I went back two weeks ago to the Las Conchas fire zone, where an unprecedented blaze tore through New Mexico ponderosa forests that will never be the same – “Not in our lifetimes,” as one forester put it. My story:
During a daylong hike last week across an area that once was dominated by ponderosa pines, Allen and his colleagues saw a single clump of live trees. The fire burned so hot as it rolled out of the high country that it completely incinerated vast areas of lower-elevation piñon and juniper woodland.
“That whole landscape, which I’m intimately familiar with, is now foreign to me,” said archaeologist Gauthier.
To help nature along, the Santa Fe National Forest has identified 30,000 acres with either a high or moderate chance of successful reforestation, and carefully chosen ponderosa pine seedlings are being cultivated for planting next year. But that first wave of planting will cover only an estimated 1,500 of those acres.
“We’re going to plug away at this for the next 10 years to see where we get,” said National Forest ecologist Williams. “The limiting factor is going to be how much money we get to do the work.”
Riddle, who oversees the Santa Forest’s Jemez Ranger District, where the fire started, was frank about the prospects for reforestation of the burned landscape.
“Not in our lifetimes,” she said. “It won’t be a forest like it was.”