Our Nation remains in a major debate over the environmental issue of climate change and its cause. It is apparent, that accepting the impacts humans have had on our environment and climate conditions, will necessitate significant changes for corporate American. Scientific data leaves little doubt that human greed these past 200 years has resulted in devastating impacts to our natural world, including current climate conditions. One of the leading causes of this change has been deforestation. We have destroyed over half of the forest cover that originally existed on our land base. Deforestation continues to clear the equivalent of 20 football fields every minute worldwide. Our world population is seven and a half billion people today and will reach ten billion in just 32 years. Deforestation leads to desertification and significant changes in our climate.
The facts are obvious and support the need for change, however our corporate community is unwilling to accept scientific fact because it will demand changes that will affect their financial stability and profitability. The debate is so intense, the current administration has chosen to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, that had 195 nations support. Climate change is resulting in more intense and more frequent storms including tornadoes and hurricanes, larger and more intense wildfires, gradually raising temperatures on our planet and raising ocean water levels. Our U.S. Weather organizations collaborate these changes with their detailed record keeping.
Scientific efforts to collect weather data to alert our leaders to the future problems we will encounter and identify options to reduce the predicted outcomes, are continuing as are efforts to ignore the facts before us. Our interest in the Natural World and our dependence upon Mother Earth for the sustenance of life introduced us to a new friend, James Chaves, whose ancestors came to this continent over 300 years ago from Spain. James interest in his family history resulted in a collection of documents, photographs, maps and stories, that present a compelling real-life story of climate change in the Magdalena Valley of New Mexico. This story dramatizes the impact humans have had upon the land and the resulting climatic conditions.
The Chaves family arrived in the 1600’s, to the largest land grant on the North American Continent from the King of Spain, 2.2 million acres. A land grant does not covey ownership but, gives the grantee the privilege of using the land with stewardship responsibilities. The information James has collected, paints a vivid picture of what the valley looked like over 300 years ago. The hills were covered with dense ponderosa pine forests and the prairies grew waist-high grass waving in the breeze. The rich soils provided productive forest cover as well as a bountiful supply of forage for the wildlife and domestic animals. Rainfall was distributed throughout the year and the grazing of livestock provided for the needs of the family. The vast forest cover provided shade that kept the temperatures several degrees cooler and provided hiding places for the wildlife. James ancestors raised sheep to begin with but, years later converted to cattle ranching. Things were good and the community of Magdalena was providing for the needs of the surrounding ranchers and families.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ceded 529,000 square miles of land to the United States, which included the Chaves land grant and the community of Magdalena, New Mexico. Almost immediately following the Treaty, several timber barons moved into the valley and setup 5 large sawmills in the community. They set out to mine the ponderosa pine trees from the surrounding hills by clear-cutting the forests. By 1930, the forests were gone and major changes in the climate were beginning.
In 2016, James took us out on the land to show current conditions and describe the changes that had occurred since the arrival of his ancestors over 300 years ago. The first thing we observed was the obvious lack of trees on the rolling hills. Hillsides once covered with large ponderosa pine trees were now barren with a few scattered pinion pine trees and juniper trees. Neither of these species grow much beyond twenty feet tall and tend to be individual trees scattered over the landscape. Occasionally, you see an old cottonwood tree clinging to live along a dry stream bed. If you search enough, you can a couple of remnant ponderosa pine trees that were seedlings back when their parent trees covered the area. The soils are dry and cracked from the direct sun beating down, and there appears to be top soil remaining. Deep gullies called arroyos are numerous and the result of heavy runoff from the rains that come in late July and early August. The top soil has obviously been washed into the creeks and streams and deposited in the Rio Grande River. Without trees, the wind has also blown volumes of rich top soil away. James told us the rains now are concentrated to a few weeks in late summer with average rainfall now at eight inches. Humidity’s run about 8% to 15%. The only forest cover was now on the step slopes of the distant mountains that lined the north and south sides of the valley.
Our next concern was where the tall prairie grass had gone? We were only observing clumps of several varieties of bunch grasses. James explained the changes in climatic conditions had caused the changes in species of grass on the prairie lands. The loss of top soil had reduced the productivity of the land and the increased temperatures and lack on moisture brought new plant species to the area. Bunch grass has long roots able to reach as much as six feet below the surface to find life sustaining moisture, grows in clumps and usually reaches only six to eight inches in height. The valley once rich in forage, now requires 40 acres to support one cow for 12 months. Other plants found, in what is today high-desert, were prickly pear cactus and several varieties of yucca.
Magdalena, New Mexico has gone through a major transformation over the past 300 years, and is a real-life example of what is happening throughout the world as our world population expands and our forest cover shrinks. Scientific data collected over the short history of our country, provides the factual knowledge of the destructive impact’s humans have had, and are having on the natural world we depend upon for life. History confirms advanced science and technology will accelerate the destruction of our natural word rather than extend life on our planet. The answers will only be found in our stewardship responsibilities for Mother Earth, which will necessitate management principles that recognize the individual forest communities and focus on preserving the diversity of natural plant species and age classes that were in the original communities. Yes, Mother Earth needs help! What we do to our forests we do to ourselves!