Ancient trees illegally cut down inside New Mexico monument

·2 min read
This undated image provided by the National Park Service shows the illegal harvest of alligator juniper trees at El Malpais National Monument near Grants, New Mexico. Park Service officials are asking the public for help to stop the illegal harvesting of the trees, which are considered rare due to their slow growth rate.
This undated image provided by the National Park Service shows the illegal harvest of alligator juniper trees at El Malpais National Monument near Grants, New Mexico. Park Service officials are asking the public for help to stop the illegal harvesting of the trees, which are considered rare due to their slow growth rate.

ALBUQUERQUE – Several dozen ancient alligator juniper trees have been illegally cut down at El Malpais National Monument in western New Mexico, and authorities with the National Park Service are trying to find out who’s responsible.

Known for their unique furrowed bark, alligator junipers grow very slowly. A seed can take up to 18 months to mature after pollination and the growth rate for young trees is about 0.6 inches per decade, slowing even further as they get older.

Officials said the trees that were cut down were likely hundreds of years old.

The illegal harvest of alligator junipers affects biodiversity within the monument and officials said the area will take many decades to recover.

The initial illegal tree cutting discovery was reported in 2020. But park law enforcement monitoring the area and over the past year have reported additional trees cut down, with the latest incident happening in October.

This undated image provided by the National Park Service shows the unique bark of one of the alligator juniper trees at El Malpais National Monument near Grants, New Mexico. Park Service officials are seeking information about the illegal harvest of alligator juniper trees within the monument.
This undated image provided by the National Park Service shows the unique bark of one of the alligator juniper trees at El Malpais National Monument near Grants, New Mexico. Park Service officials are seeking information about the illegal harvest of alligator juniper trees within the monument.

Cutting trees at El Malpais is illegal, and park employees are encouraging the public to submit any information that would help with the investigation to the National Park Service’s tip line.

The National Park Service recently cut brush and trimmed trees in the same area of the monument to prepare for a series of prescribed fires to restore fire into the ecosystem, targeting the buildup of vegetation that can lead to large catastrophic fires.

The park focuses on the protection of alligator junipers before thinning is done.

The largest of the southwestern junipers, the alligator juniper is found in western Texas, in parts of northwestern New Mexico and in north-central Arizona near Flagstaff. The species also extends into northern and central Mexico.

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Research has shown that alligator junipers can live up to 500 years. The trees stop growing when moisture conditions are unfavorable but begin growing again with adequate moisture, a characteristic that enhances the species’ ability to survive in harsh, arid environments.

However, scientists have found that mortality can increase after several consecutive years of drought.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Ancient trees illegally cut down inside New Mexico monument

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