The ‘new norm’ in New Mexico

The dry riverbed of the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, NM. KUNM story at: http://www.kunm.org/post/saving-fish-drying-river Photo by Laura Paskus

In case you missed them, two important articles about New Mexico’s environment have appeared online recently.

The first is from New Mexico’s William deBuys. He wrote this week in Tom’s Dispatch about this summer’s wildfires–and what the future holds for the western United States as the climate continues to warm.

Forests aren’t only imperiled by flames licking away at trees. Of drought itself, he writes:

There have always been droughts, but the droughts of recent years are different from their predecessors in one significant way: they are hotter. And the droughts of the future will be hotter still.

June temperatures produced 2,284 new daily highs nationwide and tied 998 existing records. In most places, the shoe-melting heat translated into drought, and the Department of Agriculture set a record of its own recently by declaring 1,297 dried-out counties in 29 states to be “natural disaster areas.” June also closed out the warmest first half of a year and the warmest 12-month period since U.S. record keeping began in 1895. At present, 56% of the continental U.S. is experiencing drought, a figure briefly exceeded only in the 1950s.

Higher temperatures have a big impact on plants, be they a forest of trees or fields of corn and wheat. More heat means intensified evaporation and so greater water stress. In New Mexico, researchers compared the drought of the early 2000s with that of the 1950s. They found that the 1950s drought was longer and drier, but that the more recent drought caused the death of many more trees, millions of acres of them. The reason for this virulence: it was 1ºC to 1.5ºC hotter.

It’s an excellent article; be sure to read it in its entirety here.

Meanwhile, Mother Jones has reprinted an article published by the UK”s Guardian about flooding at the Pueblo of Santa Clara in the aftermath of last summer’s Las Conchas fire:

It’s been a year now since the Las Conchas fire blew through the Santa Clara canyon, burning up 80 percent of the tribe’s remaining land, or about 24 square miles. At the time it was the worst fire in New Mexico‘s recorded history.

Then came the floods. Landscapes scorched by wildfire, stripped of the trees, brush, and soil that ordinarily retain moisture, turned into flash flood zones.

Federal government agencies estimate it will cost $39 million to secure the canyon and make Santa Clara pueblo safe. So far the tribe has received only about $6 million, and less than $400,000 from the main recovery agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Dasheno worries time is running out.

At KUNM, we’re embarking upon a series of stories about New Mexico’s changing climate–and we want to include voices from all across New Mexico.

Many different communities and stakeholders are experiencing changes, including American Indian tribes, traditional communities in northern New Mexico, farmers, water managers, wildlife managers, and many, many others. What changes are you seeing within your community? Comment in the section below, or drop an email to laurapaskus@kunm.org.

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