Thursday, December 22, 2011

History helps makes sense of wildfires

North of Albuquerque, the people of the Pueblo of Jemez may hold a secret to dealing with wildfires in the ponderosa pine forests of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. The tribe has lived in these forests since before the Spanish conquistadors explored the region in the 16th century. This long history makes the pueblo an ideal place for University of Arizona researchers to study how humans in the Southwest have dealt with wildfires over the centuries. With backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the USDA under a four-year, $1.5 million grant, the UA-led team includes experts in tree-ring science, fire ecology, forest fire behavior, archaeology, anthropology and education. The team’s goal is to figure out how to keep forests healthy using prescribed burns and other methods to minimize the destructive power of large fires. This goal will become increasingly important as drought conditions make woodlands more likely to burst into flames. “People once made forests resilient,” said Christopher Roos, an assistant professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University who is attached to the UA project. By using fire to clear land for farming, the tribes culled the small trees and grasses that could otherwise have carried flames into the crowns of large trees. Developed over centuries, these land management techniques may have helped the tribes to live and farm within the forests in a sustainable way. Today’s practice of fire suppression has allowed undergrowth to thrive, making fires bigger, hotter and more dangerous. “Changes in land use, especially the modern combination of both cattle grazing and active fire suppression, make forests much more vulnerable to the most dangerous kinds of fires,” Roos said. Over the last 700 years, as many as 10,000 farmers have worked the land around the Pueblo of Jemez. Understanding how they managed the land will provide clues to dealing with the wildfires of the future, Roos said...more

Given one researcher's apparent bias against livestock, it will be interesting to see how this plays out with the current livestock operations at the pueblo and the Jemez Pueblo Livestock Association.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I doubt the Jemez Pueblo told any "researchers" anything about themselves or how they lived. Or any secrets they might have or had.