Climate change and fire are threatening an ancient NM way of life - Albuquerque Journal

Climate change and fire are threatening an ancient NM way of life

The columnist’s land in Guadalupita, which he inherited from his parents. (Courtesy of Jerry Pacheco)

My parents’ families come from the tiny, adjacent northern New Mexico villages of El Turquillo and Guadalupita, which lie roughly halfway between the Village of Mora and the resort town of Angel Fire.

Their families have been there for hundreds of years. I spent a lot of my youth at my maternal grandparents’ ranch, riding horses and fishing in the creek with my cousins. We used to make fishing poles out of willows and lie flat against the walls of the stream so the fish couldn’t see us. We would yank the poles out of the water when we had a bite. In the summers, Grandma’s ranch would resemble a mini-Switzerland, with lush pastures and forested mountains.

I have spent quite a bit of my life in the mountains of northern New Mexico hunting, fishing and logging with my father. When logging in the summers, I remember having to dash to the truck when a cloud burst descended on us. In the winters, I remember the snow was up to my waist. The very first time I appeared in the newspaper was when I was in first grade at McCurdy Mission School in Española, New Mexico. Almost three feet of snow had fallen on my valley and an older kid was pulling me and two other kids on an inner tube. The local newspaper decided that this scene would make a quaint picture for its front page.

I distinctly remember the snowstorms in the winter and the rain in the summer, which I always worried would cancel my Little League games.

Nowadays, we don’t receive nearly the amount of precipitation in northern New Mexico. Forests have been unusually dry, and snowpack always seems to be below average.

The lands that I inherited from my family in El Turquillo and Guadalupita are directly in the path of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that has burned more than 300,000 acres in that region. My uncles, aunts and cousins have all had to evacuate and are in distant places wondering if they have a home and ranch to return to. As the fire rages, I have been contemplating how even ancient, isolated villages in the mountains of northern New Mexico and other parts of the state and Southwest are not immune to global warming, and the factors that are causing it.

According to NASA’s website, “The current warming trend is of particular significance because it is unequivocally the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over millennia. It is undeniable that human activities have warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land, and that widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.”

Our planet’s average surface temperature has risen two degrees since the late 19th century, and the last seven years have been the hottest on record. Most of the warming has occurred within the last 40 years. Additionally, global warming is linked to lower snowpacks in the mountains of the Southwest, and faster runoff, which make the forests tinder boxes. It is predicted that within the next two decades, the planet’s temperature will rise by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius). If this happens, scientists are saying we can expect the possible death of the coral reefs, increased erratic weather such as thunderstorms, floods and hurricanes, and rising oceans due to melting icebergs and glaciers. And yes, we can expect more devastating forest fires and earlier in the season.

The Paris Agreement, which was signed by 192 countries and the European Union, has the objective of addressing global warming by limiting greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve a climate neutral world by the middle of the century. The U.S. and more than 100 nations also have joined forces to cut methane gas, which is contributing to global warming. India, a developing nation with major pollution problems, has publicly stated its goal to be carbon neutral by 2070. Developing nations are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and many are pushing developed nations to improve on the 2.7-degree temperature rise prediction.

However, are all these efforts enough? The fact is that our behavior toward the climate affects other parts of the world, and what is going on there affects us. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, nobody is immune. The fire situation in New Mexico is the consequence of years of developed and developing nations ignoring environmental effects for the goal of industrialization. I am certainly worried about my ancestral lands. However, I am even more worried that an ancient way of life and the people who live it are at risk and probably will continue to be until we get a handle on climate change, which is striking uncomfortably close to home.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at

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