The photo below shows the decimation of native grasses by feral horses grazing on unfenced BLM land (on the left) in northern Placitas compared with the protected San Jose de las Huertas Archeological Conservancy site (on the right).
Why do we need to preserve native grasses? They provide sustenance to small mammals, quail and songbirds–and thus other species all up the food chain. Grasses protect nutrient-rich topsoil from being washed away. They put out huge networks of roots that hold deeper layers of soil in place and prevent erosion. In prairie ecosystems, they are a foundation species, without which the ecosystem becomes severely imbalanced and lacks resilience to stress.
Placitas has a long history of being overgrazed by livestock. Although the sheep of the Spanish settlers are long gone and cattle no longer graze on the BLM buffalo tract due to its lack of forage, they’ve been replaced by feral horses, whose numbers exploded over the last decade. Unlike other livestock, these horses are unmanaged and on the land 24/7, 365 days a year, giving the land no chance to recover.
Broom snakeweed is a native plant that becomes invasive when the grasses are gone. It takes over large swaths of land and prevents balanced plant communities from coming back. Just a few short years ago, there were knee-high grasses in many parts of northern Placitas. Where they once grew, you now see acres of broom snakeweed and bare, plantless areas of sheet erosion.
It appears we Placitans are no smarter than folks elsewhere. Human societies have a long history of destroying local ecosystems for short-term purposes–and not recognizing the extent of the damage until it’s too late for either the land or the society to recover. For an engrossing and illuminating read, check out “Collapse” by historian Jared Diamond.