Pincushion Cactus
Pincushion Cactus

Twenty Years of Endangered Species

When the Malpai Group was getting started 20 years ago we really didn't plan on becoming endangered species experts.  Our region has one of the highest number of listed species known from any comparable area, with nearly 30 endangered species that live here full time, or migrate through during part of the year.  When we thought about endangered species at all, it was mostly to wonder what problems they would cause for us.  We certainly didn't think of them as an asset.  However, one-by-one, need arose to learn more about our listed species.  The Group's efforts have gradually taken a leading role in developing information about the ecology and management needs for several species. We discovered that in some situations their presence can actually be an aid to achieving our landscape goals.

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In early spring of 1996, Warner Glenn and his daughter Kelly were on a mountain lion hunt in the Peloncillo Mountains when they got on the trail of what appeared to be a large lion.  When Warner finally caught up to it, the “lion” turned out to be a jaguar.  As luck would have it, Warner had a full roll of film in his camera.  The photos he took of the jaguar were the first ever taken of a wild jaguar in the United States. Jaguars have occasionally been seen in Arizona over the years, one as far north as the Grand Canyon in 1932, but all seem to have been wandering individuals, with no clear evidence of a population north of the Mexican border. 

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New Mexico Ridge-Nose Rattlesnake

One of the Groups' major efforts has been to work with land managers to return fire to the landscape as a natural ecological process that is necessary to sustain and restore grassland and savanna woodland habitat. The early steps to accomplish this have been to plan a series of prescribed burns which are beginning to get vegetation structure back into a healthy equilibrium with periodic fire.

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Rio Yaqui Fishes

The San Bernardino Valley, on the West side of the Malpai region, is the northern   tip of the watershed for the Rio Yaqui, a river which flows for 300 miles south from here to its mouth on the Gulf of California. The species of fish found in the Rio Yaqui are different from any found in other rivers in the United States.

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The Lesser Long-Nosed Bat

The lesser long-nosed bat is a migratory species that spends the summer in the Malpai area. These bats spend most of the year to the south in Mexico, where they can find enough nectar and fruit from tropical trees to feed them through the winter.

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Chiricahua Leopard Frog

One of the first endangered species projects the Group got involved with was to help the Magoffin family develop reliable water for a Chiricahua leopard frog population. Beginning in 1994 a stock tank that had supported the frogs for many years began to go dry. The Magoffins started hauling water, 1,000 gallons per week, for what turned out to be over two years.

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2006 Jaguar

A new jaguar photo was taken by Warner Glenn in the Malpai Borderlands in 2006, 10 years after he photographed the first jaguar in the area.  It is not the same jaguar that Warner photographed in 1996. The spot patterns were different. This jaguar also was a large male. He was in beautiful shape. Looked to be an older cat. Seven people saw the cat as it went on its way.

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The Science Advisory Committee of the Malpai Borderlands Group is composed of scientists specializing in disciplines ranging from botany to zoology.

Did you know?

  • Malpai ranchers have cooperated with scientists to inventory the region’s rich biodiversity — including the most diverse lizard fauna in the US.
  • The Malpai region has the most extensive network of long-term vegetation monitoring plots in the Southwest. The data collected helps ranchers and public land managers to improve ongoing grassland restoration efforts.
  • The Malpai science program maintains over 200 monitoring plots to provide baseline data on the ecology of the region. Other research efforts focus on specific taxa like the tiny Cochise pincushion cactus.



The Jornada- Arid Lands Research Programs -

The Cuencos Los Ojos Foundation -

Jaguar Book -

Northern Jaguar Project -




The 2020 Malpai Science Conference

“Acknowledging the past and looking forward”


Myles Traphagen

Malpai Borderlands Group Science Coordinator


For nearly two decades the annual Malpai Borderlands Group Science Conference has brought scientists, ranchers and community members together to present scientific topics of interest to the borderlands. On January 9, 2020 the tradition continued with the conference held at the Geronimo Event Center in Rodeo, New Mexico. It was one of the highest attended in recent years. The 140+ conference attendees were treated to a smorgasbord of presentations that addressed past conservation and research projects, local issues that are affecting us now, and a look forward to what may be affecting us in the future. As the keynote speaker, Dave Simeral explicitly explained that we are in a trend of hotter and drier conditions. Dave is a Research Scientist at the Desert Laboratory and one of the authors of the Western Regional Climate Center drought reports.

Other presentations followed along similar themes, with Dr. Kathy Gerst from the USDA Plant Phenology Network Monitoring who spoke about changes in plant bloom times and how you can help track these changing trends using Nature’s Notebook, an app to contribute your observations to the national network. Dr. Jeff Fehmi from the University of Arizona gave us an excellent overview of the ecology of Lehman Lovegrass, an exotic South African lovegrass that most of us have developed a relationship with whether we like it or not. A lot of work has been done over the years on erosion control and water retention on both sides of the border in the San Bernardino Valley, and Dr. Laura Norman from the United States Geological Survey in Tucson, Arizona provided the numbers that show these projects are working. A lot of things are working in the MBG area, and Dr. Brandon Bestelmeyer, Project Leader at the USDA Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, provided a comprehensive overview of the socioeconomic and environmental changes in the Malpai region over the last 20 years. Compared to many places of comparable size and demography, we are doing quite well in terms of sustainability

Reptile and amphibian conservation played a big role in the early days during the formation of the Malpai Borderlands Group. Drs. Cecil Schwalbe and Phil Rosen were instrumental in those early efforts working to restore the Chiricahua leopard frog and inventory rare and elusive species like the New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake. Cecil presented on behalf of Phil and we were treated to a collage of photos of some of the region’s most impressive and colorful reptiles and amphibians.  The jaguar is also an iconic creature that has held a special place in the lore of the Malpai. Dr. Ivonne Cassaigne from Primero Conservation out of Mexico City provided the latest in cutting edge jaguar research in Sonora. The GPS collared cats they have studied have yielded a wealth of information on diet and movements, with javelina being the preferred food source of jaguars. Juan Carlos Bravo, the Mexico Program Director for Wildlands Network in Hermosillo, Sonora, updated us on efforts to build and protect corridors for spotted cats in Mexico so that they can continue to freely disperse into the US and freely roam back and forth between the two countries. How will the border wall affect these binational efforts to recover the third largest cat in the world?

Two graduate students presented their preliminary results from research that they are conducting on topics of great interest to folks in the Malpai Group. Cody Wooden, from the University of Arizona, spoke of his work using remote sensing data from Landsat satellites to determine what kind of vegetation changes have occurred in the Malpai region in the last three decades, and whether or not fire management in the borderlands has influenced positive trends in the shrub cover and grassland dynamic. Shelemia Nyamuryekung’e, a New Mexico State University student and researcher at the USDA Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces inspired us all as to possibilities that a “new-old breed” of cattle could provide another tool in how to improve range management in the Southwest. His talk, titled “Criollo cattle research: Landscape use, heat tolerance, mothering style & range finishing,” is a great example of the high quality research being conducted at the Jornada range that is improving our knowledge in animal science and landscape use. I am sure we will hear more from Shelemia in the not-too distant future. Cindy Tolle, a rancher who runs Criollo and bison in South Dakota and Chihuahua, Mexico, closed the conference by telling us of her experiences with, and admiration of this legacy-breed.

In addition to the fantastic content that the presenters provided, it was great to see so many old friends and colleagues reunite, exchange stories and embrace in the common space of the “Radical Center” that the Malpai Borderlands Group has provided for over 25 years. We would like to thank all who presented at, and attended the conference. A heartfelt thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service San Bernardino NWR for helping to sponsor the conference, and to Bob and Sheri Ashley for building a world-class facility that will surely draw many-more conferences and gatherings for years to come. Without all of your participation it wouldn’t be a community. See you next year at the 2021 Science Conference!, HotDoodle™ Custom Web Design and Quality Affordable Website Designers for Small Businesses and Professionals
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