A striking transformation of a riparian forest in the Harvey Jones Bioswale, eventually connecting to the Rio Grande River, in Rio Rancho, N.M. The before photo [left] shows the site in March 2022 during the planting and before leaf out, and the after photo [right] was taken only months later in August 2022. Photo credit: Todd Lopez / Rio Grande Return
WHILE MANY PROJECTS take years to see a striking visual transformation, sometimes a diamond in the rough reveals immediate beauty and gratification. In March 2022, American Forests partnered with Rio Grande Return to plant a riparian forest in the Harvey Jones Bioswale in Rio Rancho, N.M.
The project involved removing 18,000 yards of dirt then reconnecting the streamside forest with the Rio Grande River and reengineering that forest area to catch more stormwater. Monsoon season immediately brought harsh storms but also resulted in amazing growth of the forest within a single season. The project’s planting approach also expedited growth. Rather than planting nursery-grown seedlings, volunteers cut live stems from existing willows and cottonwoods, and planted them deep enough to access groundwater. These stems helped to stabilize the newly created channel banks.
This site was part of a larger project that planted 80,000 willows and cottonwoods across three planting sites in New Mexico: Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio Creek and the Harvey Jones Bioswale. These dense streamside forests will attract beavers that will continue to restore the sites in unique ways. They will also provide perfect habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, threatened yellow-billed cuckoo and sandhill crane.
“The transformation is incredible. This is a case of ‘build it and they will come’ — it’s like a pop-up riparian habitat. We saw migrating sandhill cranes zeroing in on the water and greenery as a safe spot when they flew over. This was a dry wash when they flew over earlier in the year.”
— AUSTIN REMPEL, DIRECTOR OF FOREST RESTORATION, AMERICAN FORESTS