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Taking Action on Climate Change in the Jemez Mountains

“Managers must recognize that changes are occurring and anticipate future changes. As Wayne Gretzky put it, we need to ‘skate to where the puck is going to be’.”

-Craig Allen, U.S. Geological Survey

Climate change isn’t coming to the southwestern U.S.—it’s already here.

Warmer temperatures and more erratic rainfall are affecting native plants, animals and habitats in ways we can see and measure.

Any action we take now to build resilience to rapid climate change will help us protect our natural areas and the clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat they provide.

A Remarkable Landscape at Risk

The Jemez Mountains of north-central New Mexico grew warmer, faster, over the past 60 years than any other place in the state.

In the last three and a half decades, this landscape has suffered a series of large destructive forest fires, a severe drought that killed nearly all mature piñon pines, and a measurable reduction in the flows of important streams.

How The Nature Conservancy is Taking Action

The challenge to the conservation community is to manage the Jemez Mountains to avoid the most adverse impacts of climate change.

The Nature Conservancy has joined with several organizations to form the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (SWCCI.) The group’s goal is to provide climate adaptation information and tools to conservation practitioners in vulnerable landscapes such as the Jemez Mountains and parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The Conservancy and our partners in the SWCCI have brought together local scientists and land managers to share information about the known and projected local impacts of climate change—and to start developing practical strategies to reduce climate change’s adverse effects.

Changes Ahead

In the Jemez Mountains, for instance, the group identified two likely climate change scenarios for the landscape given the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. Within 10-30 years, mean annual temperature is expected to rise 4-7°F (2-4°C) with increased drying. There will be sporadic extreme events in the first half of the century, with precipitation reduced overall but coming in the form of less frequent, but larger, storms.
  2. After 30 years, mean annual temperature will rise 4-11°F (2-6°C) with increased drying and increased frequency of extreme events, (for example, extremely deep droughts) occurring by mid-century.

Managers and scientists also identified current and future impacts in the Jemez Mountains that include a reduced snowpack, longer fire seasons, and large-scale forest dieback and increased frequency of bark beetle outbreaks.

Practical Climate Adaptation

The SWCCI is working hard to identify strategies to help the Jemez Mountains and other habitats remain viable in a changing world.

Given the current condition of forests in the Southwest, more large forest fires are inevitable in the Jemez and elsewhere. Substantial resources will be needed to prevent erosion and exotic weed invasion after these fires and re-establish natural tree growth.

In more severe climate scenarios, new land management practices will have to address a landscape changing from forest to woodland or grassland. As water temperatures rise, strategies will also be needed to safeguard native fish populations as yearly stream flows become more variable.

Is There Any Good News?

The good news to emerge from the SWCCI’s collaboration is that many of the restoration strategies already being planned or implemented in the Jemez Mountains can be used to prepare for climate change.

But we don’t have all the answers. What we do know is that we must accelerate and expand work that improves the health of forests and streams in order to make them more resilient to rising temperatures and deeper droughts—and we must act now.

Southwest Climate Change Initiative Partners
  • Climate Assessment for the Southwest (University of Arizona)
  • Wildlife Conservation Society
  • USDA Forest Service
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Western Water Assessment (University of Colorado/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • University of Washington

To learn more about our work, download the following fact sheets:

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