reening Ways         for earth-wise days
updated 12/25/2014 SAN JUAN COUNTY, NEW MEXICO DEFORESTATION Wiping Out Its Prettiest Areas in the Face of City Development Deforestation by humans is accompanied by drought, fire, desertification, landslides, floods, disease, bark beetles and other pest problems. City development can and does add to the deforestation issues we are already experiencing from natural disasters, whether or not those natural disasters are from anthropogenic causes like pollution-driven greenhouse gases and global warming. We need to be gentle on and protective of our remaining forests. This includes the low height vegetation areas growing naturally around cities and towns which might not have as much dazzle as tall tree forests to draw interest. Many people do not see pinion and juniper country as forest but more as a type of bush country; we still have biases in the southwest against these often low growing trees because they can look like large shrubs. Of particular concern probably are the pinion trees because the junipers tend to take over. Having a good mix of both trees is best. The pinions have the advantage of being a pine with edible nuts, as well as being arguably more interesting and attractive. It is particularly sad when a pinion is cut down because it takes them so long to mature and they are increasingly rare. Around Farmington in northwestern New Mexico, some of the prettiest remaining areas have been plowed away to make room for housing developments and commercial buildings. Of particular note are the areas around the San Juan Country Club off the highway leading to Durango, Colorado as well as the Pinion Hills Bypass which is a long stretch of road connecting the eastern side of Farmington to the west going through what was once a pristine natural area with sandstone bluffs and high desert forest. Native forest country there is rapidly being wiped out as people focus on large modern buildings, parking lots and track home or other residential developments. Three churches with large parking lots, a dental and medical plaza, insurance office, college development, townhouses, etc. all have taken their toll. It is sad to see these pretty areas go by the wayside as people focus on other values at the cost of the environment and natural aesthetics of the area. San Juan County needs to start working on its environmental ethics, aesthetics and real world common sense as it applies to both how things ultimately look and feel as well as global warming. The area still caters to a fossil fuel industry which includes oil, gas and coal which means the focus has not been on the environment. Many people still drive gas consuming trucks and SUVs and there is very little activism for the environment. Religious orientations seem to steer people away from concerns about nature as some of the larges land hogs in the area are prestigious churches. The religious groups often have people working in the fossil fuel industry or government which work together to keep change for the environment at bay; the religious and social culture feeds into each other as people keep other ideas and approaches from reaching the larger community. There is a group conformity issue in Farmington which blocks progress. People are afraid of drawing group pressure on them and rocking the boat. Some people fear the power of the Catholic, Mormon and fundamental churches and are afraid to speak out or come across as too different. On the other extreme, there is a minority liberal community which is too busy trying to stay afloat amid the conservative hard- liners and so they don’t like to rock the boat regarding the environment, either; some of these people are Native Americans who have many of their people working in the power plants or in jobs which support either the power plants or oil and gas field, like engineering or mechanics. Coal and oil/gas means jobs for these people and so whether the groups are conservative or liberal, the heartbeat of the area is not geared toward environmentalism and protecting natural areas from destruction. People are more inclined to see progress as building activity even when it at the expense of the environment. Many of the people tearing down the natural world are putting up vegetation that requires watering; we are seeing a lot of northern altitude pine trees being put in after the pinions and junipers are cut down. In addition, we are seeing xeriscaping added when native plants and trees were already there and could have been used. Although the xeriscaping plants are less water demanding than other choices, most do need to be watered at least a few times a week while the native vegetation would have required less upkeep. In summary, people are destroying the thick treed areas only to put up store bought plants that completely take away from the original unique look of the area. Urban sprawl begins with choices like these as each person feels his or her own development project supersedes the needs of the environment. After awhile the area becomes a collage of modern buildings which all add up to urban sprawl no matter how costly or tasteful the buildings are. It is without question a form of clutter at the expense of a once quiet, peaceful and lovely expanse which gave the area its original uniqueness and character. When the natural charm is destroyed under urban sprawl, the area becomes just like any other city. Without question, the natural world gives a place its flavor and without that, the city goes the way of all cities. We need some new direction and insights in city development practices and it should not all be about raising prices to make things difficult to afford because the building codes becomes so difficult. That is not the point here. It is possible to set up a set of codes and standards without making them cater just to an elite clientèle which is what usually happens when zoning and restrictions are put in place - it seems to raise the price tag. It is a good idea to start looking for tasteful, original and affordable construction solutions while also preserving the natural world as much as possible. But for every Farmington there are countless cities and towns around the country with identical experiences. This is a widespread cultural problem. People still have the idea that progress looks like a bunch of new buildings. They like the feeling of new that goes along with new turf - that is, untamed natural world terrain now put under the thumb of development. It’s like the feeling we get when we open a new store bought item or get into a new car - that new smell-feel thing. Well, when we apply that to building in undeveloped areas, our desire for new and spiffy comes at a supreme cost to those remaining natural areas that would be better served not being plowed away for our dream home or business. We need to reshape what progress looks like as it applies to limited resources and precious biodiversity found in natural areas. More people need to learn why natural plant life is a basic requirement for the health of the entire planet - it’s not just a luxury. Keeping nature intact as much as possible around developing cities is only common sense, but many people are still on a delayed warning system in which the realities of our world have not yet caught up with them. They keep waiting for the ultimate disaster to wake them up, or they are living for today in anticipation that global warming has already gone too far and the ultimate end is inevitable - so why not get theirs and enjoy life while they can? The dooms day and millenium types have basically given up already and are not helping the situation. There are people looking at progress, success and personal economic status in certain limited ways which gives them cultural backing to go ahead and wipe out a natural area when making plans about a house or commercial project. People are still trying to do things like their parents and grandparents did but with an entirely different planet. We need people to slow down and think about how their decisions add up. Bit by bit, their choices diminish what is left of the natural world on the planet. Business and economics classes need to not just focus on green as recycling but green as don’t wipe out nature when putting in another business or home. Part of the problem is we are dealing with corporations and stockholders with lots of people sitting comfortably at home watching their assets from a computer while only a handful of people in any given area are making the decisions about where to put their businesses (like Walmart or Home Depot). The faceless side of corporations means decisions about the environment in local areas gets lost behind a habitual pattern for development. People with the ability to spend millions of dollars at a time on another large construction project often do not have the inclination to worry about a few more trees. Armchair business people in warm or cooled offices and homes are very detached from environmental concerns because as long as profits are coming in and they feel safe and comfortable, they don’t have a sense of urgency about anything else. Corporations and stockholders are the faceless enemy of the natural world and they are so hard to pin down and hold accountable for their actions because of this. We need more people to understand why their individual actions are so serious from a regional and planetary viewpoint. We still have too many blade-happy people, ready to hire a bulldozer at the drop of the hat; their focus is on clearing the properties to put up buildings and parking lots, and they think they are being natural or even a little wild if they leave one or two native trees or plants on the property - it’s really quite sick, frankly. The focus is on that aesthetic appeal of modern property values and space demands. The natural world is taking a back burner. People have not been trained or raised to see the natural world as anything more than something to plow through to get at something they think is far more important. We need to turn this around. If people do it right, they can make natural world aesthetics part of their economic vitality package. Pretty areas draw people to spend money and to develop the area in wise ways good for themselves and others. Areas with nature left respectfully and carefully around send out the message that the area is worth respecting and it gives the area a certain glow. When you have that level of respect, it draws money. It is like a money magnet. Natural world aesthetics is one of the smartest thing you could ever focus on if you are interested in developing an area’s economic growth. There are increasing numbers of people who do not want another ugly urban sprawled city center to call home. They want more than a city full of endless buildings, streets, parking lots and tightly controlled plant life. Most people are demanding far more living and work square footage for themselves in this country than is really needed, and people are simply not trying to be space efficient. I see it in the size of the 2014 School of Energy Building that was put in on San Juan College grounds, the churches and tribal minerals division - all new construction within the past five years or so put in around the Pinion Hills Bypass (Farmington, New Mexico). This is an area where the native pinion and juniper trees have been removed in large numbers. For years, San Juan College has preserved much of that original forest, but the school has lost a connection to the environment as oil and gas companies donate large sums of money for things like this School of Energy project; with backers in the fossil fuel industry, San Juan College seems to have lost an earlier better ecological orientation. New management at the college seems more interested in economics and keeping donating interests happy than respecting the natural world although it does have some solar equipment on site. The new School of Energy Building and its parking lot truly have cleared a significant remaining portion of the pinions and junipers that were on the corner of College Blvd. and the Pinion Hills Bypass. It’s a huge building. Some of those trees as well as others along the bypass were not doing as well as they could have because their water sources were cut off when construction came into the area. Natural downward moving water courses are destroyed when roads and buildings are put in although the larger arroyos are usually left lone. Without good water drainage which includes bringing new nutrients through an area, the trees start looking less green and lush and probably are more prone to beetle invasions. As the trees lose their aesthetic appeal (although still alive, they look dryer and more yellow), people are more prone to cutting them down. One way they might be saved is if people would put them on low scale automatic drippers and treat them with appropriate nutrients and insect deterrents. The trees managed to survive despite great odds at the time of site removal, and it is likely they could be restored to a more original vitality if people provided some TLC rather than just giving up on them. As buildings develop around the remaining ecological pockets, they also lose soil organics from the surrounding terrain which helped nurture them. Although there are people in the area who are being space efficient and careful about the natural world and environment, the general trend is still with a focus on more is better. We need to work on these issues by encouraging people to shift cultural direction. As long as society lets people feel that their current behavior is not only OK but cool, we are not going to make such headway. Once people start feeling safe in trying new things, which includes receiving social approval as wel as economic success, they will change their ways. Right now in San Juan County people feel culturally safe to wipe out native forest to put up costly new construction projections because it’s what other people are doing. It is a socially accepted process, unfortunately. What is more, we don’t have enough people really in tune with nature in this area so they honestly think they are being naturalists by keeping one or two trees alive while destroying a dozen or more, plus related plant life. There are some people who don’t understand the world of nature and so out of touch that you cannot budge them from their realities. The only way we could probably make headway is through zoning and restrictions in certain key areas where preserving the natural world is especially critical. Without the restrictions, people will turn San Juan County into another Albuquerque, Denver or Phoenix. Already a tremendous amount of unnecessary destruction has occurred. There has been a lot of damage. The bark beetle problem is part of the overall deforestation issue. It is one of several major forces eating away at the backbone of our planet. We need everyone working together to protect our remaining natural areas and this includes making smart choices when developing cities spill out into the natural areas beyond their earlier boundaries. We need new generations of builders, architects and city planners who will embrace the natural areas around and in their cities with love, respect and a cherishing type of protection. In a sense, we need these people to be elders, teachers and stewards, not just property developers. We need new vision and insights, some exploratory thinking and a sense of creativity that goes beyond just smart ways to make a building look good. We need people to start connecting the dots between natural world aesthetics and real economic vitality, the kind that feeds your soul and sustains life in a variety of ways, including the pocket book. We still have too many people in our country and in the world who have not made that connection yet.
Environment San Juan County Deforestation