-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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
To learn more about our work, download the following fact sheets:
Help support the Conservancy's important work to improve the health of New Mexico's forests and streams so they're more resilient to our changing climate.
January 30, 2012