-Terry Sullivan, New Mexico State Director
It’s hard not to shout with excitement when you finally locate a salamander in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains. Looking for a rare amphibian is a lot like trying to find a needle in a haystack—even more difficult when it’s raining.
A research team, including Conservancy scientists, local salamander experts, and foresters and students from the Jemez Pueblo, combs the moist ground, peering under rocks and small crevices. Together, they carefully measure an uncovered salamander, enter its location into a GPS unit, and test for diseases before releasing the small creature back to its wet home.
These researchers work with urgency… and not just because of the poor weather conditions. Jemez Mountains salamanders, a species found nowhere else in the world, are in rapid decline.
And we want to find out why.
The salamander's crisis has a lot to teach us—not just about the daunting challenges that individual species face—but also about how the changing climate will ultimately affect all of us, our lands and waters.
Climate change isn’t coming to the Jemez Mountains. It’s already here.
This summer’s catastrophic Las Conchas Fire, the largest in New Mexico history, added insult to injury for an area already hit hard by climate change. Our statewide climate change assessment revealed that the Jemez Mountains grew warmer, faster, in the 20th century 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 stream flows.
And the warmer, drier conditions have also impacted the Jemez salamander habitat—threatening their long-term survival.
One of our hallmarks here at the Conservancy is being able to turn these kinds of challenges into solutions. A prime example of that is our Southwest Climate Change Initiative (SWCCI), a program that brings local scientists and land managers in the Jemez and other locations in the Southwest together to share information about climate change impacts.
Since its inception more than two years ago, the SWCCI has become a hub for climate research and adaptation. Through a series of workshops, stakeholders in the Jemez have asked some important questions: What impact will future mega-fires have on this landscape? What actions can we take now to help our forests and streams remain viable in a changing world?
By joining forces to develop practical strategies based on research projects like the Jemez Mountains salamander study, the SWCCI is taking collective, powerful action now, before it’s too late.
Armed with the best scientific information on both known and projected climate change impacts in the Jemez Mountains, we must work with multiple partners and at a very large scale in order to have an impact. That’s why the Conservancy has helped design and obtain funding to assist the talented and dedicated staff working in the Santa Fe National Forest and the Valles Caldera National Preserve to restore 210,000 acres of forests, woodlands and streams in the Jemez.
The project includes forest thinning, prescribed fire treatments, streamside restoration, and a robust monitoring program that integrates climate data into management decisions.
With climate research showing what the future holds for the Jemez Mountains—reduced snow, more frequent and intense floods, and longer fire seasons—time is of the essence for this massive undertaking.
Nature has a lot to tell us about what’s ahead in the Jemez Mountains, and what we can do today to make sure species like the salamanders still exist and our children’s children can benefit from healthy forests.
Fortunately, people like the Jemez Pueblo researchers are observing nature’s clues. They are not only looking for a vanishing species, they are also looking for a solution, a way to safeguard the lands and waters they will one day inherit.
You play an important role in this challenge, providing valuable support that will help make the Jemez Mountains healthier and more resilient. Because of people like you, I have great hope for this landscape and all the life it supports.
Thank you for all that you do on behalf of conservation in New Mexico.
New Mexico State Director