RGJV’s 2023 Monitoring Program Expands to West Texas, Second Year in South Texas

June 30, 2023 | Posted in General News

Photo by Rebekah Rylander

During the spring and summer of 2023, the Rio Grande Joint Venture’s science coordinator Rebekah Rylander initiated the joint venture’s first season of monitoring in west Texas and second season of monitoring in south Texas. The 7 treatment sites surveyed in west Texas were on private properties involved with the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Partnership (CDCP), and the 14 treatment sites that were surveyed throughout south Texas were on private properties enrolled in the Grasslands Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP). Both programs (led by Jeff Bennett in west Texas and Jesus Franco in south Texas) restore and improve native grassland habitats throughout the region with the goal to increase breeding and wintering grassland bird populations that are currently in decline.

To collect sufficient data on restoration projects, the RGJV used the Grassland Effectiveness Monitoring (GEM) protocol, a detailed survey methodology adapted from the Bureau of Land Management’s Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIMs) survey and NRCS’s Natural Resources Inventory (NRI). For more information on vegetation survey methodologies that the RGJV uses, visit the GEM Story Map. For avian monitoring on grassland sites in south Texas, the RGJV used a grid-style point count method similar to the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (BCR) winter bird monitoring protocol. Get more information on avian survey methodologies.

Rebekah Rylander trained and managed three crews across the geography to collect data using the GEM protocol. One crew covered Hudspeth and Culberson Counties in west Texas (Brandi Griffin and Cole Kempton of The Barn Group Land Trust); another crew covered sites in Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Presidio Counties in west Texas (Kelsey Wogan, a graduate student from Sul Ross State University, Jeff Bennett of the RGJV, and Rebekah Rylander, the author); and lastly a crew surveyed across all south Texas sites (Micah Rainey, a student in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Texas Tech University, and Brandi Griffin of The Barn Group). Additionally in south Texas, Sonia Duran, a graduate student from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, received training from Rebekah Rylander in how to conduct point counts for priority grassland bird species.

Streambed, Riparian, and Bird Song Monitoring

In addition to grassland monitoring efforts, the RGJV also began its first season (summer of 2023) conducting official streambed and riparian monitoring surveys on 4 treatment sites in west Texas with efforts led by Jeff Bennett. Data was collected on streambed cross-sections, stream flow, canopy cover, vegetative response, and other metrics to assess how the installation of brush and rock dams in selected locations is influencing the health of stream systems. Monitoring and survey efforts have been executed by Jeff Bennett and Kelsey Wogan.

Finally, the RGJV, with assistance from the Dixon Water Foundation’s Philip Boyd and Sul Ross State University’s Dr. Maureen Frank, installed 8 autonomous recording units (ARUs) along several selected properties in west Texas, including Alamito Creek Preserve. ARUs are designed to passively record bird vocalizations to assess if priority avian species are using the riparian corridors where the RGJV has focused restoration efforts. They can also detect if birds are likely breeding in an area (if vocalizations persist throughout the summer) or if they are likely using the riparian habitat as migratory corridors (vocalizations only detected during the spring and fall).

All in all, the RGJV is pleased with the progression of the 2023 monitoring season and is excited to potentially expand monitoring efforts further into the Chihuahuan desert grasslands as Mexican partners gain interest. With data sets collected using the same methodologies, we hope to better understand how restoration efforts are influencing vegetation and bird response across a larger geography.

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