Native Plant Society

Renewing the resilience and productivity of native forests

By Jan Martenson
For The Taos News
Posted 10/10/18

'The congested forests that we are familiar with today are completely unnatural and will not endure, and neither will our …

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Native Plant Society

Renewing the resilience and productivity of native forests

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'The congested forests that we are familiar with today are completely unnatural and will not endure, and neither will our neighborhoods that exist within them." Such is the grim assessment by Mark Schuetz, owner of Watershed Dynamics, a forest restoration company. Schuetz will be addressing this issue as well as proposed and ongoing remediation projects at the next meeting, Wednesday (Oct. 17), of the Taos chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico.

So how did our forests become so congested? "The forests of the Southwest evolved over thousands of years to be resilient, to have the ability to withstand climatic shifts and still survive. Man's activities on the greater landscape have interfered dramatically with that adaptability. Dendrochronology tells us that. The result of these human-caused changes is forests crowded with thousands of piñon and juniper trees in an acre where there used to be as few as 15 ponderosa pines. "The species and numbers vary, but the trend is the same across the west. Too many trees too close together that there is not enough precipitation to support, so when there is a dry year, the forest burns to the ground. Even in a wet year, the trees struggle, the streams run low, and insect infestation is always a risk," observed Schuetz.

Schuetz will focus on our native trees, their habitat and their adaptations to elevation.

Can they respond to climate change without our help? Can a revived logging industry be integrated with renewed forest health? Will the water needs of the West continue to help fund forest restoration projects? Many efforts are underway to thin the forest and return good working fire to the landscape so that the forests' natural resilience, water production and wood productivity can be re-established. Come to the meeting Wednesday, 6 p.m., in the Kit Carson Electric Coop boardroom (118 Cruz Alta Road) to join the discussion.

Schuetz was raised in New Mexico. He worked with his father, gathering home construction materials - vigas, latillas, firewood - in the forest. He began tree planting professionally for the U.S. Forest Service in 1980 and has since worked in 19 national forests in eight states across the West. He has studied forestry informally, through his work, and by attending conferences. Schuetz is an active member of the Taos County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Core Team and the Taos Valley Watershed Coalition and Forest Guild.

What is dendrochronology?

Dendrochronology is study of tree rings, a technique of dating events, environmental change and archaeological artifacts by using the characteristic patterns of annual growth rings in timber and tree trunks. The word derives from the Greek dendros meaning "tree," chronos meaning "time," and logia, "the study of."

How are growth rings formed? New growth in trees occurs in a layer of cells near the bark.

Each ring represents a complete cycle of seasons, thus one year, in the life of the tree. One year's growth is evidenced by both a light-colored ring and a darker one. New wood formed in a tree during spring and summer is light in color. Toward the end of a growing season, the new cells formed are smaller and have thicker walls resulting in wood that is denser. Tree rings are like a diary of a tree's life. The thickness of each ring is determined by the conditions during that year of growth, so a year of adequate moisture, good sunlight, ideal temperature, absence of fire, disease or insect infestation and a long growing season results in a thicker lighter ring than a year of drought. Fire scars are easily seen.

Growth rings are easy to count in a sawed cross-section of a fallen tree, but to study them in living trees a small diameter core sample is taken (the residual hole is healed by the tree).

This technique, developed in the 1920s by A. E. Douglass, involves matching the pattern of tree rings in archaeological wood samples to the pattern of tree rings in a sequence of overlapping samples extending back thousands of years. These cross-dated sequences, called chronologies, vary from one part of the world to the next. In the American Southwest, the unbroken sequence extends back to 322 B.C, according to information from the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. (crowcanyon.org/index.php/dendrochronology)

To learn more about tree-ring research, visit the website of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, founded by Douglass, the pioneer of dendrochronology: trr.arizona.edu

Grant deadline approaching

The Native Plant Society of New Mexico awards grants and makes donations to individuals and organizations that further the mission of the society. Grants and donations are limited to a maximum of $1,500. Applications for grants and donations are due December 31, 2018. Complete grant guidelines and applications are available at npsnm.org/funding-opportunties/.

How to contact us

This column is printed every second Thursday of the month. For questions or suggestions, please contact us at TaosNPS@gmail.com or call (575) 751-0511. Get in on the fun and support the education and outreach efforts of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico by joining: npsnm.org/about/join

Martenson is the president of the Taos Chapter, Native Plant Society of New Mexico and a member of the board of NPSNM.

Calendar for Native Plant Society of New Mexico - Taos Chapter

Look for updates on our chapter webpage, npsnm.org/about/chapters/taos or our Facebook page (search for "Native Plant Society New Mexico Taos Chapter"), email TaosNPS@gmail.com, or call (575) 751-0511.

Videos of past meetings can be found at: tinyurl.com/mhds73l

Oct. 17 Wednesday, 6 p.m. in the boardroom of the Kit Carson Electric Coop, 118 Cruz Alta Rd. "Renewing the Resilience and Productivity of Native Forests," Mark Schuetz, Watershed Dynamics, Taos.

We will enter our winter dormant period from November until early 2019. Our first meeting in 2019 will be Wednesday, March 20. Stay tuned!

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