Creating miracles in the Nevada desert: Restoring Dixie Creek

Story by Headquarters Public Affairs. Photos courtesy of Carol Evans, Retired BLM Fisheries Biologist; Intermountain West Joint Venture; and Little Wild Productions.

The Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) recently worked with retired BLM Fisheries Biologist Carol Evans to produce the short documentary “Creating Miracles in the Desert: Restoring Dixie Creek.” The video tells the story of the restoration of Dixie Creek, a small stream in the eastern Nevada desert within the BLM Elko District. About three decades ago, Dixie Creek was a large gravel bar due to years of grazing in the area. Then the BLM modified allowable grazing practices and, over the span of about 30 years, Dixie Creek was transformed into a flourishing wetland that provides valuable resources for livestock, recreation and communities.  

“This documentary interviews stakeholders of this special place in Nevada to show how a recovered stream can benefit a wide range of interests and offer hope for a better future,” says Hannah Nikonow, Communications and Marketing Coordinator at IWJV.

View of Dixie Creek in eastern Nevada from the air--Blue stream surrounded by green vegetation
Dixie Creek in eastern Nevada (Photo by Little Wild Productions)

In the U.S. Great Basin, riparian areas such as Dixie Creek are a rare habitat. The wetland and riparian habitat formed by waterways like Dixie Creek—the “green ribbons” of sagebrush country—are hotspots of biodiversity in the mostly arid Intermountain West. While riparian areas only make up a tiny fraction of the landscape surface, they support around 80 percent of the wildlife and biodiversity found in the Great Basin. Research by the IWJV shows that these areas are important for both sage-grouse and migratory birds, and in many landscapes are extensively intermingled with sagebrush to create comprehensive habitat for all wildlife.

Luke Barrett, a wildlife biologist, says that prior to European settlement in the area, Dixie Creek likely would have flowed in massive floodplains that span the width of the valley. But following settlement and the beginning of grazing in the area, much of the vegetation along Dixie Creek was denuded. For decades, cattle grazed the vegetation growing alongside Dixie Creek continuously throughout the summer. Such overgrazing prevented plants from growing back, and the stabilizing properties those plants provide to the riparian system were lost.

In the early 1990s, Evans, then a fisheries biologist at BLM, proposed changing the timing of grazing at Dixie Creek to have cows out of the riparian zone during the hot season. Then in 1991, the BLM Elko District built several fences around sections of Dixie Creek to assist with better management of the riparian areas and livestock grazing.

“Over the last three decades, some of the cattle were in some of the area some of the time, instead of all of the cattle on all of the area all of the time,” Evans explains in the video.

Within just a few years, the plants that grow naturally along streams came back and, after about ten years, these streamside plant communities were robust enough to attract beaver, who slowed down water in the channel, dropping out sediment, building floodplains, and storing water. This ultimately created a landscape full of water and wildlife.

In 2021, eastern Nevada was in the midst of a severe drought, while Dixie Creek was now a wetland paradise. “The amount of water that is out here now in drought conditions is absolutely amazing. It’s crazy wet,” Evans says in the video. 

Dixie Creek surrounded by green vegetation and a brown ridge.
Dixie Creek in eastern Nevada in June 2021 (Photo by Carol Evans)

The restoration of Dixie Creek highlights how cooperation between ranchers, land managers, and sportsmen can repair a riparian system, offering a better future for all.

Watch the inspiring, 10-minute documentary “Creating Miracles in the Desert: Restoring Dixie Creek” here.