Monday, February 18, 2019

Life after wildfires: NMSU researchers work to restore fire-damaged forests

Life after wildfires: NMSU researchers work to restore fire-damaged forests
DATE: 02/18/2019
WRITER: Jane Moorman, 505-249-0527,
CONTACT: Owen Burney, 575-387-2319,

Catastrophic wildfires in the Southwest in recent years have impacted approximately 118,000 acres of federal forest lands in New Mexico and Arizona. The damage is categorized as high burn severity, according to a white paper by the U.S. Forest Service.

New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is actively involved in researching many aspects of these fires’ impact.

As various federal and state agencies work to prevent future catastrophic fires with prescribed burns and thinning of the remaining forests, other agencies and groups are developing a plan for the restoration of the large-scale fire areas.

James Cain, an affiliated faculty with the college’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology, is answering the question of how the fires, both prescribed and high severity devastation, and thinning of forests impacts the wildlife habitat of the Jemez Mountains and Valles Caldera in northern New Mexico.

Owen Burney, NMSU associate professor and superintendent of the John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center in Mora, is researching how to restore the forest habitat throughout New Mexico and Arizona.

“We’re specifically looking at how mule deer, elk, black bears and mountain lions are responding to these aftermaths of these situations,” Cain said of the study, which is funded by a U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service grant. “We usually have 10 to 20 bears, about 50 elk and about 10 to 15 mule deer with GPS collars at any given time allowing us to see where they’re moving throughout the landscape.”

Analysis is still being conducted on the data that has been collected.

“We have some early findings for the mule deer and elk, as well as the black bears,” said Cain, who is the assistant leader of the U.S. Geological Survey’s New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. “So far what we’ve found is that the elk are really responding to the wildfire burned areas, because they like the new grass growth.”

The mule deer avoid the wildfire areas completely after the fire, likely due to the reduction in browse. They will visit prescribed burn areas, particularly those burned within the previous two years. Deer select thinned areas, but only those thinned more than five years previous, once the shrubs have grown back. They avoid more recently thinned areas.

Thinning and wildfires also have the potential to disturb black bear bed and den site selection.

“We found horizontal cover or security cover the biggest driver for the bears’ selection of bed sites where they rest during the middle of the day,” Cain said. “Those that were in the thinned area were where the thinning crews were unable to access the area because it was too rocky or too steep. Most of the bed sites in the wildfire burned area were where the security cover was not damaged.”

The researchers found similar patterns for den sites.

Burney is working with forestry professionals in the Southwest, including the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Forest Stewards Guild and Northern Arizona University. The goal is to develop strategies to put the forest back on the right trajectory after a fire, and work to ensure the forest is resilient to future fire conditions.

“We are developing a nucleation strategy where tree islands, or small planting plots, will be replicated in natural patterns across the landscape,” Burney said. “The area between these islands can be seeded with native grasses and shrubs. And in the long-term, these gaps will begin to fill in with native trees from mature trees within the established tree islands.”

One of the first issues the foresters are facing is the huge number of seedlings needed to restore these U.S. Forest Service burned forested areas – between 30 and 60 million. This number increases each year with every new forest fire.

“NMSU’s Mora facility has the largest forest tree seedling nursery in New Mexico that is producing seedlings for restoration,” Burney said. “Our production capacity is 270,000 seedlings per year. There is a large gap in both nursery capabilities and overall planting efforts to address the growing planting deficit to restore these landscapes.”

The second part of the seedling issue is survival rate once planted. Historically, seedlings that thrive in the nursery have had an average survival rate of 25 percent in the field. Many things play into the lack of survival, including growing and planting techniques, climate and precipitation, temperatures and animal activity in the area.

Another aspect of the lack of survival is that the nursery seedlings are physiologically not ready for the harsh environment where they are planted.

“Usually after the fires, the Southwest environments are dry and difficult to get plants established,” he said. “The traditionally grown seedlings struggle.”

At Mora, a nursery cultural practice of “tough love,” or stress conditioning, has been used while growing the seedlings. “By decreasing the irrigation in the nursery, plant hydraulics are altered to provide improved water conduction in the xylem as well as a buffer against drought stress,” he said. “In the field we are seeing an increase in both growth and survival of these conditioned seedlings.”

London Rocket


Yes, their back.  London rocket mustard has germinated and growing quite tall.  This year with the fall moisture it is growing quit well.   It is everywhere, Alfalfa fields, lawns and open lots. Don’t let this weed get to big before you spray.  Most of what I see is already too tall to get good control.  You need to be spraying it as soon as possible and no later than first of March.  In Alfalfa Pursuit and Raptor are still the best-known products on the market for this weed, when it is tall before the alfalfa break dormancy you can use germoxone.  Raptor is option the grower may consider if they have grassy annual weeds.  Raptor has shown activity on winter annual grasses as well and the cost is close to Pursuit.   Mowing, grazing does not control this weed.  It may put it off for a while but if you want that premium for clean hay you will have to spray.
Homeowners can use almost any broad leaf weed control product for lawns.  The most common are those with the active ingredient of 2,4,D.  This product can be used safely when the temperatures are less then 90 degrees F..  Once temperatures get higher volatilization occurs and it could damage trees and other desirable vegetation.  A pre-emergent herbicide could also be tank mixed with 2,4,D to prevent infestation by un-germinated seeds.  If you had this weed in past years, you will most likely have it again this year if you do not take measure to control it early.  The key to successful control is early treatment while the weeds are small. If you read my newspaper article in October you may have already sprayed, but be vigilant for late germination seedlings too.    This is a winter annual weed, it germinated way back in late September and through October, when we had that rain. One of the popular myths about London Rocket is that it was brought in by a government agency to control erosion after a fire.  This is not true.  This is one of those weeds that is every ware and may lay dormant as seed in the soil for long periods of time until fall moisture occurs and other advantageous conditions occur.  We had a mild winter, so the plants that germinated in October are already setting seed.  If you mow it, the plant responds by putting up multiple shoots, so you have five seed head instead of one.  The root are well established now.  It will die on its own because it is a annual in a month or so.  But the seed will be there for this fall.     Subscribe to Eddy County Ag news at:  Eddy County Extension Service, New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.  All programs are available to everyone regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  New Mexico State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Eddy County Government Cooperating.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Secretary Perdue Statement on President Trump’s Signing of Appropriations Bill & Declaration of National Emergency

Secretary Perdue Statement on President Trump’s Signing of Appropriations Bill & Declaration of National Emergency

(Washington, D.C., February 15, 2019) - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today issued the following statement regarding President Donald J. Trump’s signing of legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and declaration of a national emergency at the southern border:

“I am pleased that Congress has passed, and President Trump has signed, funding for USDA for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2019. We will be moving at full speed on all of our responsibilities, making good on our motto by doing right and feeding everyone. Since Congress did not act to protect our southern border, the President has also declared a national emergency, which helps him fulfill a clear promise to protect our national security interests. He is exercising his Constitutional authority, as presidents from both parties have done many times in the past.

“Even with the passage of the appropriations bill, Congress still has unfinished business in areas of great concern for USDA and the customers we serve. Farmers and ranchers were battered last year by a series of monumental storms, robbing them of their livelihoods and inflicting damage well beyond the financial risks they normally assume in their operations. These are the men and women who dedicate their lives to feeding, fueling, and clothing this nation, and we cannot turn our backs on them when they need assistance. Just as importantly, another devastating wildfire season left our Forest Service badly in need of replenished funds to fight fires, remove excess fuels, and conduct necessary forest management. Without these resources, we risk falling behind in forest maintenance and inviting even more severe seasons in the future. I will continue to work with the President and the Congress to address these critical issues.”