Until piñon pines began dying by the millions across the Southwest a few years ago — victims of drought and voracious bark beetles — few people gave much thought to the gnarled, scrubby trees or the delicate ecosystem that supported them. Even now, attention is focused on the piñons mainly as a wildfire hazard rather than as an integral part of a unique and complex landscape.
Woodlands: A Natural History of Mesa Verde Country,
edited by M. Lisa Floyd, is devoted to challenging that view. With
chapters by 23 different scientists and researchers, this
intelligent, detailed book offers plenty of reasons to appreciate
old-growth piñon-juniper forests such as those within Mesa
Verde National Park. They support a rich variety of flora and
fauna, including 10 species of amphibian, 26 reptiles, more than 70
mammals, more than 113 birds, over 100 types of fungi and 14,000 to
26,000 insect species. Indigenous tribes depended heavily on the
trees, using the wood for fuel and construction, and piñon
seeds and juniper berries for food. Yet while there are preserves
for Joshua trees, saguaro and organ-pipe cacti, and tall-grass
prairies, few people accord piñon-juniper the same status.
As a result, this arid ecosystem is increasingly
fragmented and degraded. Across the West, between 1950 and 1964,
almost 3 million acres of piñon-juniper were cleared, usually
by dragging a huge chain between two bulldozers, and converted to
pasture. Recently, the catastrophic bark beetle invasion,
disturbingly frequent wildfires, and booming residential growth
have taken a toll, while air pollution, noxious weeds and global
climate change pose more insidious threats.
suggest a public-relations campaign to improve the image of "one of
the Southwest’s true natives," a type of forest so widespread
and familiar that the region would be unimaginable without it.
Proceeds from the book’s sale will be devoted to further
research into piñon-juniper ecology.
Ancient Piñon-Juniper Woodlands: A Natural
History of Mesa Verde Country
426 pages, softcover $29.95.
of Colorado Press, 2003.
Seeing the forest for its dead trees
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