Suzanne Simard grew up in a family well acquainted with trees. For generations, they were loggers in British Columbia, Canada. Her very personal book starts with glimpses of her family’s story and moves into her own as she begins work with a logging company. Her job was to understand why plantations (areas of newly planted seedlings after clear cutting) weren’t growing well. Was it because the lumber company had planted seedlings of a different species which would be more profitable than the original native trees they had cut? Or because the seedlings were planted in grids instead of clumps? Or was it the planting’s timing? Or were the seedlings not getting enough water?

She dug up some of the newly planted seedlings and found their root tips brown and dry. When she dug up same-sized native seedlings which had sprouted through humus at the roots of nearby older trees, she found the root tips healthy and encased in webs of yellow fungus – mycorrhiza, living in a symbiotic relationship with a tree’s roots.

Did the web of threads from the fungus transfer water and other nutrients to this native seedling in some kind of integrated underground system? This became her first question. Her research early on began to challenge the lumber company and Canadian government policies, especially the practice of using massive amounts of glyphosate herbicides to keep other trees from growing near recently planted seedlings of the commercially valuable firs.

Whether trees compete or collaborate became another question. Her data showed that plantings of Douglas fir grew only half as fast without birch trees nearby transferring nitrogen and sugars along mycorrhizal networks. Older trees cooperated with younger trees of the same species and also other species! Yet, foresters were not convinced by her data.

Through many years to follow, including earning her masters and PhD degrees, planting thousands of seedlings, and doing multiple experiments with her students and in collaboration with other researchers, Simard’s work has led to the concept of “mother trees” as hubs in the life and renewal of forest health. Her research is increasingly accepted and better funded. The use of glyphosates is decreasing. She is involved in a huge undertaking with nine experimental forests with various climate and soil conditions across British Columbia. Her question now is: “Which combination of harvesting and planting will be most resilient to the stresses the planet is facing?”

While my mind zoned out reading about the numerous experiments, I admire the creativity, time, and patience her research took. Her writing is crisp, with visuals you can see, such as: “Branches burst with new growth over a fleece of jade needles.” I went on a journey with Simard and ended up totally convinced that Finding the Mother Tree and preserving her and her fungal networks are key.


Summer dawn at the San Antonio Oxbow. Photo by Ken Gingerich

Wetlands play important roles in water management and ecology; they provide unique habitats, slow water movement along rivers in times of flooding, decrease erosion by stabilizing stream beds, improve the quality of water which moves through them, and recharge groundwater. Although much of New Mexico is arid, our state does have wetlands (look for them on the National Wetlands Inventory map!). Our wetlands are increasingly endangered.

A wetland is broadly defined as an area with plants and water. The four general classifications of wetlands are: 1) Marshes – areas which have continual, mostly surface, water and soft stemmed vegetation; 2) Swamps – areas often found alongside sluggish rivers and which have more shrubs and woody plants; 3) Bogs – spongy areas which may have moss and get their water from rain which saturates the soil; and 4) Fens – water-logged areas which can get their water from either surface or groundwater and can form peat over years.

In New Mexico, Amigos Bravos has done a lot of work in wetland protection and restoration in the Taos area. Their Wetlands Jewel Project has an informative website with many photos of 22 different sites (for example, Midnight Meadows and La Jara Canyon) which they have identified for protection or restoration in the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests. This work requires much cooperation from ranchers, BLM, Forest Service, county and municipal zoning, and others, as the wetlands can cover a vast area and be subject to many conflicting interests and jurisdictions.

Rio Grande Return is another organization working in wetland restoration. Their riverscape restoration along the San Antonio Creek is a good example of using Beaver Mimicry to increase wetlands. They have built 40 dams on a stretch of the creek. In the past four years, the water table has risen an impressive three feet.

In Bernalillo County, there is a 60–80 acre wetland called the San Antonio Oxbox on the west side of the Rio Grande. It can be reached by taking Namaste NW off of Coors NW. From the parking lot there are two trails: one provides views along the rim and the other descends and crosses some arroyos. Neither are marked as this property is still being developed by the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space division. Wildlife you might see, especially in early morning, include beaver, muskrat, deer, coyote, porcupine, bobcat, and fox. On the east side of the river, connected wetland ponds have beaver living in them in the Tingley Beach area. Both Valle del Oro and The Nature Center have plans to re-establish wetlands, and members of the Isleta Pueblo have been working for the past two years to clean out invasive species in their 1,000 acre bosque to reconnect the river to its flood plain.

A complex urban project managed by The Nature Conservancy, with collaboration from eight other advocacy groups and governmental agencies, is the Harvey Jones Channel. This is an example of what is called green stormwater infrastructure, a process for managing stormwater. It begins in the 60-square mile Montoya Watershed above Corrales and moves the stormwater through Corrales to the Rio Grande through the Harvey Jones Channel. The Harvey Jones Channel is joined towards the end by treated wastewater from Rio Rancho, allowing for year-round water. It acts as a bioswale, which is a linear U-shaped ditch with high sides that allows water to collect, penetrate into groundwater and, eventually in this case to the Rio Grande. The final part of the bioswale channel is a 10-acre parcel which curves in order to slow the speed of the water. Vegetation planted along its sides includes thousands of willow stems and cottonwood poles. This new wetland functions to additionally clean water and provide habitat for birds and other animals along the river.

In Socorro County, the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex in Bernardo and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are examples of marsh wetlands, both increasing the water table height and providing habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife year-round.

New Mexico is not full of wetlands, but the ones we have are important and need our protection. Some need restoration, and the Harvey Jones Channel and its wetlands project demonstrate how green stormwater infrastructure can solve problems while creating a wetland with all its environmentally positive outcomes.


Photo by Vera Sidorva / unsplash

Beaver mimicry is a surprising new approach to restoring watersheds. Beavers have long been considered a nuisance species and problematic, but today there is an increased awareness of the positive effects their dams have on the environment. Beaver dams slow stream flow, decrease flooding, help develop wetlands, increase riparian vegetation, decrease erosion, and augment habitat for other species such as birds. Oftentimes, watching other species teaches us how to work with nature.

Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs) are human-made dams that are carefully situated in a degraded stream. Wooden stakes are placed vertically and then willow or other brush is woven between them, allowing water to flow through the dam. A BDA slows the speed of water during times of high runoff and also allows water to be stored behind it, increasing groundwater recharge. Professional engineers adopt this strategy when they build weir dams – small dams built across a river to control upstream water levels. Riverscape Restoration photos from the Rio Grande Return website shows a stream with these dams in northern New Mexico. Currently, there are no beaver mimicry projects underway in the mid Rio Grande Watershed.

BDA is the fastest growing stream restoration technique in the American West and is used by wetland managers, ranchers, the Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management among others. There are now manuals for design of BDAs developed by researchers and government agencies, training workshops, and videos on how to construct one. ( And go to Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife for many fascinating articles on beavers.



by Edna Loehman

On a recent morning I saw and heard:

The biggest black fuzzy bumblebee I had ever seen – about the size of a hummingbird!
Many kinds of bees feasting on hollyhock pollen.
A parent finch feeding a nearly grown baby on the telephone line.
Many white butterflies and a swallow tail butterfly drifting through.
A rabbit munching my kale.
A thrasher dive-bombing my patio on the way to its cactus nest.
A cactus wren eating agave flowers.
Many birds (mostly sparrows and doves) singing. 
And most exciting of all, a sharp-shinned hawk watching newly hatched sparrows.

How did all this garden richness come about? Partly it came from the previous owners of the house I bought three years ago and partly from my own gardening efforts since.

I have a typical older adobe style house on an ordinary lot in this area. It has many cacti and agave in the front yard, and in the back, a lot of purple flowering plants and green-growing fruit trees.  There is no grass, just wood chips to cover the non-planted garden soil.  To this space I have added several garden areas with herbs, veggies, and more native plants, most colored purple and red favored by hummingbirds.  Many hollyhocks have emerged as volunteers and the variety in colors is amazing. And of course volunteer sunflowers are also re-seeding themselves annually.

I love that flowers and herbs are mixed with the veggies in my garden and now I am more purposely trying to achieve a backyard wildlife garden, that is, a garden specifically designed to attract birds and bees. One of my garden goals is to see more hummingbirds which only come occasionally now.

At the Plants of the Southwest store, which specializes in native plants, I found a flyer for the ABQ Backyard Refuge Program: see for more detailed information. The flyer lists ways to attract wildlife to your garden.  While I had planted nice native plants, I had not done all these, but now I am!  Here are some in brief:

  1.  Plant native plants: Insects and birds have evolved with native plants, and native plants are adapted to our habitat and weather.
  2. Water is a wildlife magnet: all animals and insects need water.  Water can be changed regularly to avoid breeding mosquitos.
  3. Leave garden litter to provide habitat for many species:  Butterflies need leaves to lay their eggs.  Lizards need litter to hide from hawks.  Insects need cover from hot soil.  Birds perch on many levels of branches, so dead branches can be helpful. Seed heads provide food for birds.
  4. Avoid Pesticides: It is well known that pesticides are a cause for bee decline, threatening pollination of important fruits and crops.  But also insects are a source of food for birds, also in decline in urban areas.,are%20fewer%20insects%2C%20for%20example.

Pests like aphids provide food for baby hummingbirds.  Weeds such as dandelions are early sources of pollen for pollinating insects.

The advice about leaving litter, weeds, and pests disturbed me at first. But the reward is in experiencing the richness in life’s creatures. Shouldn’t we be able to tolerate a bit of loss in our urban gardens? Do we have to be neat freaks in our whole garden? Now the remote part of my backyard is messy with pecan leaf mulch, dead branches, last year’s sunflower heads and stalks, etc.  But I have lots of lizards, and lizards are good hawk food! I am even learning to tolerate a recent rabbit visitor eating part of my chard (and also hollyhock leaves), because I have so much!

I do need to add to my habitat some better water sources for birds, insects, and lizards (different height levels for each).  A good source for designing water in the garden is Albuquerque Water Gardens:

A backyard wildlife garden is obviously a work in process – we learn as we go.  As we are amazed with the things we notice, we seek to learn more about what we see.  What kind of lizards live here?  What are the names of birds?  How amazing it is that parent birds care for their offspring even after they leave the nest.  What eats what (roaches?)  We see that the thrashers come to accept us as we quietly watch them in their life cycle.  And as we learn, we begin to feel like we are a part of our backyard world, and more importantly part of the larger natural world.



“Practical research-based knowledge and programs to improve the quality of life.”

In the 1860, the United States government established land grant colleges across the country. These were usually called State Colleges and each was funded for a School of Agriculture. New Mexico State is our land grant school. CES is part of the College of Ag, and every county in NM has a Cooperative Extension Services office. (In Gallup there is an additional Tribal cultural based office with sheep shearing, 4H, backyard community gardening.) In the mid Rio Grande the offices are in Socorro, Los Lunas, Albuquerque and Bernalillo.

Apricot preserves. Photo: Elena Leya / unsplash

Not every CES carries on the same activities. In Socorro the main programs are Nutrition Education at senior centers, 4-H (self-led projects), and a pesticide applicators course in December for renewal of licensure. In Valencia County there are eight in-person 4-H clubs, a Master Gardner Course, and the agent makes home and farm visits to help with problems which arise. They are planning on expanding services as they fill staff vacancies.

The Albuquerque Cooperative Extension Office is fully staffed and has a robust array of classes and an excellent web site which is inclusive of both CES courses and other agency’s classes on gardening. Some examples of CES courses offered throughout the year are preparation for Fire Defense Zones, the Five Step Walking Method, Diabetes Prevention Life-Style, Food Preparation and storage (canning), Building Resilience with today’s stresses, and Backyard Farming. There are also a webinars on Sleep problems and on Stress Management. A week-long Garden Guardians camp for kids runs July 17-21, and the staff supports    4-H clubs and judging at the state fair. The Master Gardeners classes have a waiting list but Master Gardeners are available Monday-Friday 9:00-3:30 to answer gardening questions. (505-243-1386). The office staff will also identify plants which you bring in. Their website also carries current pertinent information. For example, the recent invasion of migrating Miller moths is fully explained.

Bernalillo CES also has the 15 week Master Gardener course and as a follow-up, the graduate gardeners offer courses to the public throughout the year. They also publish a newsletter. Currently CES staff is working on the Sandoval County 4-H Fair,, which runs August 3-6 and has both large and small animal (rabbit, poultry) showing and judging, plus a horse show. All are welcome to the fairgrounds.


‘Paloma’ Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymendoides)

There are thirteen science centers across New Mexico as part of New Mexico State University Department of Agriculture. The one in the mid Rio Grande Valley is located in Los Lunas on 204 acres of land. There are 55,000+ acres of irrigated land and urban gardeners in this valley leading the center to chose research projects which serve this population.

Since established in 1957, the Los Lunas Center has researched many crops as corn, chili, turf grasses, and fruit trees. At this time there are three main projects:

(1) Integrated pest management – This research is aimed to manage pests while maintaining beneficial insect populations.
(2) Viticulture –  This relates to the growing of grapes. This research aims to maximize grape production across the state by variety selection and rootstock testing. Also included are vineyard management techniques.
(3) Forage research is being conducted to find the most cost-effective ways to grow alfalfa.

Other Science Centers are located in communities across the state and are involved in a variety of research projects. Some examples in Northern New Mexico are: Alcalde – fruit production, bees, acequia culture, Clayton – feedlot research, Mora – improving the quality of forestry seedlings to meet a harsher environment. In the Southern part of New Mexico, some of the centers are located in Artesia – bioenergy feedstock, Clovis – alternative crops for dryland and irrigated farming systems, Las Cruces – application of digital agriculture tools.

Each of the Centers has an annual Field Day. The tour of the research farm in Los Lunas is on Tuesday, August 8th at 7:30 a.m. and the tours of the others are listed on the NNMSU Agriculture College website’s home page.


Recycling: Your Curbside Bin

Recycling is a concept both Albuquerque residents and the city support…to a degree. But really, where do such things as plastic, paper and food waste go?

The recycling of plastic is in general a misnomer. Probably the only plastics you use which are being recycled are those with the triangular mark of 1 or 2, (large quart or gallon water bottles) and currently #5 but Albuquerque takes all plastics in our bins and say that none go to our landfill. After sorting, they are hauled off by Waste Connections which takes it to a BARCO site. Then the plastics being recycled depend upon the resale market at the time. Do not put anything you want recycled into plastic bags as they will clog the automated sorting machines and be tossed to the landfill unopened. There is confusion as to what is ultimately happening to large, solid and colored plastics.

Photo: Sigmund Al / unsplash

Other countries, such as China, do not want to buy our plastics any longer. One of the reasons for the downturn is the already limited market for recycled plastic because it is cheaper to make plastic nurdles (small plastic pellets) for new manufacturing than to reuse the recycled plastic. In fact 90% of the plastic we use is from recently manufactured nurdles (now considered globally as a persistent chemical contaminant). Making new plastic is an oil and gas business; since the onset of fracking with the increased availability of ethylene, the plastic industry has been booming. In fact, poly resins and compounds brought in $290 billion in revenue for Exon Mobil in 2021. The NM Recycling Coalition has a video, “Taking Action on Plastic Waste” made in 2021 that is well worth watching. The talk on this video by Alexis Goldsmith spells out the link between plastic and the oil and gas industry where they are an alternative stream of revenue. NMRC’s message is to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse. Recycling is the last thing you want to do. The Plastic Waste Reduction Act, introduced in this year’s legislative session, was not passed.

Paper and cardboard are the most frequently recycled items in this bin. Until recently the Friedman Company had been the waste management company with the city contract. They shredded around 120,000 tons per year from the mid Rio Grande counties. The shred is transported to Virginia where it is repurposed as “recycled paper.” Paper can’t be recycled forever as the threads shorten eventually and it does not hold together.

The other common curbside bin is for garbage. This all goes to landfills. The largest landfill in NM is the Cerro Colorado on the West side of Albuquerque. It is an engineered landfill with a sealed plastic lining and covering, a “dry tomb” as the industry calls it. The purpose of the sealing is to prevent water from getting in. Water, mixed with the organic matter in the landfill, creates biogas which is in part methane. Since the concentration of methane in biogas is low compared to the concentration in wells from fracking, it is not useful in industry. However the county is piping some of the biogas to heat the boiler at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The rest of the biogas being flared complies with air quality permits.

The City manages nine closed landfills in order to prevent potential gas buildup, fires, and explosions. The largest is the Los Angeles landfill which was originally a gravel pit. It was closed in 1984 but due to its size, there are 64 wells capturing biogas which then is piped to a flare. General Obligation bonds pay for this needed management.

Courtesy, City of Albuquerque, Environmental Health Department.

There is controversy about venting vs. flaring. Both are bad for the environment. If venting, all the methane goes into the atmosphere but with flaring, the methane is converted to carbon dioxide which goes into the atmosphere. Since methane is multiple times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, flaring is considered best for the management of biogas from landfills as the lesser of two evils. A better idea would be to decrease the need for landfills: eat your food and compost the remainders!