If Trees Could Talk

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 in the “Museum Exhibits” category.
Trappers chest made from a tree from the Gila Wilderness in Catron County

This custom display case was constructed and donated by Wes Burris of Socorro, New Mexico, a member of the New Mexico Trappers Hall of Fame. The wood was obtained from a tree harvested from Ron and Nancy White’s property located adjacent to the Gila Wilderness in Catron County. The tree was probably the last one removed for useful purposes from anywhere in the area prior to a devastating wildfire.

Almost the entire watershed was burned when the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire began May 9, 2012. The U.S. Forest Service allowed two lightning caused fires to burn in the Gila Wilderness under dry conditions during a multi year drought. The Wilderness area and surrounding National Forest had only received minimal management by the U.S. Forest Service for years. The two fires merged in the dry overly dense Wilderness, and pushed by very high winds, scorched nearly 300,000 acres.

Vast areas were denuded with only the skeletons of burned trees remaining. Wildlife was decimated and fish were eliminated from streams which became polluted with ash and other debris. Significant post fire watershed soil erosion occurred with damage to the mountainside slopes, the streams, and downstream communities. Future erosion and associated damages are anticipated.

The economies of the ranching, hunting, and tourism industries, and of the county government and local businesses in Catron County were significantly adversely impacted. The adjacent counties of Grant and Sierra experienced adverse impacts to varying degrees. The fire consumed 12 residences, including the White’s cabin, and remains the largest wildfire recorded in New Mexico.

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