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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This is Playa Country — a weekly look at the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them — brought to you by Playa Lakes Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to conserving birds and bird habitat.

Today, we examine a playa rehab success story. John Wood lives near Broadview, New Mexico.  He’s about 40 miles north of Clovis.

“Basically, I’m a rancher / farmer.”

John’s grandfather homesteaded the land. The operation amounts to 2,800 acres. There’s farm and pastureland. John says he tends about 100 momma cows, and he grows some wheat. He says he was young and full of vinegar during the original CRP sign-up in the eighties.

“But when it came out the second time, drought and market prices had made it a real interesting picture. So, right now, my farm land is 200 acres. At one time, you know, I had 1,000 acres of wheat.”

The main playa on John Wood’s spread is so large, it’s on maps. It has a name. John heard about playa improvement, and he got some help.

“Tish McDaniel helped me with some deep thinking on this… she thought it was a wonderful example of a playa lake. We got together and she helped me out, furnished some funds, and actually, hopefully, improved it.”

John mentions Tish McDaniel. At the time, Tish was the Shortgrass Prairie Program Director for The Nature Conservancy, based out of Clovis.

“My goal is to work with federal and state agencies, private companies, NGOs, oil and gas, anyone I can, to impart upon all of us a better way to use this landscape — for not only economic use, but for improvement of the habitat.”

I asked Tish how, specifically, she goes about achieving these goals.

“Mainly through federal funding. Through NRCS EQIP, we’ve been able to get incentive programs specifically for playas and for deferred grazing on playas, and also along that line, better conservation, better use of our aquifer.”

Tish told me about her collaboration with John Wood. “His playa had some issues with it. One was a little bit more grazing than is desired, and also a lot of cholla had grown up around the playa.”

Cholla… that’s a kind of cactus seen in the southwest.

“We got rid of the cholla, through funding, on the playa; took care of some erosion issues upstream from it; and he deferred the grazing for three years on it. Therefore, he was able to see the comeback of the plants and the quality of the habitat.”

John Wood’s playa, this huge Buffalo Lake, had some issues they addressed. Since then, says Tish, he’s approached other landowners who have playas with deep arroyos — deep trenches — leading runoff to the playas. That’s meant lots of sediment has loaded those playas, and that’s a bad thing. It prevents them from functioning normally.

“We have gone in and built rock and bush weirs in these deep cut arroyos, pulled back on some of their grazing, and paid them to do this. So, John has not only helped us on his own playa, but has helped us on finding other playas and working on methods to restore them.”

You ask Rancher John Wood about his playa improvement experience… “It’s people like Tish and the other people I’ve run into that come around and give talks and little seminars about this. Yeah, I like their message, and I like their enthusiasm for what a lot of us just take for granted. I like these people.”

If you own or manage land, technical and monetary assistance is available to help with playa conservation. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service Center for more information.

You’ve been listening to Playa Country, a weekly show about the wildlife, people and landscapes of the western Great Plains. This program is made possible by the Playa Lakes and Rainwater Basin Joint Ventures.

Original broadcast: September 2012

Posted: February 28, 2016
Topics: Landowner Stories, Playas