PLJV Focuses Restoration Efforts on Filling Pits in Grassland Playas
A grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund is helping to restore playas on USDA Forest Service National Grasslands in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Partners are filling pits in over 20 playas on public and private land on or near the National Grasslands and expect to be finished by September 2016.
Playa lakes are biodiversity centers of the region, vital to Central Flyway waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds, and the primary recharge mechanism for the Ogallala aquifer, the water source for most of the region’s population including agricultural production. But modifications, such as pits, interrupt playas’ natural hydrology and reduce their ability to provide food and habitat to birds and other animals. Filling in the pitted area allows the water to spread out over the entire playa basin, rather than pooling in the excavated area, when significant precipitation events occur. This type of playa restoration is urgently needed, especially as we are faced with projections for a drying climate, where fewer playas are likely to be wet.
Climate projections foretell a complex future, and it is difficult to predict how climatic changes will interact and be compounded. The 80,000 playas scattered across the western Great Plains provide adaptability and resilience in this changing landscape, but the large number of modified, non-functioning playas must be addressed as we prepare for the future.
This project will restore the hydrological function of a network of playas, improve the connectivity between playas across a five million acre landscape and result in a more resilient landscape in a warmer, drier climate. When completed, the restored playas will support a one percent increase in migratory bird populations and the approach will serve as a model for partners in the region.