By Meredith Hughes
“Earth Day? It’s every day,” said Tom Boldt, semi-fabled tree man. “Plant a tree and cool the earth.” Which is what Boldt did, starting about 12 years ago at the end of July, on the one ag acre property he and his wife bought after leaving Santa Cruz. High up in the sandhills, the place is home to over 150 low-water/sustainable trees and shrubs, Boldt reckons, including at least 30 oaks. “First thing when we arrived was to handle a vast sea of goatherds.” One plant can extend as far as six to eight feet in diameter. And masses of the lovely, lavender silver leaf nightshade, too, greeted the couple. “It’s nothing but rhizomes, all visible,” pointed out Boldt.
Twenty years a painter/restorer of old wood houses, having bagged the notion of buying a house in Santa Cruz, Boldt and his teacher-wife, Amy, scuba-dived their way around the Caribbean, Bora Bora, Tahiti, Hawaii and Mexico on the down payment money they would not be using in California. Corrales popped up, as it often does when the right people come looking, and here the Boldts are. Fruit trees mostly on the north side of the property, along with a smallish fenced in vegetable garden, and oaks/maples/pine… So many oaks, so little time.
One of his go-to nurseries is Trees That Please in Los Lunas, which unsurprisingly specializes in trees native to New Mexico, as well as Plants of the Southwest on North Fourth. And Boldt never is happier than when he hauls home an ailing tree for cheap, and hovers over it, bringing it back to good health.
About those oaks — a few are evergreen, most are deciduous. Escarpment oak is long-lived tree is among the few broad-leafed evergreens seen in this area. According to 505outside.com “Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis (also known as Quercus fusiformis) is an excellent choice for a focal point in a small space or as part of a mixed planting for privacy or wind protection. Rough, dark brown bark and a gnarled form add to the character of this plant.”
Boldt’s list of deciduous oaks includes Texas red oak, Shumard, Chisos, Gambel, Wavyleaf, Vasey, Sandpaper oak, Mexican blue oak and Chinquapin, aka Chinkapin. Chinkapin is a drought-hardy oak that produces sweet, low-in-tannin acorns, and thrives in full sun. The Gambel oak, found throughout the Grand Canyon, as well as Chez Boldt, has leaves favored by deer, and also produces acorns enticing to squirrels. William Gambel, a 19th century naturalist from Philadelphia, collected assorted species in Santa Fe at age 18, including that of the oak. Gambel's quail, Callipepla gambelii, was his find in California.
Honey locusts and maples, too, are prized by Boldt, as are berry-bearing trees such as the serviceberry, also known as shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, or sarvisberry, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum, wild-plum or chuckley pear, “a genus of about 20 species of deciduous-leaved shrubs and small trees in the rose family,” as Wikipedia put it. Boldt thinks the berries resemble those of blueberry plants, and he and his birds enjoy them.
The twisty baby honey locust is a favorite, its limbs twisty indeed, a shrub which loves sand, hot sun, and can indeed be grown in a pot, though Boldt has not chosen that option. The smallish Shantung maple, oddly, likes shade, but also provides it, and its red leaves in fall resemble those of the Japanese maple. One nursery sweetly described the Shantung as “a happy tree enjoying life wherever it is placed.”
And pines! The familiar Austrian pine, which seems utterly at home in the high desert, as well as the politically utterly incorrectly dubbed “Fat Albert”spruce, Picea pungens, known for its short, wide stature. Also its blue needles. It’s a drought and deer-tolerant tree. The Bosnian pine may be another fine bet as it comes originally from mountainous areas and produces unusual blueish cones.
Another piney favorate is Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Limber Pine, indeed shaped like a pyramid, with “fine, long, dark, twisted, silvery, blue-green needles displayed on dense branches.” In and among the trees and shrubs are appropriate ground covers, including Color guard yucca, beaked yucca, and the very arid-loving Panchito manzanita, a low-growing evergreen. Along with multiple penstemons. And the mini “lawns.” Small spaces where blue grama and buffalo grass commingle. Nearby, a sandy space for horseshoes, pétanque, and/or bocce. Also oldish dogs snoozing in the shade.
Fruit trees? Boldt admits he finally turned to late-blooming fruit trees in order to head off the danger of the area’s often killing late frosts. “As late as possible!” His orchard includes Warren pear, Seckel pear, Golden delicious apple, honey crisp apple, gala apple, Satsuma plum, Santa Rosa plum, Stanley plum, contender peach, moorheim apricot, meteor and north star sour cherry, among the list.
Fruit and fruit-bearing trees get the most water, along with the vegetables, and Boldt tends to go easy on many of his other plantings. As he put it, “I tend to starve the trees a little bit.” The entire acre is laced with surface drip irrigation, which does the job.
No wonder word fairly quickly went out around the village that the Boldt guy, an accomplished potter since he did his BFA at the University of Illinois/Champaign, did in fact know trees/shrubs/and ground cover, knew them in a sandhill way, and people connected with the Corrales Garden Tour wanted his acre on their roster. He, on the other hand, has been fine with the notion of waiting —no tour underway in 2020 or 2021, thanks to the pandemic. Because he wants his flock to be taller, maybe fuller, before it goes on display.
Meanwhile, potter as well as a native tree landscaper/irrigator and pruner, Boldt muses on what might have been had he focused on metal sculpting instead of pot throwing. His garden is filled with amusing, sometimes mobile metal critters. And the pottery business is becoming more and more costly as the price of packing and shipping his larger products soars. “A $70 item shipped for $35?”
Plus, pre-COVID, he was working on a major pottery order to fill, comprised of large and small plates, among other dining items, and he left a line of plates on a shelf to dry, or cure. On re-entering his studio he noticed what appeared to be bites taken out of the edges of the carefully crafted plates. Mice bites, apparently.
He took care of the problem, of course. And continues to contemplate metal. And, he is for hire if you need a planting consult, assistance with pruning or irrigation, even construction assistance. He can be reached by calling 433-8780. Meantime, keep in mind during this month of Earth Days the power of trees to absorb carbon dioxide, that cause climate change; to clean the air we breathe by removing particulate matter; to give homes to critters; to cool us down by providing shade; and, as forests, to remove pollutants from rainfall.
By Carol Merrill
Bees and other essential pollinators contribute $18-$27 billion to the U.S. food economy per year. They are responsible for an estimated one out of every three bites of food. That makes them essential for our human resilience. Recently, New Mexico beekeepers reported a 50 percent loss of European bees from “colony collapse.” That leaves much pollination up to our native bees. What did the bears do for honey before the European bees showed up a few hundred years ago?
Bee maven Anita Amstutz writes passionately on her website Think Like a Bee, “Bees are part of our tribe. We need them for food, beauty, poetry and soul wisdom.” See https://thinklikeabee.org/ Anita is well-respected in the large community of urban bee keepers. She calls herself a “bee tender.” Recently, in a Zoom presentation for a Bachechi Open Space Saturday Speaker Workshop she gave details about native bees that form 70 percent of the bee population in New Mexico. They have evolved mouth parts that are exactly adapted to the native plants in our zone.
Native bees can often fill the “pollination gap” when the honeybees are scarce according to Extension Services. Many people are interested in cultivating flowering plants that will sustain these essential native bees and other beneficial insects. There are 1,500 species of native bees. Most of them, unlike the honey bee, are either solitary meaning they nest and grow their young alone or form small colonies. See the Pocket Guide to Native Bees of New Mexico , a 30- page item online from NMSU. https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/bees/welcome.html
Amstutz states eloquently that during COVID times, “I have become much more aware of the word ‘frontline’ or ‘essential’ workers. Wild and managed bees, as the workhorses of the pollinator world, are exactly that. It was a lightbulb going off in my head when I put two and two together, realizing finally, that if frontline, bee-essential workers aren’t protected, the food web of life will fail. We will all be malnourished, sick or worse. Our food system will be dismembered bit by bit if we are not vigilant about protecting bees.”
One book released this March by Adventure Publications tells us what two-legged folks can do to welcome bees. George Miller wrote much of what you need to know in Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees and Butterflies: Southwest. His article in the Native Plant Society of New Mexico Newsletter 2021, spring issue: April-June is a good synopsis of his conclusions. See Page 8 for good photographs and plenty of good information in this newsletter: https://www.npsnm.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ABQ-Newsletter-Spring-2021-final.pdf
Miller writes, “Your backyard needs more than flowers to welcome bees. Of the more than 1,500 species of bees in the Southwest, about 70 percent, more than 1,000 species, nest in ground burrows. Almost all of the rest nest in preexisting holes or tunnels they find in twigs, stems, bark, rocks, or abandoned beetle tunnels. Bumblebees, the only hive nesting bee in North America besides domestic honey bees, build shoe-box sized nests in dark rock crevices, hollow trunks, brush and rock piles and animal burrows.”
Miller says the native bees emerge at the bloom time of their preferred flowers. A good gardener will leave nesting zones that are not very manicured to provide space for the natives. Only two percent of the insects in untended wild areas are undesirable. All the rest are essential to our healthy ecosystem. He continues, “Females look for sunny south or east-facing locations and carefully excavate their tunnel.
“Bees have been observed to burrow in hard-packed dirt roadsides and driveways, between pavers, on garden walkways, around the cleared base of shrubs and flowers and in open spaces between plants. The excavations vary from one-fourth- to one-half-inch wide and might be mistaken for ant nests. Plan your garden design to include ample bare ground to support nesting bees, and avoid mulches, weed fabric, and regular watering in nesting areas.”
There are nest blocks for native bees at Wild Birds Unlimited. These nests are wood drilled with different sized holes to supplement the natural nesting places need by various native bees. Some bees make homes in rock cavities. For them an adobe brick will do for a bee hotel. NMSU provides a list of tasty flowers to sustain these important pollinators during different seasons.
Native willows (e.g., Salix lasiolepis and S. irrorata), skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata), American plum (Prunus americana), New Mexico olive (Forestiera pubescens), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).
Summer-flowering annuals: Prairie sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris), Rocky Mountain beeplant (Cleome serrulata), Blue-headed gilia (Gilia capitata), golden crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides), basil (Ocimum basilicum).
Summer-flowering perennials: Firewheel/blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), red dome blanket flower (Gaillardia pinnatifida), whorled mountain mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum), white prairie clover (Dalea candida), stiff greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), catmint (Nepeta cataria), showy goldeneye (Heliomeris multiflora), Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera), fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium).
Late summer- and autumn-flowering species:
Globemallows (Sphaeralcea species), Emory’s baccharis (Baccharis emoryi) (especially male plants), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), native goldenrods (Solidago nemoralis, S. petiolaris, and S. speciosa).
Corrales residents are so primed to get solar electric panels installed for their homes that Corrales Solar has a hard time keeping up with demand. Founder Tom Woodard said he’s installing up to 16 photovoltaic systems a year now, not just in Corrales but in the East Mountains and Santa Fe as well.
“The cost of solar panels has come down dramatically since I started in 2009,” the solar electric specialist said. “The cost of each panel is less and you now need fewer panels to get the same output.” Woodard thinks much of the increased demand comes from homeowners being shut in due to the pandemic. “I’m super-busy now. Last year, I thought business would slow down a little because of the pandemic, but it never really did.
“People seem to hang around their house and decide ‘You know, we really need to get this done.’ So last year, it was busy, and this year it’s crazy busy. “And what I’m finding in general is that every time I go to the supply house, I’m seeing another solar company I’ve never heard of. So now there are many, many, many of them around. And that’s okay, I can’t get to every roof in town.”
On the other hand, Woodard said some of the newer entrants in the solar energy market have already departed, especially those that proposed lease arrangements with homeowners. “I’m still very much anti-lease, solar lease. I think it’s a really foolish thing for a homeowners to do, but that’s my opinion. Sales people will tell you whatever they need to tell you.”
He said most of his installations are for panels connected to Public Service Company of New Mexico’s electric distribution grid. “It’s mostly grid-tied. I’ve had a few people ask about stand-alone systems, but I usually say I don’t do that. “I did a couple of stand-alones when I was starting out, but it was such a god-awful experience that I decided I really didn’t need to do that anymore. Then there’s what they call a hybrid, which is grid-tied with battery back-up. I did one of those a while ago, and it was a pain in the ass.
“But the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, is that the electricity inverter companies and the battery companies are now all talking to each other. They’re developing some pretty plug-and-play approaches to storage which is really nice because three or four years ago, it was very complicated and a whole lot of trouble. “Now it’s far simpler, although it’s still not inexpensive.”
Homeowners and businesses that installed grid-tied photovoltaic systems years ago were delighted that PNM paid them monthly for the electricity that their panels generated. But that perk for early-adopters is running out. “There is still an incentive, but it’s very small. For a small system, which would be 10 kilowatt-hour and under, which is almost any residential situation, you will get a quarter of a penny for a kilowatt-hour.”
In contrast, Corrales Comment has been paid 13 cents a kilowatt-hour since its 1.8 Kw PV system was installed in 2009. Monthly checks from PNM range from $20 to more than $30. Back then, at least 37 solar electric arrays here, mostly homes, were now generating power. Now there are hundreds. (See the Corrales Comment series on solar electric systems starting Vol.XXV, No.14, September 9, 2009 through November 11, 2009, “Corrales Generates Electricity.”)
While renewable energy credit incentives from PNM have all but evaporated, motivation now is the huge drop in the cost of solar electric panels. “Panels are getting more powerful. In addition to getting more powerful, they’re getting less expensive. “When I put mine in in 2008, the panels were roughly $700 a piece and I needed 24 of them. Now, I can buy for under $300 —now, that’s at wholesale— I can buy a 370-watt panel, which is well over twice as powerful for less than half as much money.” Woodard said most of the PV panels he has been installing lately are produced in Asia, primarily Korea, China and India, and assembled in southeastern United States.
A public opinion survey on villagers’ attitudes regarding secondary dwellings, also known as “casitas,” is now under way. The survey form is available at the Village of Corrales website, or in paper form inside the front door of the Village Office. The Village Council and Planning and Zoning Commission are expected to hold a joint work-study session on casitas this month or next. After receiving a letter from Corraleños in August 2020 expressing concerns about the construction of casitas, the Planning and Zoning Commission began an ongoing review of existing ordinances. (See Corrales Comment’s Vol.XXXIX No.12 September 5, 2020 “West Ella ‘Casita’ Scrutinized,”)
Two P&Z subcommittees and the commission as a whole have been working to gather information and research on the secondary dwelling units that exist here. P&Z Administrator Laurie Stout, who steers the project, has defined a casita as “a structure used for human habitation that is separate from the primary dwelling unit on a lot,” at least for the purposes of this exploration.
At a January 26, 2021 session, the Village Council voted five-to-one to impose a 180-day moratorium on permits to build secondary dwellings on lots and on applications to operate short-term rental. The council noted that “the size of accessory structures is virtually unregulated, sometimes resulting in what appears to be two homes on one lot,” and that such residences “are being utilized for the commercial purpose of providing short-term rental accommodations.”
It was noted that “the proliferation of loosely-regulated accessory structures being used as short- and long-term rentals has the potential for far-reaching deleterious effects on the village, including negatively impacting neighborhoods with greater numbers of vehicles and persons not previously present and increasing the effective density above that permitted or intended in the A-1 an A-2 zoning districts.”
Stout clarified March 12 that "the applications for short-term rentals that we are unable to process are those in accessory structures only. Short-term rental permit applications that are all or part of the dwelling unit on a lot may still be accepted and forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration.” Now a comprehensive report, along with research material is available via the Village website, and an executive summary about the project is offered below. “For this review the commission identified the following essential question: What requirements, if any, should the Village of Corrales place on the construction and use of casitas?
Two committees of P&Z commissioners were formed in September 2020, one to review the existing ordinances related to casitas as well as relevant ordinances from surrounding communities and the other to gather information regarding the environmental impacts of increased population density, primarily regarding water and wastewater. What follows is an attempt to frame the issue and share the findings of the commission to date.
Our Rural Atmosphere
There has been a long-standing desire of Corraleños to maintain a rural agricultural atmosphere in the village. The most recent Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the Village of Corrales (2009) states that “The Village requirement that single residential units be located on one- or two-acre lots was established just after incorporation in 1971 with the purpose of maintaining Corrales’ rural atmosphere (p. 24).”
The ordinance language governing permissive uses in Zone A-1 Rural Agricultural and A-2 supports this goal:
• Section 18-28 (a) states “Any use not classified as a permissive use or a use by review within a particular zone is hereby prohibited from that zone.”
• Section 18-33(1) Purposes and intents. The purpose of this zone is to maintain a rural and open space character of lands within the Village with low density residential and agricultural development.
• Section 18-33(2) Permissive uses. (a/b/c) One single-family dwelling unit/manufactured house/mobile home unit per lot.
• Section 18-33(2) Permissive uses. (f) Accessory uses and structures. (According to the definition of accessory uses and structures (18-29), this “means uses and structures which are clearly incidental and subordinate to principal uses and structures located on the same property.”)
• Section 18-33(3) Density. The maximum density shall be limited to one dwelling unit per net acre.
(Note that these regulations are for Zone A-1 but they are similar in most regards to the regulations for Zone A-2.)
However, casitas existed in Corrales prior to incorporation of the Village in 1971. Since incorporation, some accessory structures, e.g. studios or stables, have been converted to casitas and casitas have at times been built without the knowledge or permission of the P&Z Department. There may have been uneven enforcement of the ordinances. On top of that, some ordinance language seems to muddy the waters, creating a challenge for our Planning & Zoning Department.
A Lack of Clarity
There is no mention of casitas in our ordinances. In Section 18-29 a dwelling unit is defined as “… any building or part of a building intended for human occupancy and containing one or more connected rooms and a single kitchen, designed for one family for living and sleeping purposes.”
The conjunction, and, is a concern; an accessory structure with connecting rooms and no kitchen is technically and legally not a dwelling unit. The definition of a kitchen states “The presence of a range or oven, or utility connections suitable for servicing a range or oven, shall be considered as establishing a kitchen.” Thus an accessory structure with no plumbing or wiring for a range or oven is, technically and legally, not a dwelling unit and so is allowed as an accessory structure. Thus it appears there is a lack of clarity in the language of the permissive uses.
Is There A Problem with Casitas?
There are several reasons why property owners might want to build a casita. They might want a place for elderly parents or other family members to live. They might want a place for a personal assistant or other employee to live; this could be important for elderly or disabled residents. They might want a place for guests to stay. They might want to generate short-term rental income.
But there are downsides that arise when residents build and occupy accessory dwellings. These are primarily related to increased population density. First, there is the matter of the rural agricultural environment that Corraleños desire. More buildings mean less open land, plain and simple. There is also the matter of traffic —greater density means more people driving on roads, many of which are unpaved, contributing to wear and tear, increased maintenance and increased dust and noise. And then there is the matter of our water. “Drinking your neighbors’ sewage”
While Corrales is blessed with a robust aquifer, it does not have a municipal water system or wastewater treatment facility. We all have domestic wells and nearly all of us have septic systems. In places the water table is very shallow, necessitating the use of mounded septic systems and advanced treatment systems. This is a matter of serious concern. As noted by Dennis McQuillan, Liquid Waste Program Manager of the New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED) in the report, Groundwater Contamination by Septic Tank Effluents (2006), people living in areas with domestic wells and a high density of septic systems risk “Drinking your neighbors’ sewage.”
This is not really news for Corrales. In 2005 McQuillan prepared a report, Groundwater Quality in Corrales. He noted —and this was 15 years ago— that “Corrales was selected for a hydrogeologic investigation because of the large number of small lots (less than 3/4 acre) developed with on-site wells and septic systems.” The first line of the abstract reads, “Septic tank effluents have adversely impacted ground-water quality in the Village of Corrales.”
He notes that “… there have been many historic reports by well users in the area of water quality problems such as high iron and the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas.” While some of these pollutants occur naturally in the inner Rio Grande Valley, much of it can be attributed to bacteria that are feeding on organic waste and using oxygen from naturally-occurring iron and sulfur oxides due to low free oxygen levels in the soil. This results in rusty toilet bowls and a rotten egg smell, not to mention possible negative effects on our health. Nitrate levels are also high, particularly in the areas west of the main canal. As our population grows and the population density increases, the pollutant load in our groundwater can only increase.
Corrales is currently the only local municipality that relies primarily on septic systems for liquid waste disposal. All of the others (Albuquerque, Los Ranchos, Rio Rancho, Bernalillo) have wastewater treatment systems. The Village has taken some measures to address the wastewater issue by installing a liquids-only wastewater effluent pipeline that accepts effluent from individual septic tanks located along Corrales Road and conveys it to a treatment plant in Albuquerque. There are plans to expand this pipeline to other areas, but this is a limited solution.
What Are the Options?
Any potential regulations regarding casitas must hinge on the protection of groundwater quality. Given the importance of limiting groundwater contamination, the P&Z has identified three options for Corraleños to consider regarding casitas.
• We could ban future construction of casitas.
• We could allow the future construction of casitas subject to limitations imposed by state or local environmental law. By state statute §126.96.36.1991(E) NMAC a one-acre lot, for example, is allowed a septic system design flow rate of not more than 500 gallons per day. This correlates with a design flow rate for a five-bedroom dwelling or a two-bedroom primary dwelling with a one-bedroom casita (§188.8.131.52(P)(1) NMAC). Larger lots are allowed more bedrooms in accordance with the statutes.
• We could allow the future construction of casitas only if they are connected to an off-site wastewater treatment system.
It is important to note that only the third option addresses the ongoing contamination of our groundwater. The other two have the potential to reduce but not eliminate future increases in groundwater pollution. In the coming months the commission will be seeking input from Corraleños via a survey and public meetings. We will use that input to develop recommendations to the Village Council for possible changes to the ordinances to best reflect our community’s needs and desires.
We encourage members of the community to review the supporting documents compiled by the commission. These can be found on the Village website, corrales-nm.org, then “I’m Looking For,” then Key Documents Directory, then Casitas Executive Summary and Supporting Documents. It also is available on the website home page, Latest News tab, same link title. We look forward to your input and a robust discussion.”
Among the questions in the survey are those seeking attitudes about casitas are around the following topics:
• Should the Village limit the size of new casitas to a certain percentage of the size of the primary residence?
• Should the Village limit te total number of bedrooms in all dwellings on a lot, including casitas?
• Should the Village allow new casitas only on lots that are one acre or larger?
Respondants are asked to indicate the degree to which they agree or disagree. In another section of the survey, respondents are asked how concerned they are about topics such as groundwater quality, population density and noise that might be associated with casitas.
By Meredith Hughes
Now that spring has sprung, many pandemically pent-up flower lovers are searching for places and events to explore, either in person and/or remotely. One such offering, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event, started in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society —itself established in 1827— introduces the gardening public to thousands of plants, gardens and design concepts.
It will move outdoors, June 5-13, for the first time in its history. The Philadelphia show, incidentally, has been honored as “the best overall event in the world” by the International Festivals & Events Association, competing with events such as the Kentucky Derby Festival, the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Indianapolis 500 Festival. Its 2021 show will be spread out in FDR Park, 1500 Pattison Avenue and South Broad Street, in Philadelphia. The show’s theme, Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece, “invites everyone at all skill levels to nurture a lifelong connection to plants and gardening.”
In its new location, the show will span 15 acres of the park’s footprint, including nearly 450,000 square feet of exhibits, activities and open space, a 45 percent increase from previous flower shows held inside the Philadelphia Convention Center.
The only drawback is that thus far the show is not offering virtual participation, though one suspects this will change. https://phsonline.org/the-flower-show/about-the-show. The show’s producer, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, which urges “everyone to garden for the greater good,” is in a long running competition with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society founded in 1829, as “the oldest, formally organized horticultural institution in the United States.”
Still, both are outshone by the Ancient Society of York Florists, UK, founded in 1768, and claiming to be the oldest such society in the world. Now if Philly is not on your go-to list, consider visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, in the Sonoran Desert, about an hour from Phoenix on Highway 60. The arboretum under the shadow of Picketpost Mountain was founded in 1924, incorporated as Arizona’s first non-profit research institution in 1927, and officially dedicated and opened to the public on April 6, 1929, about a year before its founder died.
As its name implies, at first it was all about trees. But today the mission of Boyce Thompson Arboretum is “to inspire appreciation and stewardship of desert plants, wildlife and ecosystems through education, research and conservation.” The arboretum is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through April; from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., May through September. (See http://www.btarboretum.org) William Boyce Thompson himself, born in Alder Gulch, Montana in 1869, and raised in Butte, grew up around copper mines and made his fortune in a range of mining ventures in the Southwest, Canada and Peru.
An indifferent student, even though sent to New Hampshire’s Exeter Academy as a kid, yet curious about all aspects of science, as well as gambling, Thompson made even more of his millions by investing in mining stocks on Wall Street. He built Renaissance Revival style Alder Manor overlooking the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, and lived there and in Arizona depending on the season. He died in New York in 1930, apparently down to his last $100 million. While part of an American Red Cross contingent to Russia during the revolution in 1917 and 1918, Thompson became riveted on the world’s need for a consistent food supply, and for the conservation of nature.
Hence, he endowed the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, now affiliated with Cornell University, and established the arboretum. The institute was established to determine “why and how plants grow, why they languish or thrive, how their diseases may be conquered, how their development may be stimulated by the regulation of the elements which contribute to their life.”
In a major commitment by any institution, in 2014 the arboretum outside Phoenix set out to preserve a desert garden started by H.B. Wallace, more than 30 years ago in North Scottsdale. Wallace had collected more than 9,000 plants, a diverse assembly comprised of hundreds of taxa. Thompson had made his fortune in mining, Wilson in genetic hybridization of commercial egg-laying hens. Both men gave much of their fortunes, and their land, away.
From December 2015 to November 2017 approximately 5,848 plants were transported more than 75 miles to their new home where the plants would be staged, and planted through January 2020. The new Wallace Desert Garden, at 13 acres, is situated adjacent to Queen Creek in a natural setting that offers spectacular views of Picketpost Mountain and the Superstition Mountains. It includes 1.5 miles of trails and loops, two water crossings and gathering areas.
The arboretum website underscores this: “Deserts make up 25 percent of Earth’s surface and are biodiversity hotspots. They may seem harsh and inhospitable, but in reality, deserts contain a fragile ecosystem of plants and animals adapted to thrive under difficult conditions. Arid land environments are especially vulnerable to climate change, human activity and human exploitation. When ecosystems fail, our own health is at risk.”
The New York Botanical Garden, on 250 acres, the largest in any city in the United States, is a National Historic Landmark.“Established in 1891, NYBG is distinguished by the beauty of its landscape, collections, and gardens, and the scope and excellence of its programs in horticulture, education, and science,”according to its website. https://www.nybg.org
It was inspired by an 1888 visit that eminent botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth, took to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London. The Brittons believed New York should have a great botanical garden to advance public understanding of plants, be a repository of rare and valuable specimens, and lead original research in botanical science. Because of its picturesque terrain, freshwater Bronx River, rock-cut gorge, and 50 acres of old-growth forest, the garden was sited on the northern half of Bronx Park.
NYBG today includes 50 specialty gardens and collections comprising more than one million plants, the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections, and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the nation’s preeminent Victorian-style glasshouse. Many of the garden’s offerings are available online. Last year’s 18th Annual Orchid Show can be seen at https://preview.tinyurl.com/vvtkgla
One of the best features of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is its enormous online plant database, especially if you are not yet ready to visit the garden. The how-tos of navigating the database are explained here at https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/garden-explorer
The database itself is accessed at https://santafebotanicalgarden.gardenexplorer.org. The SFBG comprises both the 20-acre site on Museum Hill, open Thursday through Monday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., but also the Leonora Curtin Wildlife Preserve, adjacent to El Rancho de las Golondrinas. This rare natural cienega, or “marsh,” hosts a bountiful diversity of plants and wildlife. The preserve, which re-opens in May, features cottonwood trees, a spring-fed pond and shaded walking paths. Its hours are Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The Botanical Garden currently offers a range of online educational materials for children, parents! Explore at https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/education-outreach/covid-learning-resources-for-parents
Actual, and closer to home, timed entry and tickets reserved online will get you into the Albuquerque Botanic Garden, currently open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday. As the garden comes to life post-winter, the aquarium on site remains closed. Plants were poking up on a Sunday visit and masses of masked families were cavorting throughout. (See http://www.cabq.gov/artsculture/biopark garden.)
Incidentally, if you have not already done a deep dive into the vast numbers of horticultural and garden videos/programs available on YouTube, well…what have you been doing during the pandemic? Okay, so maybe you’ve been catching up on your Gardeners’ World episodes….
Nothing was resolved and little was clarified from the State highway department’s presentation to the Village Council April 13 on prospects for taking over Corrales Road. During an internet presentation to Mayor Jo Anne Roake and councillors, the N.M. Department of Transportation’s Jill Mosher said it would take about $1.8 million to upgrade Corrales Road to a condition under which it might be transferred to the Village of Corrales.
NMDOT has tried for several years to convince Village officials to take ownership and responsibility for State Highway 448, but Corrales has been reluctant, if not downright opposed. The primary concerns have been recurring costs to maintain Corrales Road and potential liability in the event of car crashes.
On the latter point, Mosher encountered councillors’ skepticism when she reported that the average claim was just $120 a year for liability on Highway 448. And Mosher made it clear NMDOT did not intend to resolve privately owned structures’ encroachments into the highway department right-of-way, so those pending conflicts would await Village officials if the transfer occurred.
Also to be resolved even if NMDOT gives the road to Corrales is the matter of space to accommodate long-proposed pathways along Corrales Road in the business district. Mosher said the department would not attempt to “shoehorn in” paths or bike lanes if and when it spent $1.2 million on the upgrade. Neither Mosher nor councillors indicated when the next steps might be taken on the department’s standing offer to turn over Corrales Road.
In 1970, when Ron Curry was president of the University of New Mexico Student Body, he received an unexpected phone call from U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson who wanted him to head up a campus celebration of Earth Day. Since that very first Earth Day, Curry has served as N.M. Secretary of the Environment and then Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overseeing EPA operations in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas, as well as dozens of federally-recognized tribal territories. And now he is Village Administrator for the Village of Corrales.
Appointed EPA Region 6 Administrator by President Barack Obama, Curry relinquished that position when Donald Trump became president. He has lived in Corrales since then, and served on the Village’s Planning and Zoning Commission before being hired as Village Administrator. He agreed to an April 15 Corrales Comment interview about Corrales’ environment, its problems, challenges and achievements. Groundwater contamination from septic systems looms as the greatest threat to the local environment, Curry contends. “When I was deputy secretary of the environment under Governor Bruce King, I learned that septic tanks are the largest source of groundwater pollution in New Mexico.
“If you stopped to think about it, you might think that big facilities like Los Alamos Labs and big manufacturing facilities are the biggest sources of contamination, but really it is septic tanks.” And yet, most people living in Corrales are very protective of the water resource, Curry observed. “It’s a personal thing for them.
“Septic tank contamination was a huge problem for the people in the South Valley leading to the ‘blue baby syndrome’ many years ago due to the high nitrate in groundwater from septic tanks.
“As you look at Corrales, one of the things you continue to talk about is the quality of water coming out of our wells. You can make an argument that a sewer system would help protect the water. Of course, we have a partial sewer system along Corrales Road here, but that doesn’t solve the larger concern.”
A key to that larger issue is retaining Corrales’ relatively low residential density: the fewer the people here, the less effluent from septic leachfields. “We’re looking at the casita issue right now… that’s hot and heavy. One of the centerpieces of that issue is the number of bedrooms there can be on a property which are feeding into a septic tank. Casitas add to the density which a lot of people in Corrales are concerned about. One of the charming traits of this community is its low density. “So groundwater is always going to be one of the concerns of this village.”
Curry acknowledges that air quality has been a big concern here, especially as Intel ramped up what was then the world’s largest microchip factory. “The other thing that the N.M. Environment Department and the EPA has been concerned about is air quality,” he began. “We all remember the issues that people had, and still have, about Intel. I would like to think that some of those problems have resolved themselves over the years. “If you look at what the EPA has done over the years since it came into existence under President Nixon’s term, air pollution and water pollution in our country have decreased by percentages greater than 80 percent.
“Everything that EPA or NMED does, the bottom line is public health. That includes air quality, solid waste, groundwater, surface water… all of those things affect the health of a community. That’s why environmental protection is so critical. It all goes to public health.
“To me, when you look at it through that lens, it takes a lot of the politics out of it. Or it should, because everybody wants to have good health.” After he served as Deputy Secretary of the N.M. Environment Department under Governor King, Curry was hired as City Manager for Santa Fe and then Manager for the Village of Los Ranchos. Then came a stint with the U.S. Department of Energy in Tennessee. Then he was tapped by the Obama adminstration for the EPA Region 6 job.
In that last capacity, he accompanied then EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to Corrales for the dedication ceremony for a water quality project in the Montoyas Arroyo. “Gina was so impressed that she used SSCAFCA as an example in about four or five speeches that I heard. That was a case where New Mexico and Sandoval County were examples of how to do things right.
“People back East just think of New Mexico as desert and that it doesn’t rain out here —and sometimes it doesn’t— so they don’t think of flood control here. So when they see flood control done so well up there in the Montoyas Arroyo, it just screamed out for national attention.”
Among Corrales’ current environmental issues, Curry listed septic tank effluent, public safety along Corrales Road, erosion from development along the sandhills, management of the Corrales Bosque Preserve and the need for strategies to address climate change. “If you look at the broad picture of climate change, the problem is solved at specific places where people live,” he reflected. “As a community, Corrales seems to have a pretty good understanding of what’s involved. If you walk to the river, you recognize that the drought that we’re in is likely to get worse, and a lot of that is a result of climate change.
“One of the other things that Corrales does well —and we have a lot of work still to do— is managing the Bosque Preserve in a responsible way.” Another is an understanding of environmental consequences, he added. “The residents of this village have a sense of their environment that makes them understand the effects of climate change better than other communities I’ve seen.”
What could you, your neighbors, your village, your nation, do to protect the earth’s ability to sustain a healthy biosphere? Readers’ suggestions, recommendations or pledges are welcome. Send them to Corrales Comment, or better yet, mobilize to implement them.
Here are a few ideas to start.
• Convince Corrales’ state legislators, Brenda McKenna, Jane Powdrell-Culbert and Daymon Ely, to fund municipalities to buy electric police cars and phase out gasoline-powered patrolcars.
• Plant three more low-water use trees on your property if you live east of Loma Larga.
• Persuade the mayor to move ahead with stalled solar electric installations at all municipal facilities, and commission an energy audit so that the Village of Corrales is New Mexico’s first municipality to achieve net-zero energy use. An audit in 2013 demonstrated we were almost there.
• Use the just-passed N.M. Community Solar Act to install a photovoltaic system for Pueblo los Cerros condos.
• Buy and use a bicycle to get around the village for errands, shopping —and life-sustaining physical exercise. Participate in the long-delayed planning for a bike and walking path along upper Meadowlark Lane.
• Personally adopt the City of Albuquerque’s “1-2-3-2-1” landscape watering directive. At a maximum, water once a week in March, twice a week in April and May, and three times a week in the hottest months, June, July and August. Then cut back to twice a week in September and October. In November, it’s back to once a month.
• Adhere to the City of Albuquerque’s “No Burn Night” rules for use of fireplaces to avoid thermal inversions that cause drastic air quality problems in the metro area.
• Restrict the number of building permits for huge, energy-intensive “McMansion”-style new homes here; auction off just a few every year.
• Demand that Village officials set a firm timeline to extend wastewater collection service to all higher-density neighborhoods. Implement other ways to protect Corrales’ drinking water quality.
• Persuade your representatives in Congress to support former Senator Tom Udall’s “Thirty By Thirty Plan to Save Nature” Resolution. The plan would preserve 30 percent of America’s wild lands and open spaces by 2030.
• Eliminate or reduce your use of insecticide and pesticides.
• Establish Village government incentives for residential construction projects which incorporate significant passive solar features.
• If you own a business, or have influence over one, encourage adoption of projects and policies to reduce use of fossil fuels, such as retiring gasoline- or diesel-burning vehicles.
At the international level, the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, pledging to help hold down the planet’s rising temperatures. Assuming the United Nation’s climate change “conference of the parties” (COP 26) is convened in person this coming November, Corrales Comment anticipates reporting on it directly from Glasgow, Scotland, as it did for the 2015 Paris conference. COP 26 was postponed last year due to the pandemic. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXIV No.20, December 5, 2015 “Corrales Confronts Climate Change” and Editor Jeff Radford’s dispatches from the conference found at http://www.corralescomment.com)
On Earth Day 2021, President Joe Biden convened an international conference of leaders from many of the world’s governments to map out a unified strategy ahead of November’s COP 26. As at every COP since 2015, the goal will be to steer governments toward meeting their original pledges to drive down emissions that cause global warming and prod them to take even more ambitious steps. That preceded a three-week United Nations virtual conference starting May 31 “to advance the extensive work that needs to be addressed in preparation for COP 26….”
Biden’s primary climate advisor is the former U.S. EPA chief Gina McCarthy appointed by President Barack Obama. In a speech April 15 at an event called by the U.S. information technology industry, McCarthy explained the current situation this way. “Climate change for too long has been seen as some big and amorphous issue scientists talk about.”
But when it is stated as a bread-and-butter issue, trade-offs are usually couched as jobs or environment. “One of the cornerstones of Biden’s infrastructure plan is a recognition that our ability to address climate change should be borne on sound economic policy, because it can he,” she stressed. “Coming out of the pandemic, you don’t just jump to an ‘Oh, woe is me… climate change is happening.’”
The days of fossil fuel corporations blatantly thwarting efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions may be over, or at least waning. Financial institutions around the world have begun pulling support for new mining and drilling while large investors, such as New York State’s enormous pension fund, have declared they will stop putting money into fossil fuel development. Earlier this month more than 300 businesses, including Google, McDonald’s and Walmart, signed a letter to President Biden urging the United States to increase its targets for curtailing planet-warning emissions.
On April 15, draft legislation was introduced in both chambers of Congress to end government subsidies for fossil fuel projects. The End Polluter Welfare Act’s objective is to close tax loopholes and eliminate federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, estimated at more than $150 billion over the next ten years. While federal and state programs and policies will have a major impact, even more is expected from business and individuals.
The Corrales chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, led by Corrales Elementary School Librarian Josephine Darling, has been working at the state and federal levels to persuade elected officials to implement legislation that encourages businesses and institutions to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVI No.7 June 10, 2017 “Corraleños Respond to Climate Accord Pull-Out.”)
“We need to continue to quietly persuade our members of Congress that there is a bipartisan solution to climate change that all members of Congress can get behind, regardless of political party,” Darling emphasized. “Citizens Climate Lobby has that solution, and we have been working behind the scenes to build consensus.” She invites others to join the Corrales chapter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
The movement started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s “School Strike for Climate” continues to gain strength globally. Her Fridays for Future campaign mounted an international demonstration March 19 “to demand immediate, concrete and ambitious action from world leaders in response to the ongoing climate crisis.” Their demands can be found at #NoMoreEmptyPromises.
If the challenges are great, Corraleños and other citizens sufficiently concerned about climate change can begin immediately implementing the following steps as outlined by Jim McKenzie and 350 New Mexico.
• Switch off and unplug appliances when not in use.
• Use energy efficient lighting.
• Buy energy efficient appliances.
• Insulate, install efficient windows and doors and plug leaks.
• Install programmable thermostats.
• Use photovoltaic and solar thermal systems to power your home and heat water.
• Switch to green electricity.
• Walk or ride your bike for short trips and commutes.
• Car share or use public transport.
• Buy an electric vehicle.
• Avoid the airport if possible. Try train, bus or carpool.
• Reduce your meat consumption, since one pound of beef equals 19 pounds of carbon dioxide.
• Install a clothes line and unplug your dryer.
• Install low-flow faucets and shower heads.
• Make your investments fossil fuel free.
• Tell your local government representatives that you want municipal and county facilities powered by solar or wind energy.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Interagency Climate Change Task Force, established in January 2019, reported that New Mexico produced more than 66 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) in 2018. Of our state’s GHG emissions, an estimated 31 percent is methane, the report said, while nationally it is just 10 percent.
Methane is about 25 times more potent as a GHG than carbon dioxide. More than 60 percent of that methane released in New Mexico comes from oil and gas operations —which yield so much revenue for an otherwise impoverished state that almost no politicians dare to push hard for reduction of those fossil fuels. Oil and gas operations here are projected to inject at least $7.9 billion into State coffers last fiscal year.
Even so, the task force reported, New Mexico’s total GHG emissions declined by 5 percent from 2005 to 2018, an improvement almost entirely due to Public Service Company of New Mexico’s closure of two coal-fired units of the San Juan Generating Station. The remaining units are to be closed in 2023.
“It is not hyperbole to suggest the stakes are higher than perhaps ever before in human history,” the governor wrote for the task force report’s introduction. Still, New Mexico joined a multi-state organization to expand exports of natural gas. The increase in liquified natural gas, specifically for export to Asia, would benefit State coffers and local communities, the governor’s office said upon joining the Western States and Tribal Nations organization.
Her administration asserted that New Mexico “is in the forefront of states taking ambitious climate action,” which includes a commitment for statewide reduction of GHG emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Much of that is supposed to come from implementing the governor’s Executive Order 2013-003 and the N.M. Energy Transition Act.
In its conclusions section, the task force report promised “These policies, which include a methane emission reduction regulatory framework, an update to the state’s building codes, and electricity transmission corridors to transport our renewable electricity resources to market… are already beginning to come to fruition. “This is only the beginning of our action,” the conclusion continued. “Over the next year, we will refine our policies, accelerate their implementation and acquire modeling data to demonstrate the success of our work.” The State’s controversial Energy Transition Act is touted as “one of the most ambitious renewable energy and zero-carbon electricity standards in the United States.”
Among state government’s initiatives is a commitment to substantially increase its fleet of electric vehicles (EV), and to fund installation of EV charging stations. A goal was set that 75 percent of vehicles purchased by the State each year must be powered by alternative energy sources. Transportation is the second largest source of GHG emissions in New Mexico. “The State can spur clean vehicle adoption by incentivizing EV purchases, investing in charging infrastructure, requiring that a percentage of vehicles for sale be zero emission vehicles and regulating vehicle emissions,” the task force report noted.
New Mexico has already joined the Regional Electric Vehicle Plan for the West to create electric highway corridors throughout the intermountain West. Another incentive with high potential is also underway: shifting to electric-powered school buses in school districts statewide. Meanwhile, the steady increase in solar electric installations at New Mexico homes, institutions and businesses continues. In Corrales, more than four megawatts were already being generated by photovoltaic arrays two years ago. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVIII No.4 April 6, 2019 “Solar Farm Expanse Will Soon Generate 2 Megawatts.”) And the state’s largest wind farm has begun generating enough electricity to supply about 294,000 average size homes from 240 turbines near Dora, New Mexico, in Roosevelt County. Other wind farms are expected to connect to the grid in the near future.