Eco-Restoration and the Desert Southwest: WildEarth Guardians

More and more of these kinds of eco-restoration (aka re-wilding) projects are critical to mitigating and surviving climate change. In particular, specific measures that would help to protect water supplies (surface, ground, precipitation run-off, etc.) are a crucial first step in any ecosystem in any bio-region…in the case of the riparian zones of the Desert Southwest, that means (among other things) removing the damn cattle and restoring the willows and cottonwoods! Go WildEarth Guardians!!


Chapter 4
Wyatt and the Cottonwood Tree

Wyatt, the immortal wolf, remembers the Old West.

Wyatt led his pack from the wild lands of the Gila to the
Colorado Plateau, concealed by the tunnels of cottonwood that
formed a thin, green line of life for the arid desert. The shade
of the giant cottonwoods provided relief from the heat of the
day. At night, when the leafy canopy veiled Wyatt’s compass of
stars, he would simply follow the corridor upstream.

These passages were filled with birdsong, and kingfishers
swooped down from the branches, diving underwater after their
prey–a skill Wyatt envied. On hot summer days, when he came
upon one of the many beaver dams, he cooled off in their ponds.
Foxes and squirrels found shelter inside the trees. Every

cottonwood was an oasis.
Wyatt remembers when the cottonwoods nearly burst into the sky,
growing twenty feet or more in just a few years. Their branches
twisted and turned, reaching in all directions, forming nooks
and crevices where a multitude of creatures discovered new

Then, people seized the waters and cottonwoods grew slower and
seedlings died. Trees from the east pushed out native species.
As wolves were hunted and killed, elk began to lounge around
streams where they ate the young trees. Cattle did the same.
With each passing generation, the giant cottonwoods came closer
to being a piece of the past.

River and stream ecosystems are the most productive,
biologically diverse, landscapes in the American Southwest.
Unfortunately, they are also the most threatened. Over a century
ago, cottonwoods, willows, and other vegetation stretched out
over the entire floodplain of the southwest, allowing rivers and
streams to meander, allowing these waters an opportunity to
infiltrate into the ground, and provide shade and reduce water
temperatures, and improve water quality.

WildEarth Guardians’ vision is to provide cottonwood and river
ecosystems with the natural tools which made them once flourish,
and reduce current activities that impair their health. In 2009
we will be:

Planting More than 35,000 Cottonwoods and Other Trees.

WildEarth intends to expand and intensify our stream restoration
efforts in 2009, working on seven different sites across the
Southwest. We will plant cottonwoods, willows, box-elders and
dozens of other streamside trees and shrubs that will jump-start
the healing process of streams such as Bluewater Creek, the Rio
Puerco, and Babocamari Creek.

Engaging Thousands of Citizen Tree Planters.

By getting your feet wet and your hands dirty planting trees
with us, people like you help implement our vision of healthy
streams. We work to help YOU become a powerful voice for greater
protection of our waters.

Bringing Beavers Back to Southwestern Streams.

We believe real restoration must include restoring ecological
engineers–like beavers–who create and restore habitat for
wildlife and help new cottonwoods germinate. In 2009, we intend
to work with federal land management agencies like the Forest
Service and the Bureau of Land Management to identify places
where beavers can be restored.

You remember the Wild, we remember the rest.

For the wild,

Jim Matison
Restoration Projects Director
WildEarth Guardians


Why I’m a Guardian.

“As a native of the southwest, I have long shared in the
stunning beauty and vibrancy of these vital ecosystems, and the
abundant wildlife supported by these areas. Sadly, I have also
watched the continuing disappearance of these areas. It came to
me that I needed to be a part of the change to restore these
river ecosystems. This is why I became a guardian.”
— Jim Matison

Please share your vision of the West and what it means to you to
be a Guardian. Send in your thoughts:

Give $10 to plant a willow:

Give $20 to plant a cottonwood:

Give $100 to plant a grove of willows:

Give $500 to plant a grove of cottonwoods:

Donate to WildEarth Guardians:

Holiday Gift Catalog:

To donate your vehicle, email:

WildEarth Guardians
505 988-9126
312 Montezuma, Santa Fe – New Mexico – 87501

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