Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/12/1997
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: Interpretive Summary:
Technical Abstract: Several climatic changes occurred in the northern Chihuahuan Desert and other parts of the southwestern United States during the last 12,000 years leading to a markedly warmer and drier climate. Vegetation changed in response to this climatic shift. Generally this transition was from coniferous woodland to grasslands and eventually to the present day desert scrub. Pre-Columbian inhabitants of this region adapted by changing from hunter-gathered to primarily agrarian economies. European immigration into the southwestern US beginning in the mid 1500's greatly impacted this region. The greatest impact occurred after the US Civil War in the 1860's. Prior to that time land use tended to be localized near small agricultural areas, mines and military installations. However, the post-war range livestock industry expanded dramatically, especially during the 1880's. This period represented general abuse of arid lands in the region. Recognition of this abuse and the deteriorating productivity of the land led to greater government involvement including establishment of experimental stations and eventually management of the public domain. Fire suppression, mismanaged grazing, changing climatic conditions, loss of soil and increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, primarily due to burning of fossil fuels, are among the probable causes of continued desertification trends. Urban and rural populations presently technologically isolated from their environment need to better understand the dynamic nature of their environment. A greater degree of cooperation among diverse entities will be crucial.