By Tracey Stone
Wearing sunscreen, gloves and sturdy shoes, last month eight Rocky Mountain Youth Corps members undertook rigorous training to learn how to properly climb and prune trees, operate chippers and heavy equipment, as well as to identify, monitor and inventory trees across Albuquerque. Why? Overnight summer temperatures are rising at unprecedented rates and rainfall patterns are uncertain. Albuquerque has the third–highest rate of tree canopy loss in the nation. The city’s limited tree canopy is dying, eliminating much–needed shade. Without intervention, this will lead to poorer health—for people with asthma and heart disease—as well as increased costs from energy use.
The young people—17-to-25—are part of the first-ever tree stewardship apprenticeship initiative, working with Albuquerque’s Parks and Recreation forestry crew. This effort—in partnership with The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Program—is designed to inspire a new generation of conservation leaders and create a pathway to natural resource jobs.
With more people migrating to urban areas in New Mexico, cities are facing many challenges to meet a growing demand for food, water and energy. Investing in nature is intended to help ensure community access to cleaner water and air, as well as cooler cities that can thrive and withstand extreme heat, drought and other threats. Engaging youth and communities in environmental stewardship—especially those in economically challenged areas—may inspire a new generation of leaders to make cities more sustainable places to live.
The Nature Conservancy launched its Urban Conservation Program to solve some of these pressing challenges. By building partnerships, the program aims to help reinvigorate people’s social connections with nature.
The Albuquerque area’s rainfall totals less than 10 inches a year, making every drop important. Stormwater often picks up chemicals, pollutants and trash from streets before flowing into the Río Grande. Repurposing stormwater to feed trees and vegetation is a solution that cleans the runoff before it goes to the river.
The Nature Conservancy and its partners also educate the community about the importance of rainwater harvesting and other water conservation actions. For example, they installed 10 250-gallon rain barrels at Dolores Gonzales Elementary to irrigate gardens. The Conservancy is developing projects to plant native vegetation in underserved neighborhoods. The plants also stabilize soil, reduce erosion and provide shade.
The organization touts the healing power of trees, even in the desert, and wants to develop a city-wide urban forest management plan. Among other things, such a plan would show which plants are best suited to high–desert habitats and where they could be planted to increase energy-efficiency. By increasing tree canopy and planting native trees, water can slowly filter back into the ground. These sorts of cost-effective solutions add green space to cities, increasing property values and improving people’s quality of life.
Tracey Stone is with The Nature Conservancy. For more information on this program, call 602.738.1586