A wide diversity of animals and native plants call the Office of Legacy Management’s (LM) Bluewater, New Mexico, Disposal Site home.

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LM’s wildlife cameras captured photos of the elk herd at the Bluewater, New Mexico, Disposal Site in summer 2022.

An ongoing pollinator study has highlighted the important role that plants play at the Bluewater site. Showy milkweed, found in moist areas at the Bluewater disposal site, is of particular significance.  The plant is essential for the survival of the Western monarch butterfly, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated as a candidate species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The second phase of the pollinator study took place in August 2022, and additional phases in 2023 will help determine if the butterflies at the site are part of the Western population of migrating monarchs. Information garnered from the study will inform site maintenance and repairs, revegetation management activities, and conservation reuse opportunities across other LM sites.

“As monarchs migrate, they find ‘stopover’ sites to rest, breed, and refuel on nectar sources, such as milkweed,” said Bluewater Site Manager Nicole Olin. “So, it is possible that the lush grasslands at the Bluewater Site and the surrounding area play an important role in the migration of monarchs from the Rocky Mountains to central Mexico.”

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In addition to the pollinator study, LM also recently hosted a Bluewater site tour for an elk biologist and a reclamation habitat specialist from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) to discuss potential improvements to the site for wildlife conservation. LM ecologists believe the site could be situated along a potential elk migratory path between the Zuni Mountains and Mount Taylor. NMDGF proposed such site enhancements as wildlife-friendly fencing options and providing water sources. They also pointed out that onsite lava formations could be providing bat habitat.

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“Some of the potential water source improvements we are considering include the installation of water catchment systems, known as drinkers and guzzlers, and restoration of natural water features, such as ponds or wetlands,” Olin said. “By supporting and studying various wildlife species, LM is not only adding to the ecological value of the site but also gathering information that can be used to help inform conservation efforts across other LM sites.”

Wildlife cameras at the site provide a glimpse at how animals use the site. For instance, photos taken in summer 2022 provide strong evidence that the animals are there year-round. Previously, they were thought to only use it as a winter range. It’s hoped that the cameras will capture images of Gunnison’s prairie dogs, whose existence has only been suggested by burrows so far.  

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