Pifion-Juniper Initiative in the Southwestern Region W. shawl Douglas

Pifion-Juniper Initiative in the
Southwestern Region
Douglas W. shawl
I want to share a little background on the Southwestern
Region's piilon-juniper initiative. A little over a year ago, when
our Regional Forester was relatively new in this Region, he was
approached by several p u p s and individuals about the need
for enhanced management in our piilon-juniper woodlands (P-J).
The emphasis placed by these people was the watershed
codtion in the P-J. The need to improve watershed conditions
was also noted in our 1991 Stewardship Review Report and was
an expressed concern of many of the Region's line officers. As
a result of these concern, our Regional Forester selected P-J
woodland management as one of his two resource initiatives.
The other resource initiative is forest health, which focuses more
on fuel loading and insect and disease conditions at the uhan
interface; stand densities in the pine, mixed conifer, and
woodland types; and riparian conditions. So there are some
mutual concerns shared by these two initiatives, and they will
be coordinated in an ecosystem management context.
Because of the watershed nature of this initiative, the lead
coordination role was assigned to the Region's Director for
Watershed and Air Management. To better address the variety
of P-J issues and concerns around the Region, an assessment
team was chartered for each state. Each team was led by a Forest
Supervisor and included at least one District Ranger and the
resource people required to accomplish the assessment. The
teams were also charged to define a desired condition, estimate
costs and potential accomplishments for a five-year program,
and iden@ potential partners. All thls was to be accomplished
in a rather short time.
The Region's Terrestrial Ecosystem Survey (TES) was used
to derive an estimate of the P-J acres in the Region The TES
is an ecological k e n t o q in which soils, vegetation, climate,
and landform are inventoried and intepted into an ecological
map unit. We looked at all the woodland vegetation associations
that have piilon andlor juniper as a si@icant part of the
' USDA Forest SeM'ce, Southwestern Region, Albuquerque, NM.
overstory. Based on the TES review, we have about seven
million acres of P-J in the Region This is slightly less than a
third of the Region
Another screen of the TES data was used to estimate the P-J
acres in impamd watershed condition The criteria used for this
screen included sheet, rill, and gully erosion, and soil
compaction Based on this screen we estimated there are about
3.5 million acres in impaired or unsatisfactory watershed
condition; of these, about 1.9 million acres are in Arizona and
1.5 million in New Mexico. People b e many theories for why
these acres are in unsatisfactory watershed condition;
over-grazing in the early part of the century, control of fire, and
climate changes are frequently cited. Realizing that these and
other causes and their cumulative effects are all part of the
history of the P-J, we didn't focus a lot of time on ide-ing
the cause; rather, we focused more on what we can do to make
changes for improvement.
We also realized the potential for change varies between
ecosystems or habitat types. Some systems can now be managed
for small wood products, some for more grasses, shrubs a d
fohs, but some have been changed to the extent their former
potential for productivity is no longer available. Some soils are
changed due to erosion and drying.
Pictures of typical problem areas include P-J stands with b m
and e r e interspaces between the tree canopies. Watershed
conditions under the canopies are good, but the vegetation cover
and diversity between the trees is less than desirable to meet
forest land management plan objectives. As a consequence, sheet
and rill erosion are common Enough soil has moved on some
sites that an erosion pavement is exposed, reducing further sheet
erosion but accelemtmg gully erosion.
Down-slope sites frequently include gully emsion that is
drying previously grassy bottoms and riparian areas. These
grassy bottoms were effective in slowing runoff from the steeper
side slopes, but now they have veq effective drainage systems
that move water rapidly off site with eroded soil.
People have lived in the P-J for thousand of years. They
derived much that they needed from the wildlife and vegetation
available. Piiion nuts, for example, furnished an important part
of their protein and d i e w fat. Some early cultures derived
spiritual values from the P-J, and their successors still do. As a
result of this long history of habitation, there is a high density
of cultural resource sites in the P-J. These resources are
sometimes damaged by erosion.
We still like to live in the P-J: the climate is good, the
landscape is aesthetically pleasing, and the land is suitable for
construction and other uses. However, today there are a wide
range of values and opinions about the P-J. Some consider the
P-J public enemy number one, others have a spiritual tie, while
others look to the P-J for social needs like nut pickmg and
fuelwood gathering as family activities that provide home needs
and income. AU these values must be addressed in our initiative.
A study of research on past and c m n t P-J management
practices was completed by the Watershed and Air Staff. We
reviewed all the research publications we could find fiom the
past several decades, pulled out important findings and
watershed recommendations, and published them in a document
titled "Watershed Management Practices for Piiion-Juniper
Ecosystems." This document is intended as a reference for
Districts planning projects.
Based on our experience with P-J pmctices and project
coordination requirements, the state teams estimated we could
implement improved ecosystem management on approximately
70,000 acres per year in the Region The average cost for this
improved management is estimated to be $100 per acre, Thus,
to implement and sustain our P-J initiative, we will need a
budget of $6.5 to $7 million per year.
What are we trying to achieve with our P-J initiative? The
desired future condition for each project must be determined
by integrating the biological, physical, cultural, social, and
economic needs of each ecosystem. However, at a Regional
or programmatic level, we want each desired future condition
to include the following criteria: (1) improvement of
long-term soil productivity; (2) water quality that meets state
standards; (3) a wide range of plant and animal diversity; (4)
sustainable ecosystems; (5) recognition of the P-J as a
valuable ecosystem for uses, products and values; (6) a
visually desirable mosaic of vegetation conditions on the
landscape; (7) riparian areas managed for their potential and
uniqueness; (8) threatened, endangered and sensitive plant
and animal habitats protected; (9) historic and pre-historic
cultural values protected; and (10) management that is
sensitive to lifestyles as well as ecosystem needs.
There are many tools available to help move us toward a
desired future condition. Some of these tools are discussed in
"Watershed Management Practices for Pifion-Juniper
Ecosystem." Each project team must decide which tools are
most appropriate and how they should be applied to meet
specific objective. All the values held by people for each site
must be considered in selecting the appropriate tools and
An example of one technique is fuelwood harvesting followed
by lopping and scattering the slash over bare soil areas. This
technique provides several benefits. People are employed, a
product is hawested, and a microclimate is established near the
soil that enhances conditions for the establishment of grasses
and shrubs. Fire may also be an important tool for initiating
change and maintaining desired conditions. However, we need
to better understand the trade offs in the form of soil nutrient
losses when we use fire.
Projects must integrate management techniques and tools
from many resources, including wildlife, range, recreation,
cultural resources, timber and engineering. Plans must focus on
achieving desired future conditions with products as additional
results of that achievement. The way we move toward desired
future conditions may be as important to some people as
achieving the end result. Thus, some tools may not be
Potential partners are available in other state and federal
natural resource agencies and among interest groups like the
Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Grazing germittees and
adjacent land owners are also w d h g partners.
Benefits of our P-J initiative include a visually desirable
mosaic of vegetation conditions including diversity of both
overstory and understory components; soil, water, and air quality
that meets legislative and administrative goals; a wide range of
plant and animal diversity; and management that is sensitive to
the public's life style needs as well as ecosystem needs.
Economic benefits include Ilevenue to local economies from
fuelwood, pifIon nut, Christmas tree and wildmg sales, and
increased forage for livestock. Resource benefits include
improved wildlife habitat, improved riparian areas, protected
archeological sites, and reduced road densities.