Climate change and fire threaten 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 hail from the tiny, contiguous villages of El Turquillo and Guadalupita in northern New Mexico, about halfway between the village of Mora and the resort town of Angel Fire.

Their families have been there for hundreds of years. I spent much of my youth on my maternal grandparents’ ranch, horseback riding with my cousins, and fishing in the creek. We used to make fishing rods out of willow and lay flat against the creek walls so the fish couldn’t see us. We yanked the poles out of the water when we got a bite. In the summer, grandma’s ranch resembled a mini-Switzerland with lush pastures and wooded mountains.

I have spent much of my life in the mountains of northern New Mexico hunting, fishing, and logging with my father. When I log in in the summer, I remember having to run to the truck when a downpour hit us. I remember that in winter 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 a meter of snow had fallen on my valley and an older kid was pulling me and two other kids on a tube. The local newspaper decided this scene would make an odd picture for their front page.

I clearly remember the winter snowstorms and summer rains always worrying that my little league games would be cancelled.

Today we don’t get anywhere near the amount of rainfall in northern New Mexico. The forests have been unusually dry and snow cover always seems to be below average.

The lands I inherited from my family in El Turquillo and Guadalupita are directly in the path of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire that burned more than 300,000 acres in this region. My uncles, aunts and cousins ​​have all had to evacuate and are in remote locations wondering if they have a home and ranch to return to. As the fire rages, I’ve reflected that even old, isolated mountain villages in northern New Mexico and other parts of the state and Southwest are not immune to global warming and the factors that cause it.

According to NASA’s website, “The current warming trend is of particular importance because it is clearly the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and is continuing at a rate unprecedented for thousands of years. It is undeniable that human activity has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, and that widespread and rapid changes have taken place in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.”

Our planet’s average surface temperature has risen by two degrees since the late 19th century, and the past seven years have been the hottest on record. Most of the warming has occurred in the last 40 years. In addition, global warming is associated with lower snowpacks in the mountains of the Southwest and faster runoff, making forests tinderboxes. The planet’s temperature is predicted to increase by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) over the next two decades. When this happens, scientists say we can expect the possible death of coral reefs, increased erratic weather like thunderstorms, floods and hurricanes, and rising oceans due to melting icebergs and glaciers. And yes, we can expect more devastating wildfires earlier in the season.

The Paris Agreement, signed by 192 countries and the European Union, aims to combat global warming by limiting greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve a carbon-neutral world by mid-century. The US and more than 100 nations have also joined forces to reduce methane gas, which contributes to global warming. India, a developing country with major environmental challenges, has publicly declared its goal to be carbon neutral by 2070. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and many are urging developed nations to improve forecasts of a 2.7 degree rise in temperature.

But are all these efforts enough? The fact is that what we do about the climate affects other parts of the world, and what happens there affects us. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, no one is immune. The New Mexico fire situation is the result of years of neglect of environmental impacts by developed and developing countries for the goal of industrialization. I am certainly worried about the land of my ancestors. What worries me even more is that an age-old way of life and the people who live it are, and likely will continue to be, under threat until we get a grip on climate change that is hitting hard near our country.

Jerry Pacheco is executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit business advisory program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or [email protected]


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