At first glance, Diamond Y Spring, its associated watercourse and desert marshland (cienega) does not appear to be much more than a small pond and creek in the middle of arid grasslands and the sparsely vegetated limestone mesa country of the Stockton Plateau. However, the rarity of the desert spring habitat and the organisms that occur there make it one of the rarest natural treasures of West Texas. Topographically, the system includes Diamond Y Spring, many small peripheral springs, surface outflow creeks and marshes, Diamond Y Draw and its confluence with Leon Creek.
The 3,962-acre Diamond Y Spring Preserve protects one of the largest and last remaining cienega systems in West Texas. This preserve provides critically important habitat for two species of rare desert fishes listed as federally endangered species (the Leon Springs pupfish, Cyprinodon bovinus and the Pecos Gambusia, Gambusia nobilis), the federally threatened, rare, salt-tolerant Pecos (or puzzle) sunflower, four other globally rare plants and a suite of rare aquatic invertebrates. Diamond Y is also designated as critical habitat for Leon Springs Pupfish and is the only remaining natural habitat for the pupfish. The Pecos Gambusia has a severely reduced range across the central Pecos River basin in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. All of these organisms depend upon the maintenance and perpetuation of the surface springs, their outflow marshes and watercourses or subirrigated moist soils for survival.
The Nature Conservancy of Texas is protecting and enhancing this endangered ecosystem through cooperative partnerships with academic and agency researchers, oil and gas companies and local ranchers. The preserve is a model for conservation of this delicate community. The permanent protection of this site’s ecological integrity and function is important in a landscape context to conserve the surface hydrology of this desert cienega and its adjacent basin since the surface waters and critical conservation values (species and habitats) only exist for less than three linear miles in total extent.
Diamond Y Spring Preserve was purchased from prominent Pecos County rancher M. R. Gonzalez, primarily to protect the two endangered fish and the threatened sunflower. The acquisition was the first step in preserving the cienega system. The Conservancy extended a long-term cattle grazing lease (now expired) to Mr. Gonzalez. He subsequently worked with The Nature Conservancy to manage grazing in sensitive areas by fencing off pastures that contain the bulk of the Pecos sunflower population. This pasture rotation flexibility excluded cattle from the sunflowers when they were beginning to flower and most vulnerable to grazing pressure.
Diamond Y Spring Preserve is also within an active oil and gas production area and the companies involved with energy exploration and extraction have worked cooperatively with the Conservancy for land management and threat abatement from energy production and transportation activities including restoration of former oil well sites back to native vegetation. The preserve is a model of rare species conservation and private partnerships on an economically viable agricultural and energy-producing landscape.
The Conservancy’s goal for the Diamond Y Spring Conservation Area is the perpetual protection of critical and sufficient acreage with conservation values (species of concern and their habitats) as the Diamond Y Spring Preserve. This strategy is designed to abate threats associated with immediate surface hydrology, runoff and soil contamination (including oil and gas production-related threats), potential subdivision, rangeland degradation and fragmentation of landscape-scale ecological processes including cienega surface flows, permanently moist soils and marsh/grassland health.
Visitation is limited to scheduled and arranged visits through the deserts program office, typically with Conservancy staff leaders. For more information, please contact the office at The Nature Conservancy, Deserts Program Office, P.O. Box 150, Dryden, TX 78851; (432) 345-6773.