From its vast plains to stunning alpine meadows, Philmont Scout Ranch provides a habitat for countless animal species. The native plants and animals in these habitats are a crucial component of the overall health of the ecosystems on the Ranch. Humans have impacted these ecosystems for thousands of years. At times, these impacts have compromised the land’s ability to support flora and fauna. In the early 19th century, fur trappers, miners, loggers and settlers dramatically altered the natural landscape pursuing their goals. The push to tame the West often came at the expense of wildlife populations and their habitat. Efforts to eradicate wolves and mountain lions, along with the introduction of cattle, mining, logging and railroads have impacted almost all ecosystems found at Philmont. The introduction of invasive plant and animal species has also altered the ecosystems of northern New Mexico.
South Ponil Trout Restoration Project
In the history of modern human involvement in the West, creeks and lakes were often stocked with non-native fish species to provide better opportunities for fisherman, and Philmont was no exception. In the South Ponil Creek, rainbow trout were introduced to supplement the native population of Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This introduction led to a reduction in the numbers of the native cutthroat trout and also created a crossbred species often referred to as “cutbow trout.” This put the native trout population at risk of total elimination as they were being outcompeted by the non-native rainbow and brown trout. In the early 2010s the Cimarron Watershed Alliance and Philmont began creating a plan to rehabilitate the native trout population and the South Ponil Creek.
The goals of the South Ponil Trout Restoration project were to:
- Improve the condition of the Ponil Creek watershed to meet water quality standards.
- Maintain and/or improve normal hydrologic function to Ponil Creek and its tributaries.
- Improve the habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, other native fish and aquatic species, and terrestrial wildlife.
These goals were accomplished through collaborations with private and governmental agencies, ground restoration treatments, education in the local communities and an intensive monitoring process.
Philmont received grant money to improve road crossings in the South Ponil Canyon, as well as to construct a fish weir, remove non-native species and reintroduce native trout and other fish.
Restoration of an entire species takes a very long time, and there remains a moratorium on fishing in the South Ponil Canyon to help ensure the successful redevelopment of a healthy population of Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
Invasive Plant Species
Like animal species, plant species at Philmont have also been greatly impacted by human development. Like most private landowners in the United States, Philmont has a variety of invasive weed species that negatively impact the local wildlife as well as the Ranch’s livestock.
Beginning in 2010, Philmont hired seasonal staff members to study invasives and create a plan to address its specific invasive species populations. Those early teams laid the groundwork for the invasive species control programs that are still used today. The overarching goal of the invasive species control program is to inventory populations of invasive plants across the Ranch and then create and carry out a prioritized treatment plan. These treatment plans at times involve the application of herbicides, but some species require manual removal by seasonal staff members and volunteers at the Ranch.
In addition to treating Philmont’s property, the conservation department also assists with invasive species control in the Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest, the Elliott Barker State Wildlife Area, and the property of other neighboring partners. Plants and animals do not recognize property lines, and so Philmont must work closely with its neighbors to achieve healthy ecosystems for the region in general.
Stream and Watershed Restoration
Philmont’s waterways, like those across the southwest, face issues of erosion and degradation stemming from both industrial and natural processes. Logging, railroad development, mining, overgrazing by wildlife and cattle, flooding and fires have all damaged Philmont’s riparian areas. In several watersheds on the Ranch, creek and streambed channels have become incised, lowering water tables, draining wetlands, and reducing resilience to drought, the warming climate, and other disturbances.
Philmont is responding by implementing restoration efforts in places such as Bonito Creek, and the Middle and South Ponil. Restoration efforts are designed to improve water quality, halt erosion, and bring back historic wetlands. Restoration efforts focus on restoring stream function through Process Based Restoration methods such as the construction of beaver dam analogs, (BDA’s), one rock dams (ORD’s), and Zuni bowls.
Philmont coordinates with governmental partners such as the EPA and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and private partners such as the Cimarron Watershed Alliance (CWA) to develop and implement restoration programs. Currently EPA and NMED are funding the Bonito Creek and North Ponil projects with Clean Water Act 319 Grants. Restoration efforts often take decades of work and careful monitoring to ensure success and Philmont is committed to ensuring the best possible stewardship of its precious water resources.
Hunting has a long tradition in America, and northern New Mexico is no different. In an age where large predators are reduced in number or have been extirpated, hunting remains as the best way to manage populations of large ungulates such as deer and elk. Without a check on these populations, their increasing numbers would cause damage to their habitat and lead to their demise by starvation and disease. As part of Philmont’s wildlife program, the Ranch offers a variety of hunting opportunities for scouters nominated by their Council Executive. LEARN MORE.