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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Las Vegas Memorial Middle School students learn firsthand about ecological restoration

LAS VEGAS - It's one thing to sit in a class and be told about ecological restoration. It's another to visit a project in its natural setting and participate in taking survey data.



Joe Zebrowski of New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute talks to Las Vegas Memorial Middle School seventh-grade students about beaver habitat while the students visited Pritzlaff Ranch during an ecological field trip. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Seventh-grade students at Las Vegas Memorial Middle School visited Pritzlaff Ranch, north of Las Vegas, N.M., to learn about the ecological restoration that is being conducted on the 10,000 acre ranch.

"Students are studying ecology in their science class, so we decided to give them an opportunity to experience aspects of restoration so they could understand ecology and forest restoration better," said Peter Skelton, director of the New Mexico State University Memorial Agriculture Science Center located on the school's campus. "We want them to understand why watershed management is important."

During the field trip students engaged in beaver ecology, forestry and riparian habitat assessment.

The event was a combination of several environmental agencies that are collaborating with the Memorial Middle School Agricultural Science Center on natural resource education. Representatives of New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at New Mexico Highland University, New Mexico Game and Fish Department's River Source, and Citizens Watershed Monitoring Team showed the students how they gather data about the various habitats on the ranch.

"Each of these groups are working to fix parts of the ranch environment that are broken because of the way the land was managed in the past," said Sterling Grogan, Biophilia foundation's New Mexico project manager who lives at the ranch now. "We have planted new trees, shrubs and bushes along the stream, which will be good for the deer, elk and beaver. In the forest, we are thinning the forest to make it healthier. And as we bring cattle onto the grassland we'll manage the grazing to help the pastures become healthy."

Lea Knutson, Adam Berg and Sonya Berg of Citizens Watershed Monitoring Team, along with Joe Zebrowski of New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute helped the student read the signs of beaver habitat along the Sapello River, which runs through the ranch. The students recorded their observations to help with the data the team is gathering.

Kent Reid of New Mexico Forestry and Watershed Restoration Institute explained how the ponderosa forest has changed through the centuries from before the railroad came to New Mexico to now. Students got hands-on experience measuring the diameter of a tree, as well as its height, and they learned what changes were being made with the forest restoration project.

The students learned about the riparian habitat along the Sapello River from Richard Schrader and Ryan Bolton of River Source. They conducted a survey of plant life along the stream, as well as measured the speed of the water flow and looked for bugs living on the stream bed.

"At the Memorial Agriculture Science Center we are working to form a variety of partnerships with non-profit organizations, foundations, governmental entities and other state institutions of higher learning to expose the students to a wide range of ecological and cultural settings, opportunities in agriculture, natural resources and science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. This field trip was just one way we are reaching this goal," said Skelton.