ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The biologists at Bandelier National Monument showed up earlier this month in a fascinating New York Times piece about rethinking the notion of wilderness:
At Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, the past century of livestock grazing and fire suppression had turned much of the savanna-like landscape into one crowded with dense juniper and pinyon trees, with bare earth below. “The rates of soil erosion had accelerated to damaging levels,” as rains chewed away at the almost 3,000 archaeological sites that the monument was established to protect, said Craig Allen, a research ecologist with the survey’s Jemez Mountains Field Station.
After 15 years of study, in 2007 the park started taking chain saws to about 5,000 acres of land — mostly in the monument’s 23,000-acre Bandelier Wilderness — cutting small trees and mulching the ground with their branches. The scale of the action “was and remains unprecedented” in wilderness, where engines aren’t usually permitted, he said.
It’s worked. Rates of erosion have fallen by at least an order of magnitude, while native grasses and shrubs have increased threefold.
“I think we improved the resilience of the system going forward,” Brian Jacobs, a Bandelier botanist, said. “The healthier a system is going into these changes, the more likely it is to be able to respond favorably.”