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Monday, February 28, 2011
Bringing the Bosque Back
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
SANDIA PUEBLO — Malcolm Montoya sees the wild turkeys that now make their home along the Rio Grande as a sign of progress.
This ancient Native American community, hemmed in by development on three sides and home to a river that no longer flows naturally, has been working in recent years to restore its natural environment.
Montoya, the pueblo's governor, sees the return of turkeys to the landscape as a sign the effort is working.
Last week, Montoya took Michael Connor, one of the U.S. government's top Western water officials, on a tour of some of the environmental restoration sites on pueblo land along the Rio Grande.
Connor heads the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which helps manage Rio Grande water systems and has funded some of the restoration work on Sandia land.
New channels have been cut through the riverside woods to allow slow-moving, shallow water preferred by the river's native fish. Overgrown nonnative vegetation has been cleared, and new inlets and bays have been created.
The manual work is needed, Montoya explained, because upstream dams and water management for human use prevent the river from doing what it used to do naturally.
"The whole area used to flood," Montoya said, pointing to the woodlands along the river. The flooding, as high spring flows rose out of the river's main channel and spread across the valley floor, helped cottonwoods seed naturally, something that cannot happen anymore.
Connor, Montoya and a group of visitors stood beside a bay dug out of one side of the riverbank, which is meant to be a haven for fish when the river drops — a sanctuary in dry times, said Shannon Mann, a tribal employee who helped oversee the work.
As part of the project, 80 acres have been restored, stretching 1.5 miles along the east side of the Rio Grande near the pueblo's Sandia Lakes recreation area.
Derrick Lente, a lawyer and Sandia Pueblo resident who worked on earlier riverside restoration work as a teenager, said the work gave area young people an appreciation of the value of the bosque — "not just Sandia, not just Albuquerque, but the entire environment."
Restoring the bosque and cleaning up the environment is also important for Sandia Pueblo residents' historic religious use of the river, said Frank Chaves, who heads the tribe's environmental program.
"It remains part of our culture," Chaves said.