Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Back From the Land of Enchantment

If you have wondered why I have not posted for a while, it is because I spent the last six days in my beloved state of New Mexico.

Though Sarah and I plan on living indefinitely in Oregon, I consider New Mexico a sort of home, along with my native state of Montana. I am a desert junkie and I spent three summers in New Mexico conducting graduate research. When I finished my thesis, I continued to work with the forest service on projects in or near my study sites. All of these projects are conducted in a large cottonwood forest known locally as "the bosque."

It is a one-of-kind forest made up of huge Rio Grande Cottonwoods (Populus deltoides spp. wislizenii). This forest supports an amazing number of birds and other animals despite the fact that the ecosystem has been completely restructured by humans to maximize water delivery to farms in New Mexico and Texas.

Over the years, engineers have sandwiched the forest between the river and levees. Floods, which are required for cottonwood germination, rarely occur and exotic shrubs have instead moved in below the giant cottonwoods.

These changes have resulted in big problems for the forest.

Wildfire is one of the most urgent of these problems. The bosque runs right through the center of Albuquerque, bringing the threat of wildfire into the heart of an urban area. To lower wildfire risk, managers are removing exotic vegetation and woody debris to reduce fuel loads.

My research projects examine effects of both wildfire and fuel reduction on populations of birds, plants, and insects in the bosque. More details of this work can be found here.

It had been two years since I last visited New Mexico, so I could not wait to return and soak up the rich culture and ecology of the state.

I planned an ambitious schedule to collect as much data and observations at as many sites as possible. I think that I largely succeeded and I will detail my activities in future posts. Apart from my luggage and data returning home 12 hours later than me, my travels went along without a hitch.

I am now back in Oregon adjusting to the change from hot and dry to cool and damp weather. I brought a lot of green chile back with me to ease the transition. I have a lot of data to enter and things to unpack, so I'd better get to it....

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Very interesting and well done blog. If I were to name three favorite states besides my own Oregon, New Mexico and Montana would top the list.