First there’s a spark, and then the fire. We all stare at the sky, smell the smoke. After the trees and brush and roots are gone, floods roar through arroyos and down hillsides. Weeds invade as soon as the ground has cooled.
Often, the long-term changes aren’t that obvious, especially when compared with flames and floods. But what’s been happening across tens of thousands of acres within the Jemez Mountains isn’t subtle. Nor are changes happening slowly.
In what amounts to the blink of an eye, the Jemez have experienced landscape-level changes in their forests and watersheds. Some of the woodsy playlands New Mexicans have known for generations won’t ever return.
“It’s easy to look out here and see all the dead trees and feel all bad about it, all depressed about it,” says Collin Haffey, an ecologist with the US Geological Survey. “It’s harder to see the remnant forests.”
In April, Haffey and a team of artists and conservationists went to look at those remnant forests, indulging a journalist in tow. On the Saturday before Easter, we visited the “heart of darkness”—it’s the name Haffey and some of his colleagues have given a 33,000 acre area of the Jemez Mountains scorched by an inferno in 2011’s Las Conchas fire.
Since the 1980s, an increasing number of big fires of over 1,000 acres have been burning in the western United States. They come on the heels of decades of fire suppression in the forests. And as the climate warms, the sheer number of fires has grown, too, and the wildfire season has lengthened by about two months. Even this year, with a bumper snowpack in the mountains and recent cool rains, the National Interagency Fire Center is predicting significant wildfire danger for southwestern and central New Mexico.
Courtesy of NM Political Report