January 22, 2011
Cool morning temperatures were no excuse to sleep in last Saturday morning. Ten volunteers made the drive from Amargosa Valley, Pahrump, Shoshone, and even Las Vegas to cut cattails – starting at 8:30 a.m.! After an orientation to the project by FWS biologist Darrick Weissenfluh, volunteers literally “jumped right in” to the warm waters of Crystal Spring outflow to start cutting. Working for over 4 hours, volunteers removed cattails with hand clippers along approximately 200 yards of stream channel. The cut vegetation, nearly one dump-truck’s worth, was then pushed downstream and loaded up onto the bank with pitch forks – no easy task!
While cattails are native to Ash Meadows, historically they were not as abundant as they are today. The reason for their overgrowth in the springs and streams at Ash Meadows is largely due to past habitat alterations – namely, the large-scale farming and ranching that occurred in the 1950s-1970s. During this period, many of the springs and streams were diverted into cement irrigation ditches which greatly affected the natural water flow and surrounding vegetation. Today, the cement channels have been removed along a portion of Crystal Spring outflow and the water returned to its original stream bed. Despite our best restoration efforts, however, negative impacts are still felt. After years of lying dry, the stream bed had eroded and widened. The widened stream has a slower flow and more sunlight, favoring the growth of cattails and, in turn, providing prime habitat for aquatic exotics such as crayfish and sunfish. These exotics compete with native stream inhabitants such as the Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish. This pupfish is listed as federally endangered due largely to its highly restricted range: it is endemic to the Ash Meadows region. Removing cattails plays an important role in conserving this rare species!
For more than a decade, Ash Meadows NWR staff, along with volunteers, has been controlling invasive cattail growth in springs throughout the Refuge. Crystal Spring outflow is one location where cattail removal is a priority. We wish to thank all the volunteers who helped improve our wetlands on January 22nd!
– Alyson Mack, Great Basin Institute Environmental Education & Outreach Specialist