A combined of efforts by both Philmont and Vermejo Park Ranch, Gus Holm the Assistant General Manager of Vermejo Park Ranch started this project with the Cimarron Watershed Alliance in 2008 by receiving a 319 Grant. This grant is intended to help restore the Ponil Watershed area to a healthy system. Prior to 2008, the Ponil Complex Fire, over grazing by livestock and elk, and erosion from low water stream crossings led to the degradation of the watershed. During this time, few efforts were taken to offset these issues or restore affected areas. Through the current efforts of the Ponil Creek Restoration Project these problems will be resolved in the upcoming years.
Very specific low water stream crossing and cut bank projects were identified in order to obtain a permit to work on the Ponil Creek Restoration Project. For these projects they wrote a 401/404 permit, which was approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The stream crossings consisted of building a cross vane structure directly downstream of the crossing. After the cross vane is completed the road crossing is created by filling the area just upstream of the cross vane with cobble sized rock. There were a total of five of these built along the Middle Ponil Creek, two on Philmont Scout Ranch and three on the Elliot Barker State Wildlife Refuge. The cut bank project consisted of constructing boulder vanes that would collect sediment and decrease the stress on the bank by creating a bankfull bench. Steve Carson, a contractor from Range Hands, Inc., completed these projects.
Other projects included the construction of exclosures that provide protection of riparian vegetation against elk grazing. The Ponil Complex Fire heavily impacted the riparian vegetation; since then, that vegetation has not been able to re-establish itself due to heavy elk grazing. These exclosures keep the elk away from the stream and allow the vegetation to establish itself along the banks of the Middle Ponil. This is beneficial because riparian vegetation contributes to lowering the temperature of the stream by creating more shade.
In fall of 2010, Michael Sudmeier and Seth Mangini started the initial survey of Bonito Creek, which contains a 24,300 foot stretch that flows down through the meadow that has long been grazed by cattle. After their survey, Sudmeier and Mangini suggested that exclosures and erosion control structures be built to restore this stream and a monitoring system be established and implemented. There is also a goal of implementing an educational component teaching participants about stream restoration through creating a conservation site for regular treks and the conservation special treks.
The main cause of all of the erosion problems in the Bonito Creek Canyon is the lack of vegetation due to the grazing of cattle and other herbivores in the area. The decrease in vegetation allows the soil to be more vulnerable when it rains. When heavy rain occurs in the area, the stream sees bank erosion leading to increased sediment load which in turn leads to the incision (down cutting) of the stream in Bonito meadow.
There are several methods to control all of these problems. To increase vegetation in areas, construction of exclosures in areas that have been heavily affected by erosion limit cattle and other grazers. To remedy the existing head cuts the construction of Zuni bowls, which disperse the energy of the waterfall and cause it to flow down in step pools. These step pools collect sediment and decrease the amount on erosion during flow periods. To relieve the stress on the cut banks post vanes can be constructed which when placed in front of a cut bank will act as a barrier for sediment. As the stream flows past the post vanes the sediment is deposited at the barrier allowing the water to flow past. This sediment build up will create a bankfull bench, which during flood periods will allow the water to relieve itself to a floodplain instead of digging into the bank cut.