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Comanche Creek

The Comanche Creek Wetland Action Plan has been approved by NMED
Download Comanche Creek WPA

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The Comanche Creek Watershed (CCW) is part of a beautiful landscape high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico.

This working landscape hosts a large elk herd, is productive grazing land for cattle, and is home to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, New Mexico's State Fish.


The Comanche Creek Watershed area was inhabited by the Jicarilla Apache and others before them. Colonization of the area by the Spaniards in the 1500s brought more inhabitants to the area. At one time, under the Maxwell Land Grant, Lucien Maxwell employed more than 500 people who cultivated many acres and also ran large herds of sheep and cattle. The book, Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell: Napoleon of the Southwest by Lawrence R. Murphy (1983) is a historical nonfiction about Maxwell's influence in shaping the history of the area. Mining was also a common activity in the watershed after gold was discovered in the late 1800s within the Maxwell Land Grant. Large scale logging efforts occurred as recently as the 1980s.

The Valle Vidal has had many owners over the years, all primarily used the land as a private hunting reserve and leased out for grazing rights. The land was eventually acquired by the Pennzoil Corporation in 1973. In 1982, the Valle Vidal Unit was donated to the United States Forest Service by Pennzoil in exchange for a tax debt (Valle Vidal Deed, 1982).

The United States Forest Service inherited a landscape that was impacted by the heavy uses of the past. These legacy impacts such as the timber harvesting and subsequent construction of many logging roads, mining, and the overgrazing by livestock resulted in a watershed that was in a cycle of active degradation. The current condition of Comanche Creek Watershed creeks, wetlands, and wet meadows, and of its tributaries, is a product of legacy use within the watershed. This historical use has contributed to a significant amount of soil erosion, increase in sediment load in the streams, increases in stream water temperature, and overall degradation of the riparian and wetland ecosystems.

When the U.S. Forest Service gained ownership of the Valle Vidal, and within it, the Comanche Creek Watershed, there was much to do to improve conditions and reverse the impacts of the legacy land uses. The US Forest Service implemented considerable restoration activities, including the reduction of livestock numbers from 2,500 to less than 1,000 and a shift from season-long to rotational grazing in pasture systems. Grazing management, logging road closures, and improved road drainages all had a considerable positive impact in the watershed.

Under management of the U.S. Forest Service, the Valle Vidal Unit is administered for multiple use and sustained yield after the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA 1960), as modified by the National Forest Management Act. The Valle Vidal Grazing Association uses the Comanche Creek Watershed and other pastures in the Valle Vidal Unit for summer grazing. Firewood harvesting permits are issued annually. A large elk herd managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish brings many wildlife viewing and hunting enthusiasts into the watershed. The area is a popular hiking and camping location and is also a well-known destination for back county horseback groups. People also come to the CCW for catch and release fishing of Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

Since 2001, the Quivira Land and Water Program has played a significant role in trying to reverse the cycle of degradation in the Comanche Creek Watershed serving in multiple roles. Quivira serves as the organizer for the Comanche Creek Working Group (the watershed association), secures funding, through grant writing. to be used for educational workshops and on-the-ground restoration projects, and serves as the project manager for these large-scale restoration projects including coordination of machine-build projects as well as annual volunteer work weekends.

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Volunteers come together annually to do good work in the watershed

Partners in these efforts include the following groups.
The Carson National Forest - Questa Ranger District, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, New Mexico Trout, Trout Unlimited, Albuquerque Wildlife Federation, Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Water Quality Bureau (NMED SWQB) and the NMED SWQB, Wetlands Program, Boy Scout Troop 189, Philmont Scout Ranch, many talented restoration contractors, and dedicated volunteers. Through the efforts of all these people, Comanche Creek restoration was showcased as an EPA Success story.

For everything that has been accomplished in the Comanche Creek Watershed, there are many more miles of creek and acres of wetland to bring back to health. The Wetland Action Plan for the Comanche Creek Watershed (authored by the Comanche Creek Working Group and funded by NMED SWQB Wetlands Program) is an important component of the planning process that informs future restoration work. A technical bulletin written by Bill Zeedyk and the Quivira Coalition with funds from NMED SWQB WP describes the conditions in the watershed and the techniques used to stabilize and restore these headwater wetland systems. Slope Wetlands Bulletin

Stabilization and restoration wetlands in the upper tributaries in the Comanche Creek Watershed is a process that proceeds at a punctuated pace - much like the natural process operating in the watershed. Snow falls in the mountains and slowly melts contributing to water base flow in tributaries that find their way to the waters of the Rio Grande. Stabilization and restoration work (snowmelt) occur as funding (snowfall) is secured from multiple sources to keep this important process moving forward. Quivira will continue to work with trout fishers and cattle herders to stabilize and restore this iconic watershed.

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Fisherman and cattleman reflect on a good days work in the watershed