November 24, 2017 – Six years ago this summer, the Las Conchas wildfire burned 156,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains. The effects of that fire are still visible on the landscape today. And changes in the forest will continue to be seen for generations.
Las Conchas burned over 60 percent of Bandelier National Monument. The park and nearby pueblos also experienced major flooding in the years afterwards. Thousands of acres of ponderosa and mixed conifer forest in the mountains have since transitioned into shrubs and grasslands. Scientists know that fire was an important part of the landscape for a millennia. Fires would have burned through this area every 5-7 years, according to tree ring chronologies. Due to many factors, including a history of fire suppression and a warming climate, fires like Las Conchas burned with high intensity and high severity in recent decades.
In July we began a new series on New Mexico in Focus. Correspondent Laura Paskus has been examining a different environmental issue each month on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future.”
The changes we learn about in this segment aren’t unique to the Jemez Mountains. Scientists and land managers are learning lessons that can be shared across the western United States.