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Dale Lyons, City Water Supplier

Sante Fe, New Mexico

Find out how he is making a living from healthy forests!

Paul Bunyan the lumberjack made a living out of harvesting trees. But healthy forests provide a living for many, many other people, like New Mexico resident Dale Lyons.

nature.org:

What do you do?

Dale Lyons:

I lead a variety of renewable energy development and natural resource management projects for the City of Santa Fe. One of my most engaging projects is the Santa Fe Watershed Investment Program, which involves diverse stakeholder groups including the city water utility, federal agencies and environmental non-profits. The municipal watershed, which was closed to the public in 1932 to protect the community’s water source, is an ideal laboratory to study the implementation of an ecosystem services/forest fuel reduction program in response to the risk posed by wildfire.

nature.org:

How does a healthy forest help you earn a living?

Dale Lyons:

On a very basic level, the city’s water utility generates revenue by selling water to the community. Soil erosion after a catastrophic wildfire in Santa Fe’s watershed would likely fill the city’s two reservoirs with sediment and ash, resulting in a near-permanent loss of 40 percent of our total water supply. In this scenario, the city’s water utility would quickly become a revenue loosing enterprise. A healthy forest, one that is resilient in response to natural fire, ensures reliable supply of high-quality water, which in turn ensures I’ll always have something to do.

nature.org:

How long have you been in the business you’re in?

Dale Lyons:

If I include environmental research work in college, I’ve been at it half my life. My career in the environmental field has always evolved and I’ve worked in many different capacities, including as an academic, a consultant, an advocate and a natural resource manager.

nature.org:

What motivated you to get in this business?

Dale Lyons:

I was initially drawn to the environmental field by my interest in disturbed land rehabilitation science, because it seemed the quickest route to reversing landscape and ecosystem-scale damage. Now that climate change has emerged as our most pressing crisis, I’ve become more focused on changing the way we use energy and preparing for a drier southwest with more wildfires.

nature.org:

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Dale Lyons:

As long as I’m successful at securing funding for my projects, I feel lucky that I’m largely able to pursue my interests. In a field where opportunities for immediate gratification are scarce, the relationships I’ve developed over the years are also very important to me: we sometimes have to remind each other to have fun.

nature.org:

What do you hope for the future of New Mexico forests?

Dale Lyons:

My hope is that more communities in New Mexico work quickly to protect their forested water sources by instituting watershed investment programs, where the costs of watershed protection are paid for by the beneficiaries/water customers. My other hope is that while managing for more resilient forests, communities themselves also become more resilient by conserving water.


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