Seedlings slated for reforestation use are ready for planting.
Seedlings in Greenhouse Seedlings slated for reforestation use are ready for planting. © TNC

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Saving Our Forests One Tree at a Time

Be part of the solution, starting with a seed collection webinar.

Imagine your favorite forested area without big, beautiful pine trees. That’s what we’re facing across the Jemez Mountains, which was scorched by the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. The fire created such large patches with no living seed source that trees are not able to regenerate. That, combined with drought and warmer temperatures, could mean serious issues for our water, recreation industry and the animals who call the forest their home.

Burned forest in the upper Frijoles.
Upper Frijoles Burned forest in the upper Frijoles. © Collin Haffey / NPS

After the Fire: Seeding New Mexico’s Future is a new project designed to bring life back to 4,000 acres of scorched land in the Bandelier National Monument. For this project to work, The Nature Conservancy needs your help. The first opportunity is learning about seed collection during a June 24 webinar

“The Nature Conservancy-led Rio Grande Water Fund has thinned thousands of acres of dry-conifer forest in six years in an effort to prevent dangerous fires like the Las Conchas Fire,” says Collin Haffey, TNC’s conservation program manager in New Mexico. “In addition to thinning dense, overgrown forests, we’re now focusing on reforestation – planting trees in large burn scars where they cannot grow back on their own. By planting ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees, we offer the best opportunity for tree growth in a burned landscape also impacted by increasing warming and drought caused by climate change.” 

“The biggest hurdle we face right now is seed collection,” Haffey said. “This is where everyone can help.”

The last broadscale tree seed collection took place in the 1970s when the timber industry funded seed collection. 

“We tried to address the immediate need in the fall of 2019, where we quickly gathered crews to take advantage of a ‘mast,’ or bumper crop of ponderosa pine seeds,”Haffey said. “We were able to collect 350,000 pine seeds – a good start but we need many more to make a real difference.”

Dr. Owen Burney, superintendent of New Mexico State University’s John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center, plays a pivotal role helping us grow tree seedlings that will be resilient to climate change. 

“Reforestation is more than just the act of planting trees. We need to address multiple forestry challenges in New Mexico. It’s imperative to collect the right seed for the landscapes we want to reforest and develop science-based nursery cultural practices, all of which translate to successful planting in the field. Most importantly, we need community education and engagement to support these efforts.”

Right now, Burney is growing ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees at the nursery in Mora, New Mexico sing the 1970’s seed stock. 

Cochiti Canyon, 3 years after the devastating Las Conchas fire.
Scorched Forest Cochiti Canyon, 3 years after the devastating Las Conchas fire. © Collin Haffey / NPS

The baby trees are scheduled to be planted this fall by project partners, which include Bandelier National Monument, Santa Clara and Cochiti Pueblos, the US Geological Survey’s New Mexico Landscapes Field Station, Santa Fe National Forest and the National Forest Foundation.

“Reforestation remains one of the most effective nature-based solutions for combating climate change this century because of its contribution to carbon sequestration,” added Lindsey Quam, Deputy Director of Forestry, New Mexico Forestry Division. “Reforestation also creates animal habitat, protects watersheds that provide drinking water for people, improves air quality, and expands recreation.”

“Our quality of life and economy depends on a healthy environment,” said Terry Sullivan, state director of TNC in New Mexico. “This is our home. Let’s work together to ensure our forests are healthy for generations to come.”

You can be part of the solution! Join our After the Fire: Seeding New Mexico’s Future webinar on Wednesday, June 24 at 10am Mountain to learn about the seeds we need and how you can help. Register here.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.