This photo was taken on August 6, 2014. In the foreground is an area of the BLM tract where over 20 horses have been hanging out for about five months. In the background behind the fence is the Placitas Open Space (POS), a 560-acre recreational area, which has been horse-free since a fence was completed five months ago. The area in the foreground has received the same precipitation as the POS, yet it’s barren except for yucca, juniper trees, and horse manure–even though we’ve had unusually abundant rains this summer. The image graphically refutes the argument that the multi-year drought is the sole cause of habitat destruction in the Placitas area.
The area in the foreground is a great example of sheet erosion. Compacted soil, whether from construction site activity or horse hooves, leads to accelerated water runoff and wind erosion that removes the top layer of nutrient-rich soil. The nutrient loss and soil compaction makes it very difficult for vegetation to come back.