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Vekol Valley Grassland Restoration


Lowland burrowing frog, Pternohyla fodiens

Lowland burrowing frog, Pternohyla fodiens

The Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument (FSDNM) recently sent a grant proposal the Bureau of Land Management to conduct research to determine the feasibility of restoring the Vekol Valley Grassland located in the Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM).

The Vekol Valley Grassland (The Vekol Valley Grassland prior to the designation of the Sonoran Desert National Monument was classified as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern) is a remnant of a once larger desert grassland community, dominated by tobosa grass Hilaria mutica [Pleuraphis mutica] once ranging from Mexico into central Arizona.  Severe reductions of this grassland community were caused by overgrazing, land development and irresponsible OHV use. Today threats to this community are irresponsible OHV use, smuggling activities, trespass livestock and climate change. The FSDNM has chosen the Vekol Valley Grassland as a priority biological community deserving special attention and advocacy.


The Vekol Grassland in the SDNM is approximately 300-acres in area and has four rare amphibians and one record of the rare Arizona mud turtle.

  • Green toad                                                       Bufo deblis
  • Sonoran green toad                                       Bufo retiformis
  • Great Plains narrowmouth toad                  Gastrophryne olivacea
  • Lowland burrowing frog                               Pternohyla fodiens
  • Arizona mud turtle                                         Kinosternon arizonense

Left to right: Sonoran green toad, Arizona mud turtle, Lowland burrowing frog & Great Plains narrowmouth toad.


Historically the endangered Sonoran pronghorn once roamed this area. The SDNM has been listed as a possible future site for translocation of the Sonoran pronghorn.

The area was grazed from the early 20th century until the early 21st century. Fortunately grazing is currently prohibited by presidential proclamation, but unfortunately there are trespass cattle and horses in this area since smugglers have cut many sections of fence and destroyed many gates separating the SDNM and the Tohono O’dham Nation. The BLM and the FSDNM have repaired sections of the fence, but as Americans continue to use illegal drugs smuggled from Mexico fences and gates will continue to be cut and destroyed.

In the late 1940s and early 1950 several spreader dikes (levees) were constructed in the area to capture and divert runoff being channeled by the Vekol Wash to numerous pastures. Many of the pastures were planted with a variety of forage grasses to support the livestock operation. Many of the spreader dikes are over 100 yards wide and a few are still functioning as cattle tanks and hold several hundred acre-feet of water. Dense mesquite bosques surround many of the cattle tanks. The bosques provide habitat for many wildlife species and it is thought that the intact cattle tanks and mesquite bosques provide crucial habitat for the rare amphibians.

Several species of waterfowl and shore birds have been observed using these tanks.

Research Questions

The FSDNM proposes to organize a group of scientists and restoration professionals to analyze what is known about the Vekol Grassland and determine what the BLM and its conservation partners should or can do to conserve and restore the Vekol Valley Grassland. Specific questions are:

  1. Can the area be restored? What would restoration look like? How do we measure success?
  2. What are the populations of the rare amphibians?
  3. What should be done with the spreader dikes and cattle tanks?
  4. Do the rare amphibians depend upon the cattle tanks and mesquite bosques for survival?
  5. How does this project affect Sonoran desert and arid grassland conservation regionally?
  6. How would this project influence future Sonoran pronghorn reintroduction efforts?

Research conclusions andmanagement recommendations will be based upon best available scientific data.

Public Engagement

The FSDNM will recruit volunteers for fieldwork and the Scottsdale Community College biology department will integrate fieldwork, i.e. resource inventory into the curriculum.

The FSDNM will present results of this study on its website.

Benefits of the Project

The project will promote:

  • The BLM’s mission for the National Conservation Lands as outlined in the 15-Year Strategy for National Conservation Lands to conserve, protect, and restore nationally significant landscapes and places that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations.
  • The BLM’s vision for the National Conservation Lands is to be a world leader in conservation by protecting landscapes, applying evolving knowledge, and bringing people together to share stewardship of the land.
  • That the National Conservation Lands represent a model in which landscape-scale conservation can be achieved through shared stewardship. To carry out its National Conservation Land’s mission, the BLM seeks the help of tribes, communities of interest and place, Friends groups, recreationists, ranchers, business interests, universities, and others to assist in managing for conservation in the context of a larger working landscape and to respect the unique and diverse opportunities that result from these national treasures.
  • Provide clear, consistent policy and guidance that affirms the primacy of the designating proclamation for the Vekol Grassland in planning and management.
  • Provide a scientific foundation for decision-making.
  • Establish a science team to facilitate inter-agency and cross-directorate scientific collaboration, promote science, disseminate research results, and integrate science into management.
  • The use of the Vekol Valley Grassland as an outdoor laboratory for enhancing conservation of natural and cultural resources, consistent with the presidential proclamation.
  • Share what is learned (for example, online forums, publications, training, workshops, conferences) for application on National Conservation Lands and other lands.
  • Answers to proposed research questions.


The FSDNM is committed to making the BLM’s National Conservations Lands program a success. This is just one of the many projects the FSDNM will undertake in the future to make triumph a reality.



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