The great New Mexican juniper massacre

  • A man stands next to a partially-poached Juniper tree.

    Michael Richie, phototreknm.com
  • Estimated ages of trees based on Rocky Mountain juniper growth rates provided in the field office's draft resource management plan. Based on data from the BLM's Rio Puerco Field Office.

    Jonathan Thompson
 

385,000 years: That's the estimated collective age of old, live junipers illegally cut for firewood between July 2010 and November 2011 on Bureau of Land Management land in northern and central New Mexico. Hardest hit have been the surreally beautiful badlands west of the small town of Cuba, now stippled with freshly sawed tree stumps, some of which are hundreds of years old.

Thousands of locals -- mostly Navajos, Hispanics and Pueblo Indians, many of whom live in poverty -- use the region's piñon-juniper forests for cooking and heating, collecting dead trees with a permit. But green juniper is the firewood of choice in the region, and demand seems to have surged in recent years, perhaps due to economic hardships or rising propane prices. BLM officials have cracked down over the last year, hiring veterans to patrol the land, issuing citations, confiscating chainsaws, and opening a hotline to report illegal cutting. They're also trying to find ways to help locals lessen fuel needs through increased energy efficiency.

That has helped slow the killing, but the juniper poachers are creative and tenacious, says Rio Puerco Field Office Manager Tom Gow, and they have taken to doing their sawing at night to elude patrols. Still, he says, "We're going to catch them, it's just a matter of time."

Regional environmentalists, meanwhile, are pushing for stronger protections for the badlands. The Rio Puerco BLM Field Office's new draft of its resource management plan is now open to public comment.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...