Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument

Preservation

Park Planning

Restoration of the Pinon-Juniper Woodland

History:
The greatest threat to the protection and preservation of Bandelier's cultural resources is severe soil erosion in the Pinon-Juniper woodlands. These cultural resources, for which Bandelier National Monument was established, include thousands of Ancestral Pueblo archeological sites. Archeological surveys indicate that Bandelier has one of the highest densities of prehistoric cultural sites in North America. Large numbers of these archeological sites are already damaged and many will be completely lost to erosion unless efforts are taken to improve this situation.

Looking at the present landscape one might assume that sparse grass cover, high tree densities and large expanses of exposed, rapidly eroding soils are the natural state of these semi-arid woodlands.  Historical data indicates there was formerly a good grass cover and the trees were more widely spaced prior to fire suppression and heavy sheep and cattle grazing beginning in the late 1800s and into the 1930s.  Heavy grazing ultimately favored tree growth.  Without grassy fuels, fire could no longer carry through savannas and meadow opening to thin out encroaching trees.

Without a protective grass cover, intense summer thunderstorms generate runoff and erode exposed soils.  Environmental conditions on these barren soil surfaces are extremely harsh, so it is difficult for shallow rooted grasses to successfully germinate.  Those that do establish must compete with drought tolerant trees for increasingly limited soil moisture.  These harsh conditions are part of the reason grass cover has not re-established on bare soils since livestock grazing ended in the 1930s.  Researchers at Bandelier have measured soil erosion rates of nearly 2 inches a century, but rates are highly variable from year to year.  In 100 years, some areas could lose all of their remaining soil.  As the soil moves, cultural materials are scattered and lose their integrity.  These areas are also an integral part of the history and culture of the Pueblo people who still have strong ties to this area.

Management Action:
Bandelier National Monument was established primarily for the protection and preservation of Ancestral Pueblo cultural resources, and slowing soil erosion in order to protect these resources is a challenge for park management.  Beginning in 1994, researchers at Bandelier found that simply reducing the density of trees and using the cut trees to provide slash "erosion blanket" on exposed soils resulted in a three-fold increase in understory cover (grasses, forbs, and shrubs) on treated sites.  Soil erosion was reduced by two orders of magnitude.  After fifteen years of research and monitoring efforts, the park decided that these increases in understory vegetation and decreases in erosion are lasting and beneficial for a healthy natural ecosystem as well as for the cultural resources.  In 2007, the park decided to begin using the slash/mulch treatment approach to reduce soil erosion and stabilize and protect cultural resources within the main park unit and Tsankawi.

SUPPORT YOUR PARK

There are a number of ways to support Bandelier including volunteering at the park, buying books from our cooperating association bookstore, or joining the Friends of Bandelier. The easiest way to support the park is simply by visiting and enjoying all the park has to offer while following the rules set up to protect park resources. To learn more about how to support Bandelier click on any of the supporting links. 

MANAGEMENT

Bandelier National Monument encompasses over 33,000 acres of diverse terrain, home to a variety of native plants and wildlife. People have lived across this landscape for over 10,000 years. Change, including that created by man, is inescapable and necessary. However, change can have detrimental impacts as well as good. As part of the management of Bandelier National Monument, the National Park Service hopes to work with its friends, neighbors, and partners to ensure that, whenever possible, the change within the park boundaries and on the broader local landscape will ensure that valuable natural and cultural resources will be preserved for future generations.

Restoration of the Pinon-Juniper Woodland

Looking at the present landscape one might assume that sparse grass cover, high tree densities and large expanses of exposed, rapidly eroding soils are the natural state of these semi-arid woodlands. Historical data indicates there was formerly a good grass cover and the trees were more widely spaced prior to fire suppression and heavy sheep and cattle grazing beginning in the late 1800s and into the 1930s. Heavy grazing ultimately favored tree growth. Without grassy fuels, fire could no longer carry through savannas and meadow opening to thin out encroaching trees.

Without a protective grass cover, intense summer thunderstorms generate runoff and erode exposed soils. Environmental conditions on these barren soil surfaces are extremely harsh, so it is difficult for shallow rooted grasses to successfully germinate. Those that do establish must compete with drought tolerant trees for increasingly limited soil moisture. These harsh conditions are part of the reason grass cover has not re-established on bare soils since livestock grazing ended in the 1930s. Researchers at Bandelier have measured soil erosion rates of nearly 2 inches a century, but rates are highly variable from year to year. In 100 years, some areas could lose all of their remaining soil. As the soil moves, cultural materials are scattered and lose their integrity. These areas are also an integral part of the history and culture of the Pueblo people who still have strong ties to this area.

Management Action:
Bandelier National Monument was established primarily for the protection and preservation of Ancestral Pueblo cultural resources, and slowing soil erosion in order to protect these resources is a challenge for park management.  Beginning in 1994, researchers at Bandelier found that simply reducing the density of trees and using the cut trees to provide slash "erosion blanket" on exposed soils resulted in a three-fold increase in understory cover (grasses, forbs, and shrubs) on treated sites.  Soil erosion was reduced by two orders of magnitude.  After fifteen years of research and monitoring efforts, the park decided that these increases in understory vegetation and decreases in erosion are lasting and beneficial for a healthy natural ecosystem as well as for the cultural resources.  In 2007, the park decided to begin using the slash/mulch treatment approach to reduce soil erosion and stabilize and protect cultural resources within the main park unit and Tsankawi.

Join Our Friends

The Friends of Bandelier are private citizens who love the monument. A board of Trustees governs the activities under a formal Memorandum of Agreement with the National Park Service. The membership stays informed of Friend's activities, and of key issues affecting the Monument, through letters, field trips, and announcements in the local newspapers. The mission of the Friends of Bandelier is to provide assistance to Bandelier National Monument. Click on this link to the Friends of Bandelier.

Fire Management

November 2007 Upper Frijoles (Unit 9) Prescribed Fire

The November 2007 Upper Frijoles (Unit 9) Prescribed Fire treated approximately 1,500 acres - the park's first large scale burn since the Cerro Grande Fire. The burn played an important role in reducing an over-accumulation of fuels in the Upper Frijoles Canyon to help prevent it from becoming a pathway for wildfires to travel into surrounding communities.

The Upper Frijoles (Unit 9) Prescribed Fire was planned for years, but was postponed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions. On November 7, after all of the preparations on the unit were complete and resources were in place, the Upper Frijoles (Unit 9) Prescribed Fire was finally ignited.

Many measures were taken to ensure the fire stayed within prescription. A 600-ft buffer was mechanically thinned along State Highway 4 and Forest Road 289. Fire lines were built around every section of the burn unit. More then 100 interagency firefighters, including 8 engines, 1 helicopter, 3 crews, several water tenders were dedicated to the burn. Additional contingency resources were identified and available if needed. The colder temperatures at night and shorter days added an additional element of control.

The burn unit was divided up into small sections. The project began with a hand ignited blacklining operation along the northern and eastern edges of the unit bordering State Highway 4 and Forest Road 289. This provided fire personnel with a buffer zone of burned fuel between the highway and the interior of the unit. Firefighters worked slowly and deliberately during this operation to make sure the fire did not cross the unit boundaries. Crews then began hand igniting the interior of the burn unit. A helicopter with a Plastic Sphere Dispenser Machine (PSD) was utilized for aerial ignition in areas of the burn unit with steep and dangerous terrain.

This successful completion of the Upper Frijoles (Unit 9) Prescribed Fire has helped get Bandelier's fire program back on track and will allow them to be able to carry on the policy of using fire as management tool to reduce fuels and provide buffers to our neighbors while helping perpetuate the resource values for which the monument was established.