Caring for Our Bosque


The mid Rio Grande Bosque (Spanish for woods) is the largest cottonwood forest in the United States. In Fall, the golden ribbon lining the river is thrilling. It is an ecosystem with its own unique collection of interdependent plants and animals which has existed since prehistoric times. This type of ecosystem exists in the US mostly in the arid Southwest along the Rio Grande. The cottonwoods give structure and a canopy to the bosque, providing shade and shelter. They have a naturally occurring understory of coyote willows, New Mexico olive, and indigo bush, and they house animals such as porcupine, ducks, and geese. The latter are spotted easily as one walks through the Bosque in Fall. However, this is all vulnerable to change. 

Rio Grande Bosque in December. Photo: Ken Gingerich

We have slowly changed the forest by establishing dams to control the rate and timing of river flow and by channelizing the river with levees and jacks. Flood control is necessary for humans to live in the flood plain of the river, but at the same time these trade-offs slowly shift the ecosystem. The cottonwoods can not regenerate themselves without periodic flooding, and so the understory becomes invaded with introduced species such as Russian olive, Siberian elm, salt cedar, and tree-of-heaven. Animal species such the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, southwestern willow flycatcher, and the Rio Grande silvery minnow disappear. 

The question now is whether we try to restore the Bosque with water management and plantings for restoration of the riparian environment or loose the cottonwoods and let the area evolve with new species and wildlife more adapted to the urban environment we have created. And do we care? 

The act of caring is usually meted out to the vulnerable among us: our children, fellow humans, our pets. But what about all the other species in our environment? How does caring develop for plants and wildlife?  

People are attracted to positive emotions and become connected to things which are beautiful – for example, sunsets. We stop and watch the shifting array of color and the motion of the clouds. We marvel at this beauty. It is hard to imagine life without sunsets. The beauty of the Bosque invites us to pause under the canopy of the cottonwoods, to look for the porcupines hiding in the trees, and maybe spot a beaver swimming in a ditch or pond. Laura Paskus and KNME have produced a video inviting you into the bosque at this time of year.

If the Bosque is to be restored, then those of us living here have to know and love it, becoming connected enough to its beauty to generate action. People can see their actions make a difference when they pick up trash, carefully prune back overgrowth along paths, and plant and tend new coyote willow and young cottonwood. 

The future of our Bosque is in our hands.

The Nature Center on Candelaria NW is selling attractively designed stickers of the common plants and animals of the bosque. They are perfect for your car and to show your support.

Water Is Life

Current uses of water in many of New Mexico’s diverse river basin segments and aquifer systems are not sustainable, and in some places the water is gone. It is predicted that past and current greenhouse emissions leading to climate change will diminish water supplies in NM by 24% or more by 2070. There is an opportunity now to mitigate some of these negative effects in New Mexico by careful planning for the future. However, two of the crucial water planning departments are woefully understaffed. They can’t handle their current workload to say nothing about the increasing drought and any special initiatives. Budget slashing began about 10 years ago and the funding gap has only gotten worse. The budgets of the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) and the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) have 76 positions open, many of them for professional staff. If we are to meet the 50 Year Water Plan, positions must be filled and the budgets of these two critical departments expanded.


Contact Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and ask her to include expansion of the funding for OSE and ISC in her budget. She needs to meet her own goals for our environment…the ones which she ran on in 2016.

Contact your local representative and senators and ask for their support to expand the budgets of OSE and ISC in this Legislative session.

Winter Solstice

Photo: Joshua Woronie / unsplash

The tradition of celebrating the movements of the sun and the resulting seasons has been part of religious practices from before historic times. Early believers saw December 21st as the rebirth of the sun. There was hope that after the day of the most darkness, light would be ahead. The sun would journey back and the dormant earth would come to life.

In Germany, the winter festival around the 21st of December was called Yule. Since celebrations connected to solstice practices were already happening in the regions that are now known as Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles, it made sense for the Catholic Church to overlay Christ’s birth with the same season. This happened In the 4th century. The Yuletide continues.

The cold and darkness of the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere led to indoor activities such as feasting and lighting candles. Certain plants – particularly holly and pine trees – became associated with the winter solstice as they were still green.

Some monuments and burial sites dating back to 3,000 years BCE are in alignment with the winter solstice sun and thought to have symbolism related to rebirth. As the sun moves higher, it becomes a new year, with a new agricultural season yielding new growth.

Underneath the frozen earth at the time of winter solstice, there is still life. Microbes such as bacteria and fungus are alive and waiting. The dormancy of the earth is necessary for various seeds and bulbs to come forth in Spring. The winter solstice begins a season of hope