Melissa Houser


Climate change is emerging as the defining issue for conservation in the 21st century. With each passing year, evidence of changes in the Earth’s climate system and their impacts on natural systems becomes more profound. In addition to emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) from energy, industrial, agricultural and other activities, humans affect climate through changes in land use (activities taking place on land such as growing food, cutting trees or building towns) and land cover (the physical characteristics of the land surface, including crops, trees or concrete). Choices about land-use and land-cover patterns have affected and will continue to affect how vulnerable or resilient human communities and ecosystems are to the effects of climate change.

To better understand the climate-change impacts and the mitigation and adaptation strategies to solve our challenges, Santa Fe Conservation Trust (SFCT) collaborated with the Santa Fe Watershed Association and others in a 10-month, intensive-learning Model Forest Policy Program (MFPP) “Climate Solutions University, Forest & Water Strategies.” The team studied the predicted climate shifts, as well as the forest, water and economic vulnerabilities here in New Mexico. Climate predictions for the area include extended drought; less snowfall; more rain-on-snow events; a higher chance of severe weather events such as extended drought and flooding; faster, earlier spring water runoff; drier, hotter summers; and increased forest fires and outbreaks of invasive species.

The plan that was developed in light of these changes, the Forest and Water Climate Adaptation: A Plan for the Santa Fe Watershed, outlines specific strategies and action steps to safeguard water resources and reduce hazards from storms, fires and floods. These strategies include increasing rainwater infiltration, developing water-reuse systems, expanding forest-thinning treatments, improving the functionality of our rivers and arroyos, promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, and developing long-term financing structures that enable all of this work to be implemented.

The planning team developed the following five goals:

GOAL 1: Increase the water security and ecological integrity of the Santa Fe Watershed through conservation, infiltration, groundwater recharge and reuse.

GOAL 2: Improve forest health for resilience in the face of climate change.

GOAL 3: Develop the workforce training needs to implement this plan.

GOAL 4: Increase energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE) to achieve a reduction in fossil fuel-derived and water-consumptive energy sources by 45 percent by 2030.

GOAL 5: Establish financing systems that facilitate (equity) investments, emergency funds and cash-flow availability to fund climate adaptation and innovation initiatives.

SFCT is utilizing this information to augment its existing Strategic Conservation Plan for the entire service area of north-central New Mexico. Locally, SFCT will be a source of information as we actively work with private landowners to minimize those land-use changes that cause GHG emissions and increase water infiltration and forest health through land-restoration efforts.


What can you do to help?

  1. Contact SFCT to learn about the conservation options and tax benefits available to you as a landowner. Financially support the SFCT and other nonprofits working to create healthier communities.
  2. Plant native plants that fit your specific location and conditions. When you can, plant a variety of native species and types of plants, from grasses for erosion control and wildflowers for bees and butterflies to shrubs and trees for birds.
  3. Reduce impervious surfaces and disconnect them from arroyos and storm drains. Use porous alternatives such as gravel or pervious pavement for driveways and paths. Collect roof water and slow its release back into groundwater through rain barrels, rain gardens and bioswales.
  4. Keep water clean. Prevent soil erosion, use nontoxic household and garden products and keep oil and animal waste out of streams and storm drains.
  5. Repair erosion wherever possible with biotechnical and/or permaculture techniques that incorporate native plants and land contouring. These methods allow for natural watershed functions to continue.
  6. Protect and restore arroyos and riparian areas.

The plan is available for download from Learn more about Santa Fe Conservation Trust, Santa Fe’s land trust, at See how SFCT’s work to protect wild lands and clean water benefits everyone.

Melissa Houser is the Santa Fe Conservation Trust’s Conservation and Stewardship director.

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