systematically report on and collect birds from the state.

Ornithologists Woodhouse, Henry, and Kennerly all recorded over 170 species of birds in the state during the mid-1800’s, along with seasonal occurrence data. (Scurlock 1998). Frances Merriam Bailey began ornithological study in the early 1900’s while traveling with her husband. In 1928, she published her first book – Birds of New Mexico – on the state’s avifauna. J. Stokely Ligon, after several decades of work in the state, published New Mexico Birds and Where to Find Them in 1961.

Following Ligon, John P. Hubbard wrote A Checklist of the Birds of New Mexico in 1970 and revised it in 1978. Important advances in the knowledge of and/or changes in bird distribution have occurred since then, yet the Revised Checklist remains a standard of knowledge for bird distribution and abundance.

Several inventories and long-term monitoring projects have taken place throughout the state. A list of some of the larger studies and monitoring projects is provided in Appendix B.

2.4   Land Ownership and Management

New Mexico totals nearly 122,000 square miles, or about 78 million acres. Approximately 34 percent of this land is managed by the federal government. The two largest management agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM, over 12 million acres) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS, over 9 million acres) together manage the majority of public lands, covering over a quarter of the state. BLM lands occur throughout New Mexico but are concentrated in the northwest and the southern third of the state. New Mexico’s five largest National Forest areas include the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests in the north, the Cibola National Forest in the central part of the state, and the Gila and Lincoln National Forests in the south. Military reservations managed by the Department of Defense (DOD) constitute the majority of the remaining federally managed lands. Federally managed lands also include National Parks and Monuments managed by the National Park Service (NPS), National Wildlife Refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and lakes and waterways managed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).

Major federal land management units include the following:

  • BLM: Carlsbad, Farmington, Las Cruces, Rio Puerco, Roswell, Socorro, and Taos Districts; and Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
  • U.S. Forest Service: Apache, Carson, Cibola, Coronado, Gila, Lincoln, and Santa Fe National Forests; and Kiowa National Grassland
  • U.S Fish and Wildlife Service: Bitter Lakes, Bosque del Apache, Grulla, Las Vegas, Maxwell, San Andres, and Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuges
  • National Park Service: Aztec Ruins, Bandelier, Capulin Volcano, El Malpais, El Morro, Fort Union, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Petroglyph, Salinas Pueblo, and White Sands National Monuments; Carlsbad National Park; and Chaco Culture and Pecos National Historical Parks
  • Department of Defense: Cannon, Hollomon, and Kirtland Air Force Bases; White Sands Missile Range; Fort Bliss Military Reservation (administered by BLM and the U.S. Army); and Melrose Air Force Range

New Mexico State Trust lands form a network covering almost 12 percent of the state, or over 9 million acres. State Parks and Monuments add another (relatively small) amount of state-managed land.

State land management units include the following:

  • State Parks: Bluewater Lake, Bottomless Lakes, Brantley Lake, Caballo Lake, Cimarron Canyon, City of Rocks, Clayton Lake, Conchas Lake, Coyote Creek, Eagle Nest Lake, Elephant Butte Lake, El Vado Lake, Fenton Lake, Heron Lake, Hyde Memorial, Leasburg Dam, Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Manzano Mountains, Mesilla Valley Bosque, Morphy Lake, Navajo Lake, Oasis, Oliver Lee Memorial, Pancho Villa, Percha Dam, Rio Grande Nature Center, Rockhound, Santa Rosa Lake, Storrie Lake, Sugarite Canyon, Sumner Lake, Ute Lake, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Villanueva
  • State Wildlife Areas – Barker, Cimarron, Milnesand, and Mescalero Sands.

Native American lands comprise approximately 10 percent of the state, or over 7 million acres. The Navajo Nation owns much of the northwestern quadrant, especially along the Arizona border. The Jicarilla and Mescalero Apaches own land in the north and southeast, respectively. Other Native American landowners include nineteen Pueblos, mainly located along the northern half of the Rio Grande: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, and Zuni.

The remaining 44 percent of the total New Mexico land area is privately owned (Deason 1998, Public Lands Information Center).

2.5   Physiographic Areas

Many Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plans (BCPs) are written for Physiographic Areas, which represent broad-scale units of biological and ecological similarity. While this concept works relatively well for the eastern and central portions of the U.S., it is not practical in the mountain West where topography is highly variable and patches of similar biological assemblages are separated by large expanses of land. For this reason, BCPs for the western states are generally organized by habitat type within state boundaries, rather than by Physiographic Areas.

Within New Mexico are portions of six Physiographic Areas, with acreages shown below:

1)   Mexican Highlands (3.5 million acres)

2)   Chihuahuan Desert (15 million acres)

3)   Mogollon Rim (7 million acres)

4)   Colorado Plateau (40 million acres)

5)   Pecos and Staked Plains (11 million acres)

6)   Southern Rocky Mountains (6.5 million acres)

2.6   Bird Conservation Regions

Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) are ecologically distinct regions in North America with similar bird communities, habitats, and resource management issues. A BCR mapping team comprised of experts from the United States, Mexico, and Canada assembled at the first international North American Bird Conservation Initiative workshop in 1998 to develop a consistent spatial framework for bird conservation in North America. Since their initial development, BCRs have become in important and dynamic tool for coordinating and implementing integrated, all-bird conservation.

The primary purposes of BCRs, as proposed by the mapping team in 1998 and approved in concept by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (U.S. Committee) in 1999, are to:

  • Facilitate communication among the bird conservation initiatives, including Partners in Flight and national and regional shorebird, waterbird, and waterfowl conservation plans
  • Systematically and scientifically apportion the U.S. into conservation units
  • Facilitate a regional approach to bird conservation
  • Promote new, expanded, or restructured partnerships
  • Identify overlapping or conflicting conservation priorities.

As integrated bird conservation progresses in North America, BCRs should ultimately function as the primary units within which biological issues are resolved, the landscape configuration of sustainable habitats is designed, and priority conservation projects originate. (For more information on BCRs see http://www.nabci-us.org/bcrs.html).

New Mexico contains portions of four BCRs, each of which extends into other states and/or Mexico. Descriptions and in-state acreages are provided below:

BCR 16 — Southern Rocky Mountains (132,694 square kilometers, 32.8 million acres).

This is New Mexico’s largest BCR segment, covering most of the northern and western two-thirds of the state. This topographically complex region includes the north-central mountains, Colorado Plateau, and central sky island ranges. Various coniferous forest types interspersed with aspen dominate higher elevations. These are replaced by pinyon-juniper woodlands on the lower plateaus. Important birds also segregate into elevational bands: for example, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan in alpine tundra; Flammulated Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker and Lewis’ Woodpecker in coniferous forest; Virginia’s Warbler in montane shrub; and Gray Vireo and Pinyon Jay in pinyon-juniper. High arid shrublands and dry upland shortgrass prairies provide critical breeding areas for Mountain Plover and Ferruginous Hawk.

BCR 18 — Shortgrass Prairie (67,266 square kilometers, 16.6 million acres).

This BCR generally coincides with the boundary of New Mexico’s eastern plains, roughly the eastern quarter of the state. It includes extensive grasslands and shrublands, and important playa wetland areas. The Shortgrass Prairie lies in the rainshadow of the Rocky Mountains, and arid conditions greatly limit the stature and diversity of vegetation. Some of the continent’s highest-priority birds breed in this area, including the Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Ferruginous Hawk, and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Playa Lakes habitat consists of numerous shallow wetlands that support many wintering ducks, migrant shorebirds, and some important breeding species, such as Snowy Plover.

BCR 34 —  Sierra Madre Occidental (27,852 square kilometers, 6.9 million acres).

Located in the southwest quadrant, New Mexico’s smallest BCR segment includes the Mogollon Rim and “bootheel” mountain ranges. Southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico contain only the northernmost portion of the BCR, which extends south to central Mexico. The region is characterized by a complex topography, with the presence of oak-pine, pine, and fir forests along the mountain ranges, and semi-arid scrub habitats at lower elevations. Mountain and riparian areas host a number of species at the northern limit of their distribution and are extremely important to New Mexico’s avian biodiversity. In upland habitats, species of highest importance include Montezuma Quail, Elf Owl, Elegant Trogon, Strickland’s Woodpecker, Grace’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, and Black-chinned Sparrow. Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow and wintering Baird’s Sparrow and Sprague’s Pipit are present in grassland and scrub habitats. Riparian areas in lowlands support many in-transit migrants, as well as breeding Thick-billed Kingbird, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, and Abert’s Towhee.

BCR 35 —  Chihuahuan Desert (87,216 square kilometers, 21.6 million acres).

This BCR covers a large area in the southern half of the state, including desert scrub and grassland, a number of isolated mountain ranges including the Sacramentos, and important riparian and wetland areas along the Rio Grande Valley. In desert scrub and grassland habitats, species of highest importance include Aplomado Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Scaled Quail, Bendire’s Thrasher, and wintering Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s Longspur. In montane areas, species of highest importance include Mexican Spotted Owl. In riparian areas, species of highest importance include Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, and Lucy’s Warbler.

2.7   Habitat Types

New Mexico Partners in Flight defines 20 separate habitat types within the state, based on both bird assemblages and vegetative associations. In many respects, these coincide with the principal vegetative cover types recognized by Dick-Peddie (1993). These are broad divisions, within which a number of different sub-types may be present. Because these habitat types do not entirely coincide with any existing scheme of land cover classification, exact areas are not known. Estimated areas are provided here to reflect the overall relative distribution of habitats in the state, but may be inaccurate for some types.

The 20 habitats comprise six major categories: Grasslands, Shrublands, Non-riparian Woodlands, Forests, Wetlands, and Other.

2.7.1   Grasslands

Chihuahuan Desert Grassland. Low-elevation grasslands in the southern third of the state, extending farther north along the Rio Grande Valley. (Note this definition differs from the “Desert Grassland” of Dick-Peddie.) This habitat includes remaining areas of relatively “pure” grassland within the Chihuahuan Desert region, and much more widespread areas of “degraded” grassland with a significant shrub component. The latter habitat is expanding, while true desert grassland areas are shrinking. The mixed or ecotonal nature of much of this habitat makes it difficult to determine acreage. Based on Dick-Peddie, estimated area is 8-10 million acres. Priority species include Scaled Quail, Aplomado Falcon, and Botteri’s Sparrow.

Plains and Mesa Grassland. Low- and mid-elevation grasslands in the eastern and northern parts of the state. This habitat type includes prairie grasslands in the east and Great Basin grassland types in the north and northwest. Based on Dick-Peddie, estimated area is 20-25 million acres, making this the most widespread habitat type in the state. Priority species include Ferruginous Hawk, Mountain Plover and Long-billed Curlew.

Wet Meadow and Montane Grassland.  High-elevation grasslands and parklands, mostly in the north-central uplands and Mogollon Rim. Dick-Peddie maps 257,000 acres. Priority species include Wilson’s Phalarope and Bobolink.

Alpine/Tundra.  Areas above timberline, present only in the Sangre de Cristo range and on Mount Taylor and Sierra Blanca in the Sacramentos. Dick-Peddie maps approximately 79,000 acres, making this perhaps the most restricted habitat type in the state. Priority species include White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-capped Rosy-finch.

2.7.2   Shrublands

Chihuahuan Desert Shrub. Creosote bush-, acacia-, or mesquite-dominated shrublands of the Chihuahuan Desert, mostly in the southern third of the state, but extending north along the Rio Grande Valley and ranging in elevation from 2,800 to 4,500 feet. Dick-Peddie maps approximately 4.6 million acres. Priority species include Crissal Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow and Varied Bunting.

Plains-Mesa Sand Shrub. Sand-shinnery and sandsage shrublands in the southeast and central parts of the state. In the southeast, this habitat extends east to the Texas state line; in central New Mexico, it extends north to areas near Santa Fe, ranging in elevation from 3,500 to 6,000 feet. Dick-Peddie maps approximately 1.7 million acres. Priority species include Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Bank Swallow.

Montane Shrub. Shrub and chaparral habitat found on hillsides in small areas throughout much of New Mexico, often located between other types of habitat, ranging in elevation from 5,500 to 8,000 feet. Dick-Peddie maps approximately 786,000 acres. Priority species include Lucifer Hummingbird, Virginia’s Warbler, and Lazuli Bunting.

Great Basin Desert Shrub. Sagebrush-dominated shrublands in the northwest quadrant of the state, extending east to western Taos County and ranging in elevation from 5,500 to 7,500 feet. Dick-Peddie maps approximately 3.2 million acres. Priority species include Sage Thrasher and Sage Sparrow.

2.7.3   Non-riparian Woodlands

Pinyon-Juniper Woodland. Middle-elevation woodlands distributed throughout the state, above desert or grassland vegetation and below pine forest, ranging from 4,500 to 7,500 feet. This type includes juniper savanna at lower elevations, when juniper density is sufficient to make the habitat closer to woodland than grassland. Dick-Peddie lumps pinyon-juniper and pine-oak woodlands together and maps 10.4 million acres, plus 7.7 million acres of juniper savanna. As defined here, estimated area of this habitat type is approximately 16-17 million acres. Priority species include Gray Vireo, Pinyon Jay, and Juniper Titmouse.

Madrean Pine-Oak Woodland. This woodland type is limited to the Animas and Peloncillo Mountains in the far southwest corner of New Mexico, ranging in elevation from 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Estimated area is 1-2 million acres. Priority species include Montezuma Quail, Whiskered Screech-Owl, and Black-throated Gray Warbler.

2.7.4   Forests

Ponderosa Pine Forest.  Ponderosa-dominated habitat, often in association with Gambel oak, aspen, and pinyon-juniper vegetation. Found in mountain and canyon areas throughout the state at elevations of 6,000 to 9,000 feet. Dick-Peddie lumps ponderosa and mixed conifer associations and maps 6 million acres. As defined here, estimated area is approximately 3 million acres. Priority species include Flammulated Owl, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Grace’s Warbler.

Mixed Conifer Forest.  Mostly forests dominated by Douglas-fir, white fir, and pine species, sometimes interspersed with aspen or Gambel oak woodland. Found in all higher mountain ranges in New Mexico, generally between 7,500 to 10,000 feet.  Estimated area is approximately 3 million acres. Priority species include Mexican Spotted Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and Red-faced Warbler.

Spruce-Fir (Subalpine) Forest.  Found at higher elevations, generally from 9,500 feet to treeline, in northern mountain ranges, with small areas in the south. Mostly dominated by corkbark fir and Engelmann spruce. Dick-Peddie maps 2.3 million acres. Priority species include Blue Grouse and Boreal Owl.

2.7.5   Wetlands

Southwest Riparian. Deciduous woodland habitat along rivers in the southwestern quadrant of the state, often containing Arizona sycamore, at low and middle elevations. Includes riparian zones along the Gila, Mimbres, and San Francisco Rivers. Priority species include Bell’s Vireo, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Lucy’s Warbler, and Abert’s Towhee.

Middle Elevation Riparian. Deciduous woodland habitat along rivers in the southeastern, central, and northern areas of the state, generally below ~7,500 feet in elevation. Mostly dominated by cottonwood and willow associations, and/or non-native salt cedar and Russian-olive. Includes riparian zones along the Rio Grande, and the Pecos, Canadian, and San Juan Rivers, as well as numerous smaller drainages. Priority species include Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Lewis’ Woodpecker, and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

Montane Riparian. Mixed woodland habitat along rivers or streams in upland areas, mostly above 7,000 feet in elevation, ranging from the ponderosa pine/mixed conifer belt to timberline. Includes drainages in forest habitat in all New Mexico mountain ranges, with some important differences between the southwestern highlands and areas north and east of the Mogollon Rim. Priority species include Black Swift, Veery, and Painted Redstart.

Emergent Wetlands and Lakes. Include playas, lakes, and marsh areas, all of which occur infrequently throughout New Mexico. Priority species include American Bittern, Bald Eagle, and Snowy Plover.

2.7.6   Other

Cave/Rock/Cliff. Occurs throughout the state at all elevations, as a component of other habitat types. Priority species include Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, and White-throated Swift.

Agricultural Lands. Agricultural areas generally occur in association with the river valleys of New Mexico. They also include irrigated croplands that have replaced native grassland and shrubland habitat in the south and east. This category includes several distinct habitats that may be important to different species, including fruit orchards, irrigated fields, and shelter belt plantings. Total area estimated at 2-3 million acres. Elevation generally ranges from 3,500 to 7,000 feet.

Urban. Includes urban and suburban areas where native vegetation has been removed. Also includes golf courses.

Link to Chapter 3;

Chapter 3     Avifaunal and Habitat Analysis