2017 Science Conference

Malpai Borderlands Group

The 2017 MBG Science Conference was held on Tuesday, January 4th, at the new Geronimo Event Center north of Rodeo, New Mexico.  Attendance this year increased once again over the previous year.  The new location has proven to be more accessible for local ranchers and supporters than the previous Cochise College events. 

Larry Allen, Chair of the MBG Board, welcomed the speakers and those in attendance.  He then introduced Dr. Nathan Sayre, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and MBG board member, who moderated the morning session. 

Our keynote speaker this year was Tim Koopman, whose family owns and operates the Koopman Ranch in the Bay Area of California east of San Francisco.  Tim gave a history of the ranch that has been in his family for four generations.  He described how changes in land and water use, as well as developing environmental concerns have impacted agriculture in the watershed.  Water allocations and environmental restrictions there are probably as complex and contentious as anywhere in the nation.  He related how he and his family have participated in the development and application of a suite of tools to address and resolve environmental, political and social conflicts, as well as to deal with difficult issues of ranch succession.

Dr. Emile Elias, a research hydrologist with the Jornada Experimental Range, described approaches that ranchers can use to make sense of climate change projections and assess how such changes may affect their operations.  She described a suite of practical tools that are available online to assist ranchers in adapting their management to predicted changes in water tables, evaporation rates and surface water availability.

Next, Dr. Mollie Walton, the Land and Water Program Director for the Quivira Coalition, described her work with participating ranchers to apply simple monitoring methods to assess changes in ecological condition.  Her methods emphasize the measurement of changes in the proportion of bare ground in successive years as a metric of range condition and trend.

The last speaker in the morning session was Dr. Justin Congdon, a longtime collaborator and member of our science advisory group.  He and his colleagues have worked extensively to document the ecology of Sonoran mud turtles in ranch ponds.  He described the importance of these water sources to the continued survival of these unique creatures in the desert southwest, as our climate warms and becomes more arid.

After a lunch break, MBG board member Peter Warren, Field Representative for the Arizona Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, moderated the afternoon session. 
The first speaker was Geoff Bender, the Director of the American Museum of Natural History Southwestern Research Station.  Geoff described his work to restore and recover Chiricahua leopard frog populations in Cave Creek Canyon.  The species is currently federally listed as “threatened” and it has disappeared from over 80 percent of its original range.  Populations in the Cave Creek watershed, the type locality for the species, had declined to the point of extinction. He also gave an update on the status of the frog throughout its current range and progress being made toward recovery.

Next up was Dr. Mary Nichols, Research Hydraulic Engineer with the USDA-ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, another longtime collaborator.  She presented an update on new methodologies for measuring volumes of water in farm and ranch ponds using drones, lasers and remote sensing.

After a short mid-afternoon break, Dr. Andres Ciblis described the research that he and his colleagues have undertaken with the Rarimuri Criollo breed of cattle—animals directly descended from the first domestic cattle introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century.  The animals in his study are native to north-central Mexico and are drought-resistant and able to thrive in very arid regions.  His group has identified both physiological and behavioral adaptations that contribute to their drought-hardiness.

Myles Traphagen, Principal, Solar Biology LLC’ and one of our collaborating plant ecologists, gave the final presentation of the afternoon.  He described his work with remote sensing imagery to document thirty years of increases in shrub cover in the Malpai Borderlands and adjacent regions.  He described how these vegetation changes have affected the migration corridors and the connectivity of populations of grassland species that we share with our neighbors in Mexico.

On Wednesday, January 5th, MBG staff met with members of our science advisory group who were in attendance.  We conducted a post-mortem on the conference the preceding day and discussed research needs and projects.  We spent considerable time brainstorming themes for the 2018 conference, and potential subjects and speakers.

If you have questions or comments about our conference this year, or ideas about subjects or speakers for our next conference, we would like to hear from you.  Please post any feedback to

Last Updates: 10/11/17

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