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“The Westerner is less a person than a continuing adaptation. The West is less a place than a process.” – Wallace Stegner
From prehistoric times to the present, human societies have successfully adapted to the challenges of a changing West, including periods of bad drought, limitations created by scarce resources, and shifting cultural and economic pressures. However, the American West is entering an era of unprecedented change bought on by new climate realities that will test our capacity for adaptation as well as challenge the resilience of the region’s native flora and fauna. It is therefore paramount that we find More >
Quivira is the mythical name the Spanish used to designate “unknown territory” on the colonial maps of the Southwest in the 1600s. In 1997, the Quivira Coalition’s founders, two conservationists and a rancher, thought it appropriate to use, as they were heading into unexplored land by trying to get ranchers and environmentalists to talk and work together. The Quivira Coalition today is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit organization dedicated to building economic and ecological resilience in western working landscapes. The group does so via four broad initiatives: improving land health; sharing knowledge and innovation; building local capacity, and strengthening diverse relationships.
Quivira’s projects include: More >
Drought means many things to many people, but to most, it means not getting enough rain to meet your needs. Not enough rain to maintain healthy range or forest conditions, supply enough water, produce a good harvest, or sustain other needs. Drought can also be a rainfall deficient from some “normal” conditions.
In the Southwest, we have plenty of drought experience. The region has been in drought much of the last 14 years, including several years of unprecedented drought—first early in the 21st century, and then eclipsed by the burning dryness of the last two years. Burning dryness because More >
Once upon a time there was a small house on a small ranch in the middle of a big valley. Halfway to the sky and surrounded by tall mountains, the valley was often cold, sometimes hot, and almost always dry.
A man and a woman lived there, with their cats, dogs, horses and cows. They worked hard and knew what they worked for: happy land, happy cows, happy people, happy everything.
The peoples who had lived and traveled through this valley for eons knew that water could fling itself up into the sky if you dug a hole in the More >
Ever heard of a Hadley Cell? Know what it does? Perhaps it’s time to become familiar with it, because it plays a critical role in our lives and will become even more critical in coming years.
A Hadley Cell is a type of atmospheric bombardment from the tropics. Living in the Southwest, you are no doubt familiar with its effects, including drought and destructive rain events. But are you familiar with why this aerial barrage happens in the first place? I’m not talking about the monsoons, by the way, though the destructiveness of such storms may be exacerbated by the More >
Global warming? What’s the problem? Personally, I don’t like cold weather and wouldn’t mind average temperatures being a few degrees higher than they are now.
Unfortunately, global warming isn’t just about average global temperatures rising a few degrees by the end of this century. In fact, “global warming” misses the mark entirely when it comes to conveying the seriousness and urgency regarding what we’re collectively doing to the stability, and therefore livability, of our planet’s climate. “Climate chaos” may be more accurate.
Global climate models all point to the same concern: that the release and accumulation of greenhouse gases (primarily carbon More >
Gary Paul Nabhan
This summer the tiny town of Furnace Creek, Calif. once again graced the nation’s front pages. Situated in Death Valley, it last made news in 1913, when it set the record for the world’s hottest recorded temperature, at 134 degrees. A century later, on June 29th, a heat wave blanketing the Western states pushed the mercury there to 130 degrees, provoking the news media to speculate that Furnace Creek could soon break its own mark.
It didn’t, but such speculation missed the real concern posed by the heat wave, which covered an area larger than New England. The More >
My mother calls me her “dirt girl” because of my early and continued fondness for soil. Understanding the living and breathing medium underneath our feet has led me to want to protect it and enrich its natural processes while feeding people.
I did not know in high school that my fascination with soils, ecology and environmental science would lead me to raising cattle and learning holistic tree-health skills in the Southwest, but it has, and much of my agrarian calling started in college. Warren Wilson College, near Asheville, NC, set me up for the journey I am on today. More >
by Gary Snyder
The sour smell,
water squirts out round the wedge,
Lifting quarters of rounds
covered with ants
“a living glove of ants upon my hand”
the poll of the sledge a bit peened over
so the wedge springs off and tumbles
ringing like high-pitched bells
into the complex duff of twigs
poison oak, bark, sawdust,
shards of logs,
And the sweat drips down.
Smell of crushed ants.
The lean and heave on the peavey
that breaks free the last of a bucked
it lies flat on smashed oaklings–
Wedge and sledge, peavey and maul,
little axe, canteen, piggyback can
of saw-mix gas and oil for the chain,
knapsack of files and goggles and rags,
All to gather the More >
During my travels, I heard a story about a man who had put short fences across a cattle trail in the sandy bottom of a canyon in Navajo country so that cattle were forced to meander in an S-pattern as they walked, encouraging the water to meander too and thus slow erosion. I thought this idea was wonderfully heretical. That’s because the standard solution for degraded creeks is to spend a bunch of money on cement, riprap and diesel-driven machines. Putting fences in the way of cattle and letting them do the work? How cool.
The man was Bill Zeedyk, More >
A Habitat Restoration Project
Since 2002, the Quivira Coalition has partnered with numerous organizations and agencies to lead a habitat restoration project on Comanche Creek, a 27,000-acre watershed located in the Valle Vidal Unit of the Carson National Forest. The goal of this long-term project is to implement a restoration plan for the greater Comanche Creek Watershed that includes providing sustainable habitat for the threatened Río Grande cutthroat trout.
Heavy land use in the last century—logging, mining and overstocking with cattle and sheep—has led to the formation of large headcuts and channel downcutting in the upper tributaries that flow down into More >
In 2004, Tom and Mimi Sidwell bought the 7,000-acre JX Ranch, south of Tucumcari, New Mexico, and set about doing what they know best: earning a profit by restoring the land to health and stewarding it sustainably.
As with many ranches in the arid Southwest, the JX had been hard-used over the decades. Poor land and water management had caused the grass cover to diminish in quantity and quality, exposing soil to the erosive effects of wind, rain and sunlight, which also diminished the organic content of the soil significantly, especially its carbon. Eroded gullies had formed across the More >
A Revolution in Grassroots Wildlife Conservation is Turning Poachers into Protectors
The award-winning documentary Milking the Rhino turns the camera around from the place it usually sits when filming the African bush, to the people living there coping with the challenges and beauty of the local wildlife and topography. The last African documentary you probably saw was filled with tall grasses, bilbao trees and lush jungles teaming with exotic wildlife. But in post-colonial Africa, the reality is that people live in close proximity to this wildlife. Most African wildlife parks are based on our Yellowstone. In all cases in Africa, however, More >
Not so long ago, as children growing up in rural northern New Mexico, instead of going online or tuning into the radio or television for news of the world—particularly for our news and information about the natural world that engulfed us—we listened attentively and with great interest to our Spanish-speaking elders. Aside from the big picture that they possessed of how things were and had been, they also knew about all sorts of intriguing phenomena. Back then, even a pause in their speech seemed ponderous, and one eagerly awaited their next utterance.
Don Vidal, our next-door neighbor, would sometimes More >
Decentralized habitat-specific cultural coherence—how’s that for a thought?—yet I can imagine it. Cultures that emerge from habitat—including Tanoan, Athabascan, Hispano and Anglo ranch culture in New Mexico—have a more natural depth of perspective to be plumbed than the peripatetic uprooted global cultural consciousness that perceives the planet but not the Earth, and that is adhered by economics rather than recognition of our species’ place in Nature. We must return to a Nature-based cultural perspective, or else…
This can be likened to the difference between thinking like a watershed and balancing your checkbook. When thinking like a watershed, the mind is More >
The Carbon Economy Series of ecological education and sustainable living workshops returns to Santa Fe Community College this month. And, for the first time, in January the CES will also host a 3-day Carbon Economy Summit in Albuquerque.
The theme of the 2013-2014 series is Building Resiliency in Our Personal Lives, in Our Community and in the World. Well-known experts in a variety of fields will teach how people can develop resiliency in relation to food, water, soil, energy, business, health and climate change. Iginia Boccalandro, founder of the 3-year-old nonprofit says, “In response to the changing climate, the challenging More >
Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land:
Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty
By Gary Paul Nabhan, Foreword by Bill McKibben
Chelsea Green, 272 pages
With climatic uncertainty now “the new normal,” many farmers, gardeners and orchardists are desperately seeking ways to adapt. In Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan, one of the world’s experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands, shares many engaging examples of how people of different cultures and ecosystems manage. Some of the many strategies discussed:
- Building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soils;
- Protecting fields from damaging winds, drought and floods;
- Reducing More >
What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?
How Money Really Does Grow on Trees
By Tony Juniper, Foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales
Synergetic Press, 314 pages
In this impactful new book, prominent British environmentalist/sustainability advocate Tony Juniper points out that everything we think nature does for us—providing water, pollinating plants, generating oxygen, restoring soils and much more—is free, but it isn’t. Nature’s economic value can be measured, and if we realized what that value truly is we would see that ecosystems pay dividends to human society, and we would stop treating our planet’s natural systems so destructively.
In recent years, environmental More >
PNM’s record of supporting solar is strong. A recent column in the Green Fire Times provided readers with information about our position on solar energy that was inaccurate. We’d like to share our position.
PNM supported the original renewable portfolio standard legislation in 2004 and the amendments in 2007 that increased the standard. Solar continues to grow significantly on our system in New Mexico, including:
- 22 megawatts of large-scale solar plants at five locations statewide, with 21.5 megawatts being added by the end of this year;
- The nation’s first grid-connected solar PV installation to use batteries and smart-grid technology to help maximize the More >
Editor’s Note: Robert Staffanson, 92, is the founder and president of the American Indian Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Bozeman, Montana. Since 1977, the Institute has sponsored the International Elders & Youth Council, held each year in a different location in Indian county. Traditional elders and youth from the Four Directions gather to speak about the welfare of mankind and the world, and to re-energize in the name of cultural survival. The Institute also co-sponsors gatherings and forums with the Traditional Circle of Elders and Youth.
Jose Lucero, of the Tewa Pueblo of Santa Clara in New Mexico, is More >