Perspectives on desertification: Southwestern United States

TitlePerspectives on desertification: Southwestern United States
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsFredrickson E.L., Havstad K, Estell RE, Hyder P.W.
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Date Published1998
Accession NumberJRN00259
KeywordsChihuahuan Desert, desertification, Sonoran Desert, south-west United States

Several climatic changes occurred in the northern Chihuahuan Desert and other parts of the southwest 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-gatherer to primarily agrarian economics.  European immigrations into the southwest U.S. beginning in the mid 1500s greatly affected this region.  The greatest impact occurred after the U.S. Civil war in the 1860s.  Before that time land use tended to be localized near small agricultural areas, mines, and military installations.  The post-war range livestock industry expanded dramatically, especially during the 1880s – a period of 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 by governmental agencies.  Fire suppression, mismanaged grazing, changing climatic conditions, loss of soil and increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, mainly due to the 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 co-operation among diverse entities will be crucial.