In the last century, the Altar Valley was an open grassland teeming with large herds of pronghorn. Aplomado falcons swooped down on rodent prey and masked bobwhite quail calls filled the early morning summer air. Mexican wolves, black bear, and an occasional jaguar roamed the grassland, traveling between mountain ranges.
As settlements sprang up in the Altar Valley in the 1860s, the delicate balance of the ecosystem was changed. Overgrazing left the ground bare, exposing it to torrential summer rains that quickly eroded the soil. With the grass gone and natural fires suppressed, mesquite gained a foothold. The grassland could no longer support masked bobwhite quail or aplomado falcon. Pronghorn, wolves, bear, and jaguar were hunted or trapped out.
Lehmann's lovegrass, an African grass, was introduced in the 1970s to help stop erosion. While the grass did hold the soil down and was drought resistant, it was a poor substitute for the diverse native grasses it replaced. An ecosystem without its natural diversity is a bleak landscape for many wild creatures.
Staff at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge are working to piece the ecosystem together, by restoring habitat, replacing key species, and protecting others still imperiled. At the refuge, you can enjoy a landscape like few others--where sparrows flock in winter, pronghorn play, and the valley bottom is once again the sea of grass that greeted early settlers.
Additions to the refuge since 1985 protect valuable wetland and riparian habitats at Arivaca Creek, Arivaca Cienega, and Brown Canyon. This combination of grasslands, wetlands, cottonwood-lined streambeds, and sycamore and live oak mountain canyons preserves some of the southwest's rarest habitats for seven endangered species, ten species of concern, and many other native plants and wildlife.
Over 320 species of birds have been recorded at Buenos Aires NWR. Pronghorn, mule deer, coyote, and javelina are some of the mammals frequently seen along refuge roads. Mountain lion, coatimundi, ring-tailed cats, and badger are present, but more secretive. Desert tortoise and gila monsters thrive a short distance from water-dependent amphibians, and a myriad of cactus grow within a stone's throw of watercress. In addition to the masked bobwhite quail, Buenos Aires NWR protects habitat for six other endangered species (cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, Pima pineapple cactus, Kearney bluestar, peregrine falcon, southwest willow flycatcher, and razorback sucker).
(Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Fish and Wildlife Service information and brochure
USGS bird checklist
The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge itself is severely impacted. A few years ago, 45 cars were abandoned on the Refuge near Sasabe and enough trash that a volunteer couple filled 723 large bags with 18,000 pounds of garbage over a period of two months in 2002. (See article).
See pictures of illegal alien and drug runner invasion in the
Three Points area - also known as Cocaine Alley and OTM Alley (Other Than Mexican Alley).
(Wildlife photos courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)