Snapshots of a forest two years after a megafire

  • LasConchasBurnScar1.JPG

    Where the brown ends and the green begins is where New Mexico's 2011 Las Conchas Fire stopped. This is one of the areas where the fire burned at extremely high temperatures.

    Cally Carswell
  • LasConchasBurnScar2.JPG

    Where the fire burned super-hot through areas that are naturally very dry, little green growth of any kind was present this summer. New growth has been inhibited by persistent drought in the years since the fire.

    Cally Carswell
  • LasConchasBurnScar3.JPG

    Alligator juniper is the only conifer in the Southwest that resprouts after fire. This one, in one of the worst parts of the burn, was sending up new shoots this summer. New Mexico's Jemez Mountains are the northern limit of its range.

    Cally Carswell
  • LasConchasBurnScar4.JPG

    At elevations above the driest parts of the burn are patches where nearly all of the conifers were killed and are now being replaced by Gambel oak and New Mexico locust shrubs.

    Cally Carswell
  • LasConchasBurnScar5.JPG

    Cochiti Canyon provides a striking view of the extent of tree mortality in the 2011 Las Conchas Fire.

    Cally Carswell
  • LasConchasBurnScar6.JPG

    At higher, wetter elevations, some conifer stands that perished and aspen stands that burned are being colonized by young aspen. Aspen roots can survive underground while conifers dominate aboveground, and after aspen trees are burned. Here, hordes of aspen saplings carpet the forest floor in one part of the burn scar.

    Cally Carswell
 

Southwestern forests have become burdened by wildfires that burn much hotter than those that preceded nearly a century of fire suppression. These so-called "high-severity" fires have been stoked not only by plentiful fuels, but by dried-out vegetation and hot, dry weather. The 2011 Las Conchas Fire, which burned through 156,000 acres in New Mexico's Jemez Mountains, has become a poster child for the deleterious effects of high-severity fire in forests that are not adapted to it.  The fire killed entire stands of conifers, leaving few "mother" trees and making it unlikely that conifer forests will regenerate across parts of the landscape. These photographs offer snapshots of how different parts of the landscape are recovering two years after the fire.

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