YCC Crew members learn skills and conservation techniques while improving habitat for native plants and animals.

YCC Crew at La Mancha

At 6:00am most mornings, a crew of six youth are beginning a long day of digging up cattails, removing tumbleweeds, and building trails at a secluded pond next to the Rio Grande. The youth range from 18 to 25 years old. None of them have ever had a job like this before, but all of them are gaining paid work experience in wetland restoration techniques, wildlife identification and monitoring, and conservation ecology.

“This project has been a great opportunity for us to expand our knowledge of native wildlife and help bring about a safe area for that wildlife to live,” said Sara Jacintho, YCC Crew leader.

This crew is the second Youth Conservation Corps team that has left their mark on La Mancha Wetland, a project that the Southwest Environmental Center has been restoring for the past ten years. Since digging out the pond in 2016, the wetland has become a haven for ducks, herons, fish, frogs, and other animals that struggle to survive when the Rio Grande runs dry.

The YCC crew has even captured video evidence of beavers at La Mancha using wildlife cameras. Beavers are considered a “keystone species” because they create conditions that allow a host of other animals to thrive.

La Mancha golden hour

While the youth crew spends most of their time removing invasive species and planting natives, they also record water table levels and wildlife observations. The YCC Crew Trainer plans workshops and trainings for the crew to expose them to different conservation techniques and teach them new skills.

“As wildlife habitat destruction increases due to human expansion, it’s important to have places like La Mancha because of the ecosystem services it provides to our community. Wetlands reduce impacts of floods and droughts, help purify and replenish our water table, and provide a habitat with increased biodiversity,” said Shelly Valdovinos, YCC Crew Trainer. “We hope to make La Mancha a place where the public can come to view wildlife in their natural element while creating a refuge for both native and migratory species to thrive in an otherwise harsh desert climate.”

Wetlands are home to a huge diversity of wildlife that cannot survive elsewhere in the desert, but they’re not just beneficial to plants and animals; they also reduce the impact of floods, absorb pollutants, improve water quality, and recharge groundwater. However, wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to a recent UN Report, over 85% of wetlands that existed in the year 1700 had disappeared by the year 2000 worldwide.

In a place like Southern New Mexico where riparian habitat and native species along the Rio Grande have been decimated by agriculture and diversion projects, good wetland habitat is crucial.

Click here for more information about the La Mancha Wetland Project.

Support our work to restore wetlands in the Southwest.


SWEC is hiring one more crew member at $12/hr for the remaining few months of the project. Email shelly@wildmesquite.org with a resume if interested. More details about the position can be found here.