I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few days, visiting a friend and doing some eco-tourism. It’s a beautiful time of year – sunny but cool – and a dawn walk around the neighborhood this morning spooked up lots of desert cottontails. Tree diversity is low, mostly Rocky Mountain Juniper and piñons, with cottonwood and willows in the arroyos. Lots of desert plants like yuccas, chamisas, cholla cactus, etc.
One thing I always think about when visiting other bioregions is, what are the primary limiting factors (or “lacks” in tracking lingo)? In the Northeast where I’m from, it’s the long, cold, snowy winter that everything – human, animal, plant, fungi – has to reckon with. Here in the high-elevation desert (~7k feet), it’s cold winter plus very little water (14 inches a year or less). So this is a tough place! And there’s a lot to consider about the viability, or not, of modern cities in the arid West. Traditional cultures have known how to live here for a very long time, of course. And Brad Lancaster has an important part of the scoop on how to live in low-rainfall climates.
Even though there’s a lot of open space, land access here seems just as challenging as in the Northeast, if not more so. For one thing, the US military is a major presence, owning enormous portions of the intermountain West that are unavailable to most people. For another, lots of the rest of the land is in big private ranch parcels. I wonder about successful usufruct models out here. There seems to be a lot of potential for limited-use agreements for wildcrafters; I’d love to see some case studies of this documented.
Poaching rare heritage plants seems to be a big issue here, just like in Appalachia. Osha (high elevation throughout the Rockies) and peyote (in the Chihuahuan Desert) are severely overharvested, for example. Read this article from CBS News (!!) for an amazing glimpse into the eco-social dynamics around peyote harvesting. And read this for instructions on how to wild-propagate osha from seed.