Placitas Open Space Makes Slow Recovery

Today marks the third anniversary of the completion of the protective fence around the Placitas Open Space (POS). It’s an occasion we like to celebrate, because getting the POS fenced was a hard-fought battle.

Open Spaces managed by the City of Albuquerque are intended to be protected recreational areas where native vegetation and wildlife can coexist with human enjoyment of those areas. But by 2010, the exploding population of feral horses in the Placitas hills was taking its toll. And by 2012, the horses had devastated the POS vegetation and badly trampled the banks of Las Huertas Creek, which runs through the POS on its way to the Rio Grande.

The knee-high native grasses that had covered the creek basin were everywhere eaten to within a few inches of the ground, leaving bare topsoil exposed. The summer monsoons then washed the topsoil away. What remained of the grass clumps dried out and died as their roots became exposed. With every passing year, the POS became more overgrazed and degraded until the hardest-hit areas resembled a feed lot, with large piles of horse manure and bare dirt everywhere.

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Placitas Open Space in 2014 after a few years of damage by feral horses.

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Same area today after 3 years of recovery.

The horses have now been fenced out for three years. Recovery has started, but at a slow pace. With the nutrient-rich topsoil gone, it’s difficult for seeds to sprout and take root. It will be decades or more before the area bears any resemblance to its former self. Still, there have been some changes.

These photos show places in the POS at the height of the horse incursion and what they look like now, three years after the horses were fenced out so the land could recover. Thanks to Albuquerque Open Space Division volunteer Dave Reynolds for the photographs.

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Coyote Canyon in the Placitas Open Space in 2013, with lots of horse manure and trampled soil.

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The same area in 2017. Some limited vegetation has taken hold.