Water Reclamation Area Becomes Certified Wildlife Habitat

Guest Post by Lisa Limbert

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Fisherman enjoying the creek at the preserve. Photo credit: Lisa Limbert

Tucked into the fast-growing city of Gilbert, Arizona, the Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a ground water reclamation project that was designed to be a recreation center for people and a habitat for wildlife.

With an eye towards the future, a series of ponds was filled with plants native to Arizona’s naturally occurring riparian areas.  The original plan was to provide a habitat that would be attractive to native and migratory birds.  By providing food, water, cover and places to raise young, this municipal center was designed to be a self-sustaining ecosystem with its own well-established wildlife population.

It also  made the preserve eligible to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.

The plan has succeeded and now supports a thriving community of plants and animals.  Recreational opportunities for people include bird watching, nature walks, photography, urban fishing, and an observatory. These features have attracted a segment of the population interested in nature. The citizens are very involved in many aspects of the preserve’s use and maintenance.

Observatory Lake

Observatory Lake at the preserve. Photo credit: Lisa Limbert

Moving forward, the Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is now focused on maintaining this well-established wildlife habitat while servicing the public.  This takes constant vigilance and reevaluation.  As with any area where humans and wildlife coexists, the safety and comfort of its inhabitants is a challenging and complicated endeavor. Issues such as fishing waste, noise, and nesting site preservation are constantly being reevaluated.

For example, recently, a series of forums and meetings have been held regarding the urban fishing that has long been a feature of the Water Ranch. Now that the wildlife has flourished, the amount of fishing lines and hooks left behind is being addressed. A compromise has been proposed that will attempt to reduce the numbers of wildlife being injured by discarded fishing materials. A broad cross section of citizens was very active as changes were considered. Many lively discussions resulted in a plan that allows urban fishing to continue while reducing negative consequences for the established wildlife.

With a healthy population of cottontails, waterfowl, songbirds, and reptiles, there is much to see.  The animals were invited and they here to stay! The Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is an excellent example of how following the recommendations of NWF’s Garden for Wildlife program and providing food, water, cover and places to raise young will attract a wildlife population. Even when done on a large scale, these principles work and nature will flourish.

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Lisa Limbert is a licensed rehabilitator and educator in Gilbert, Arizona.

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