Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park


Fire Regime

Today, fire management policies reflect both a commitment to public safety and the understanding that fire is a natural component of ecosystems. Park managers still suppress fires that threaten lives and property; now they also ignite prescribed fires to restore natural conditions to areas where fire has been unnaturally excluded.

Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today. A scientific prescription for the fire, prepared in advance, describes its objectives, fuels, size, and the precise weather and other environmental conditions under which it will burn. If it moves outside the predetermined areas or conditions suddenly change, the fire may be suppressed.

The purpose of many prescribed fires is to reduce fuels. In areas where fires were routinely suppressed, fuels have built up, creating the potential for a much larger, hotter fire than would naturally occur. Prescribed fires reduce ground fuels without harming larger trees. Fires are also used to restore grasslands and habitat diversity.

Prescribed fires burning under optimum weather conditions are beneficial; wildfires caused by the carelessness of humans generally burn under the worst possible weather conditions and can destroy forests and endanger firefighters.

Obviously, lightning and irresponsible people will continue to cause fires. We must insure that both natural and human-caused wildfires do not burn with catastrophic intensity; such infernos could destroy relict natural zones that are integral to the Guadalupe ecosystem. Prescribed burns carried out during optimal weather conditions can reduce hazardous fuel accumulations and insure that parklands are returned to a state of equilibrium where neither lightning nor human-caused fires can seriously affect the stability of highly significant communities of life. When this goal is achieved, most fires can be monitored and allowed to burn.

We know little about fire frequency and its effects in McKittrick Canyon, but descriptions and paintings from the 1930s show us that the vegetation has changed since that time. Then as now, the woodland canopy consisted of maple, walnut, ash, and the large chinkapin oak. What has changed is the density of the undergrowth; the open, grassy ground cover of sixty years ago has been invaded by a dense tangle of wavy-leaf oak and other shrubby, highly flammable plants. It is this flourishing undergrowth that under extremely dry weather conditions could burn hot enough to engulf and kill the canopy trees.

Park managers began to tackle this problem during the spring of 1997, by burning eighty acres along the canyon floor. The burns went smoothly, and the area greened up nicely in the months following the fire. Selected plots in the canyon will be monitored to study the long term effects of prescribed fires on the vegetation.

The park's most recent prescribed fire burned 550 acres on Frijole Ridge on November 19 through 22 of 1999. Fall and winter fires burn with less intensity than summer fires; cooler temperatures and longer nights make them easier to manage. Although strong winds on November 21 caused the fire to burn 60 acres outside of the prescribed area, the fire stayed on the ground, burning in grass, shrubs, and dead wood, and did not kill large trees.

Fire management will continue to be a "hot" issue in the park with additional prescribed fires planned for The Bowl as well as other areas in the park.

Centennial Initiative 2016

Centennial Vision

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, America invites the world to discover the meaning of national parks to their lives and inspires people to both experience and become devoted to these special places.

On the August 25, 2006 - the 90th anniversary of the National Park Service - Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne the National Park Centennial Initiative to prepare national parks for another century of conservation, preservation and enjoyment. Since then the National Park Service asked citizens, park partners and experts and other stakeholders what they envisioned for a second century of national parks.

A nationwide series of more than 40 listening sessions produced more than 6,000 comments that helped to shape five centennial goals. The goals and vision were presented to President Bush and to the American people on May 31st in a report called The Future of America's National Parks.

Every national park staff took their lead from this report and created local centennial strategies to describe their vision and desired accomplishments by 2016. This is just the first year, and there are many great things to come as the National Park Service prepares to celebrate 100 years!


The goals of CCGMA are accomplished through educational programs using a variety of educational media and scientific investigations resulting in a greater appreciation of those resources being conserved for this and future generations.

CCGMA has three retail bookstore outlets located at Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, and the parks' administrative office building located in the city of Carlsbad.

To learn more, shop on-line, or to become a member, visit Staff are also available by phone during normal business hours at (505)785-2486.


Public support for our National Park Service lands is critical in ensuring that these special places will be preserved for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

There are many ways for you to contribute your support, from volunteering personal time, to shopping in the cooperating association bookstore, where purchases help fund educational programs.


Volunteers-In-Parks (VIPs)

Guadalupe Mountains accepts applications from volunteers throughout the year to assist with all aspects of park management. For those willing to dedicate personal time and expertise, there are a variety of opportunities in all park divisions, from serving as a campground host or working at the visitor center information desk to conducting backcountry patrols.

Our volunteer positions are coordinated locally. For details and information, please contact:

Dave Bieri, Volunteer Coordinator
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
400 Pine Canyon Road
Salt Flat, Texas 79847
(915) 828-3251 ext. 112

For Nation-wide volunteer opportunities, please visit

Student Conservation Association

Guadalupe Mountains National Park also utilizes assistance from the Student Conservation Association. For more information on joining the SCA, please visit

Cooperating Association

The Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association (CCGMA) is a private, non-profit organization whose main objectives are to provide interpretation for the park visitor and to support the purposes and mission of the National Park Service at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the lands related to them in New Mexico and west Texas. To date, CCGMA has donated over $3.5 million to both Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

The goals of CCGMA are accomplished through educational programs using a variety of educational media and scientific investigations resulting in a greater appreciation of those resources being conserved for this and future generations.

Consider joining CCGMA. Membership cost per year is $25.00. As a member you will receive a 15 percent discount on all purchases. CCGMA has three retail bookstore outlets located at Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, and the parks' administrative office building located in Carlsbad, New Mexico.This discount is extended to several cooperating associations of other national parks as well. You will also receive the CCGMA newsletter and the Visitor Guide for Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks (2 issues per year). In addition to these benefits, you will receive a free book on the works of artist Clark Cox or a coffee mug. Most importantly, your contribution helps further our mission of providing aid to these parks. For further information, contact the association at:

PO Box 1417
Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220
(505) 785-2486
(505) 785-2318 FAX

Environmental Factors

From a Permian reef, to Ice Age forests, to today’s desert lowlands and high country woodlands, the Guadalupe Mountains have experienced dramatic changes. As a wilderness, change is recognized as a valuable and necessary process, but certain changes brought by humans present challenges to park management. Air quality has been monitored within the park since 1982. An analysis of the data gathered from 1990 –1999 indicates that visibility is degrading on the haziest days and slightly improving on the clearest days. There is still concern as urban populations continue to grow and the pollutants from as far away as Los Angeles are transported to the region. Nighttime visibility is also a concern. Currently, visitors to the park enjoy pristine nighttime skies. The National Park Service has retrofitted its facilities with light shields, high efficiency fixtures, and low-sodium lights to minimize light pollution and provide a leading example for nearby communities.

Returning fire to the environment as a natural part of change is another challenge park managers face. Very little is known about the historic role of fire in the Guadalupe Mountains. It is not clear whether Native Americans used fire here like they did in other parts of the country or to what extent the area’s ranching history changed the fire regime. Today, relict woodlands in the high country and canyons have accumulated dangerous levels of fuels, which could potentially burn at catastrophic levels. Scientists are currently studying scarring in cross sections of trees to determine fire history, so that all fire management decisions have a scientific basis. In order for park managers to allow fire to return to its natural role, fuels will be reduced (through prescribed natural fire, controlled burns, and mechanical removal) to prevent catastrophic fires from occurring. However, when lives, property, or unique resources are threatened fires will be suppressed.

Drawing lines on a map and protecting everything within the park boundaries is often not enough. Environmental factors like air pollution, light pollution, and fire don’t stop at the fence line. The greatest challenge is to cultivate a land ethic and encourage lifestyle changes that will guarantee that once people journey to the park’s wilderness, their experiences will not be marred by pressures from outside the boundaries.