A Playa Rehabilitation Story

New Mexico rancher John Wood has a 160-200 acre playa, named Buffalo Lake, in his pasture. Several years ago, The Nature Conservancy’s Tish McDaniel consulted Wood and assisted in restoring his playa. Wood says he’s now witnessing larger numbers of migrating birds, and thinks other wildlife have returned.

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Filling Pits in Playas on National Grasslands

Many playas on federal grasslands in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, New Mexico and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles have pitted playas. There’s a cooperative effort underway to rehab some of these playas. Restored playas mean shallow water will return. When that happens, plants will burst forth, providing seeds the birds like, and attracting insects, a good source of protein.

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What’s the Problem With Pits?

Healthy, functioning playas provide important habitat for ducks, geese and other wildlife, and are areas of focused recharge to the Ogallala Aquifer. But many playas have been modified through tilling and pitting. Filling a pit allows rainwater and runoff to reach the large cracks in a dry playa floor – which is essential for recharge to occur – rather than collecting in the pit. The shallow water that spreads across the playa also allows plants and insects to flourish, which in turn provides important food and habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.

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What Are Playas?

We grew up on the High Plains thinking of those occasionally muddy pasture depressions as “buffalo wallows” or “mud holes.” Turns out, scientists are learning those playas play a significant role in recharging the Ogallala aquifer. They are the most numerous wetland in the region, more than 75,000 of them, and they’re an important source of water — both for people and wildlife.

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