Attractive and comforting as they are, backyard ponds in the desert Southwest can pose an environmental problem.Ponds use precious water - up to 5000 gallons per year. Just as importantly, backyard ponds often contribute to the growing problem of introducing non-native, invasive animals and plants to fragile, natural wetland ecosystems. Invasive American bullfrogs, plants such as hydrilla and fountain grass, and even exotic fish such as mosquitofish can be moved from ponds or be swept away during rainstorms and end up in our national parks, forests, and other wilderness preserves threatening endangered native species.
Creating a natural backyard pond, one that more closely resembles native habitat, is one potential solution…but can be challenging due to many biological and even regulatory constraints. The purpose of this booklet is to help backyard pond owners who are committed to “going native” by providing background, guidance, and a variety of alternatives.
By converting your pond to a native species friendly habitat you can help reduce the spread of invasive species and help protect rare native plants and animals. Going native isn’t easy - but in the long run backyard ponds containing native rather than non-native species of plants and animals have the potential for making a positive impact on native wildlife.
Closer inspection of this attractive pond reveals an all too common problem. This private water feature planted with nonnative plants is full of young bullfrogs. Invasive species like water lilies, mosquitofish and bullfrogs can easily escape and threaten the native wildlife of Sabino Canyon, a mere 600 feet away from this pond.
Native desert ponds can be found along intermittent streams near Tucson surrounded by large rocks and gravel with dense clumps of deergrass growing along the banks. Moss-like algae grows from the bottom, with motionless leopard frog tadpoles silently munching on the nutrient rich mass. Gila topminnow gather around the warm shallows, the dark males tirelessly chasing the larger pregnant females. As you approach the pond, three leopard frogs magically shoot out from in front of your toes, plunging into the still water and disappearing deep in the green algae. The abundant tracks in the mud indicate that a great blue heron frequents the pond, as well as a group of javelina and a lone mountain lion. These habitats are becoming rare in Arizona.