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Desert Diary


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When humans entered the Chihuahuan Desert, over 11,000 years ago, the ecology of the land changed forever. With the living things of the area already under assault by profound climatic changes, this new predator of plants and animals appeared on the scene.

Such direct predation, however, was not the only impact. Take the matter of fire, for example. No, not wildfires, though undoubtedly some were caused by man, but fires for cooking and for heat. Fire requires fuel, and the only available fuel for most of the region was wood. Those of you who have sat around a campfire are well aware of the amount of fuel required to keep one burning. The gathering of firewood necessarily was a major chore, even given the frugal use that hard labor inspires.

For our desert, we have little information on the impact of wood gathering. However, farther north, in the Chaco Canyon region of northwestern New Mexico, the piñon-juniper woodlands seem to be still in the process of recovery, hundreds of years after abandonment of the canyon.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Betancourt, J. L., and T. R. Van Devender. 1981. Holocene vegetation in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Science 214:656-658.