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The Jemez Mountains of north-central New Mexico are a living laboratory for climate change resilience and adaptation. Considered part of the Southern Rocky Mountains Ecoregion, these mountains are the site of two massive volcanic explosions at 1.61 and 1.23 million years ago, the geography is extraordinary and landscapes remarkable. The exceptionality of this landscape lead to the establishment of numerous special designations including Bandelier National Monument, the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the Jemez Mountains National Recreation Area, San Pedro Parks National Wilderness Area and the Jemez Wild and Scenic River.
A Nature Conservancy climate change vulnerability assessment determined that the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico experienced the biggest increase in temperature and decrease in moisture since the 1970’s of any area in the state (1). For the Jemez Mountains watersheds this means declines in snowpack culminated with earlier peak stream flows; higher intensity, but less frequent summer storms; forest mortality; and population declines in sensitive species. Water temperatures are also anticipated to increase in most streams, further fragmenting habitat for cold-water fish species.
These circumstances have resulted in great interest in the Jemez Mountains from scientists, land managers, government agencies, non-government organizations, tribes with traditional lands and citizens. The Jemez Mountains are a perfect living climate laboratory to study the immediate effects of warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation and runoff patterns as well as wildlife responses. We can also conduct active and passive restoration activities on these lands to understand their effects on resilience and adaptation of native ecosystems, plants and animals.
A clear example is the Southwest Jemez Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (SW Jemez CFLR), an existing collaborative effort of multiple federal, state, non-governmental organizations and tribal agencies responding to climate change in the Jemez Mountains. The SW Jemez CFLR is eligible to receive up to $4 million/year in federal funds over the next 10 years and seeks to restore and build resilience in the ecosystems of the upper Jemez River watershed. The SW Jemez CFLR is an ongoing, large-landscape strategic habitat conservation plan with numerous agencies and organizations planning and implementing local restoration.
WildEarth Guardians is a founding participant in this collaborative effort and advocates for riparian habitat restoration, road density reductions and beaver reintroduction in the planning area. WildEarth Guardians has already secured numerous state and federal funds as match for the SW Jemez CFLR collaboration and will leverage additional funds to further secure the restoration of a landscape on the order of 210,000 acres.
WildEarth Guardians’ ongoing restoration investments in the Jemez Mountains currently exceed a half a million dollars and will soon approach a million dollars in total restoration funds expended so far. Our restoration projects in the Jemez Mountains include road closure and decommissioning, fence removal for wildlife movement, riparian vegetation planting, Rio Grande cutthroat trout restoration, and we now embark on a bold effort to reestablish native beaver populations. All of these activities will build resilience and adaption to climate change.
WildEarth Guardians plans to facilitate the reintroduction of American beaver into their historical range in the Jemez Mountains by planning and restoring habitat and rebuilding connectivity of riparian and aquatic ecosystems. Because the Jemez Mountains are experiencing immediate increases in temperature and decreases in moisture, the project area provides a high priority location to demonstrate land management techniques implemented at a landscape scale to assist wildlife adaptation to climate change. The restoration of beaver habitat and eventual reestablishment of this keystone species can be a cost-effective intervention to adapt to earlier peak stream flows; higher intensity, but less frequent summer storms and fragmentation of cold-water fish species habitat.
According to the New Mexico Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS), a significant percentage of all wildlife in the Southwest uses riparian habitat and approximately 80% of all sensitive vertebrate species in the state depend upon riparian or aquatic habitats at some time during their life cycle. The CWCS identifies beaver as a species of concern associated with the Southern Rocky Mountains Ecoregion, riparian habitats, and the Rio Grande watershed (as well as all 7 other named watersheds in New Mexico). The CWCS states that beavers are primary users and drivers of the Rocky Mountain montane/subalpine riparian ecosystem and the foremost species necessary to maintain its hydrology. There are 138 species of concern, excluding arthropods, associated with riparian habitats in New Mexico, 41% of which are considered vulnerable, imperiled, or critically imperiled both statewide and nationally. A Prioritized Conservation Action for riparian habitats in the CWCS names beaver as an important species to protect and restore.
Many of the steams and associated riparian habitats have been disconnected in the Jemez Mountains through loss of riparian vegetation that shades and cools the system as well as disconnection of wetland habitats. As a result, connectivity has diminished for fish and wildlife with narrow ecological requirements. Our pilot project will restore and sustain this connectivity by reestablishing riparian vegetation cooling stream temperatures as well as wetland habitats that have all but vanished with the loss of beaver. The beaver is a keystone species as its activities have far-reaching and disproportionate effects on structure, composition and functioning of the ecosystems in which it lives. Concomitantly, several additional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) vulnerable to climate change in the Jemez Mountains will benefit including the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the Jemez Mountain salamander, and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
(1). Enquist, C.A.F., and Gori, D.F. 2008. A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Biodiversity in New Mexico, Part I: Implications of Recent Climate Change on Conservation Priorities in New Mexico. The Nature Conservancy. Enquist, C.A.F., Girvetz, E.H., and Gori, D.F. 2008. A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Biodiversity in New Mexico, Part II: Conservation Implications of Emerging Moisture Stress due to Recent Climate Changes in New Mexico. The Nature Conservancy.
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