In the 1960s, when Philip Tafoya was a little boy, the mountains in the Santa Clara Canyon in northern New Mexico were covered with dark green ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. For centuries, people in Santa Clara Pueblo, Tafoya’s hometown, have relied on this forest for culture, food, firewood, and entertainment. Today it almost disappeared. Ten years ago, the Las Conchas Fire-one of the largest fires in the state’s history-burned 156,000 acres of Pueblo and surrounding federal land. In some places, the fire was soaring into the sky and the fire was violent. Although these trees evolved from low fire, almost all of them died.
What is left is a vast cemetery of trees. The land is dotted with dead “obstacles”, surrounded by thick and criss-crossed fallen log mats, flanked by weeds, this is a kind of purple wildflower that thrives in the open space left by the fire. The only living trees are scattered, slender aspens, which also thrive in this bright and exposed landscape. “This place looks completely different from when I was young,” said Tafoya, the project manager of Santa Clara Pueblo, who was sitting scattered on the mountainside on a hot June day. On one of the thousands of collapsed logs. “Everything is trees. You may get lost. Now you can see a long way to go. You can’t get lost.”
If allowed to flow naturally, most aspens may eventually give way to shrubs, as hotter and drier conditions will burden the trees. Without intervention, Tafoya’s youth forest may never return.
Therefore, he came to the eastern part of the Jermes Mountains to help complete tasks that nature could no longer accomplish by itself. At the end of the day, Tafoya and his team will plant 1,000 pine and fir trees by hand, close to the goal of sinking more than 23,000 seedlings on the Santa Clara Pueblo land this year, and planting another 24,000 in the Santa Fe National Forest. 7,840 at Bandelier National Monument. The project is part of a joint effort by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, State University, Regional Pueblo, and other agencies to replant 4,000 acres of land within Las Conchas burn scars by the end of 2022 . Replanting is vital not only to bring the forest back to life, but also to create climate-adaptable habitats for endangered Jermes mountain newts, Mexican spotted owls, Abbott squirrels and other species. People also need this habitat: healthy forests can prevent erosion and protect the water resources of downstream communities, including Santa Clara Pueblo.
This project is one of the first projects to use new science for post-fire recovery. It can provide a model for replanting burning points in various parts of the west, because climate change will cause larger and hotter fires. “The bigger the fire, the more severe the fire, the less likely the forest will recover on its own,” said New Mexico forester Laura McCarthy. But in climate capture22, the same conditions that drive recovery needs make it more difficult. Scientists in the regeneration program, including Matthew Hurteau, a forest ecologist at the University of New Mexico and Owen Burney, a biologist at New Mexico State University, must plan for a climate that is very different from the climate in which the forest originally evolved.Environmental Protection Agency Climate indicators It shows that the average temperature in the Southwest for the past 20 years is 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average temperature in the last century. The Southwest is the fastest-heating region in the United States after Alaska, while New Mexico is the fastest-heating state in the Southwest. 2019 Climate Center Report“We are planning for the future climate, and the model predicts that the climate will become warmer and drier,” Bernie said. “But even the current planting conditions are challenging because fire and climate have made them harsh.”
Fire is a natural and necessary feature of the Southwest Forest. It clears bushes and keeps the canopy large enough to allow light to reach the forest floor. Ponderosa pine is born for fire, the bark is very thick, there is no lower limbs for flame to climb, and there are very deep roots, which can use the water and nutrients under the scorched soil. However, a century of policies that required fires to be extinguished as soon as they started has led to the accumulation of thin trees that have contributed to larger, hotter wildfires since the mid-1990s. Through decades of research, former U.S. Geological Survey forest ecologist Craig Allen also found that the hotter and drier conditions caused by climate change in the past 20 years are causing a large number of tree deaths and more and more intense Wildfire.
In places with severe burns, forests often disappear forever: wind alone cannot bring seeds to the vast, treeless land left behind. A 2018 study by Allen and colleagues found that during the 18-year drought that lasted until 2013, Eight wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona The researchers wrote that leaving a barren land-some equivalent to 1,900 football fields-“is unprecedented in the historical record of the area.”In 2015, the Forest Service estimated that the area of ponderosa pine forest in the southwest region was 159,418 acres Need to replant. Other recent studies warn that the area may Lost 30% to 50% of the traditional forest There will be a serious fire by the end of this century.
Hurteau, Burney and other Southwest forest experts were shocked by the prospect of losing these iconic landscapes. They spent years devising ways to combat climate change and providing fighter jets for these forests. Each crew member of the Santa Clara replantation team carried in an open-top backpack. Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir seedlings were planted in Bernie’s laboratory. The seeds were collected from the hardest specimens of these species. . These seeds are picked from large, healthy individuals that thrive on hot, south-facing hillsides or other places where it is already difficult to survive. In order to turn their genetically superior offspring into super trees, Bernie conducted greenhouse experiments on ponderosa pine seedlings to explore how to make them stronger to adapt to the hotter and drier world they will face when they mature.
He found that if he did not water the seedlings until the seedlings almost began to wither, they would form an ingenious defense mechanism: they would distribute more of the “straw” in the xylem, the tissue that moves water and nutrients up from the roots. For transporting moisture. This allows the trees to make full use of the water they do receive.Although the data collected so far is incomplete, it shows that the average survival rate of seedlings under the drought conditions of the Jemez Mountains is about 67%-more than 25% survival rate A 2015 study found that seedlings were grown using traditional watering methods. But other factors, such as predation by deer and elk, can also affect survival, Bernie said.
How to plant seedlings is as important as drought tolerance. Instead of arranging them in a row like most lumber companies do, the staff plant them in clusters with open spaces in between. “The goal is to let the tree island fill the gap between them.” The produced seeds will be carried into the gap by the wind, said Jens Stevens, who recently served as a research ecologist on the project. The New Mexico Landscape Field Station of the US Geological Survey. This technique called “nucleation” mimics natural regeneration. It also provides an insurance policy for future fires: the open area between the trees acts as a natural fire barrier, so even if a small piece of tree is destroyed, other trees are more likely to survive.
The researchers also learned that planting trees on slopes has the advantage of turning them into super seed spreaders. Hurteau said that on flat ground, seeds that fall from the cone will usually spread from the mother tree to about 100 yards. By falling off the slope, the seeds can travel farther with the help of the wind. Chad Brown, the Santa Clara Pueblo Forest Development and Restoration Manager who chose these locations, added that planting seedlings under the shadow of logs on the north-facing slope also helps to provide a good start for new trees. “There is less sunlight in the northwest, so the soil retains more moisture,” he said, touching the ground next to the newly planted seedlings.
Even with all these careful planning, it is not clear how many seedlings will survive to maturity. Like most young creatures, trees are most vulnerable during their infancy. They can be easily wiped out with a fire. Falling logs that shade the seedlings can also cause fires and kill the seedlings. Experts predict that 2021 will be a terrible wildfire season, which is indeed possible for the trees carefully planted by Tafoya and his team.
The team may not be able to save every piece of burnt forest, but by strategically planting small bushes in as many burn scars as possible with seed supply, funds and labor, it can provide at least part of the Jemez forest Opportunity reborn from the ashes, Stevens said, he is now the head of the Forest Service’s National Wildfire and Fuel Research Project. He said: “The tree that made it will recreate 1,000 trees by itself.” “Just let some of them mature and let them do the work.” He added that planting is not easy, but all the hard work and The trouble is worth it. “I found tree planting to be a very satisfying job,” he said while inspecting the recently planted seedlings on the burn scars of the Bandelier National Monument. “You are planting something that may still exist long after you leave.”
Hurteau has created a computer model that is still under peer review, which he said should make future planting projects easier and more successful. Forest managers can use the model—which combines data from local climate, soil moisture, slope orientation, and other factors—to determine where seedlings are most likely to survive. He hopes that these new tools and the continuing lessons learned from the replanting project will help increase survival rates and enable land managers in the Southwest to expand this important work.
In order to replant burn scars in New Mexico, Hurteau, Burny, McCarthy and others are building what they call a statewide “repair pipeline.” As the first of its kind in the West, the plan will include everything from worker training programs at state colleges and universities to replicating the Bernie Forest Regeneration Nursery in other areas-all of which will meet the overwhelming need to restore burned forests key step. “Our idea is that we will develop a comprehensive business in the state and combine the lessons learned from these different projects,” Hurteau said.
At the planting site high in the Santa Clara Canyon, Tafoya, Brown and other staff held digital maps in their hands and planted more seedlings in the shadow of ghost trees. In a fluid movement, each planter uses a hoe tool to dig a 6-inch narrow hole in the ground, remove a seedling from the backpack, put it in the hole, and then sweep the excavated soil back around the plant , Forming a small depression to capture water. The whole process takes less than two minutes, but growers are considering the next few decades. They envisioned a future in which these lands would become forests again, so that their own descendants could experience the forests of the past-transforming for a climate-changing future. “It will take many years,” Tafoya said. “I hope it will rain.”