Andrew Hautzinger

Oh, 2022 where hath thee gone?

As I get older (I’m in the middle of my 57th trip around the sun), I find myself being a little amazed at how quickly the new year arrives and the old year says farewell. In 2022, this quick passage of time seemed to happen even with a number of significant events occurring throughout the year.

One might think big events tend to provide markers for the year, perhaps slowing our perception of time flying by. However, we find in 2022 a year where the world population passed 8 billion souls, where we bore witness to Russia’s brutal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, saw a deepening of an epic drought in the American Southwest (and beyond), filled with a devastating season of wildfires. Yet, the year still seemed to fly by in a blur.

Our current water news comes as little surprise, as the drought has Colorado River hard put, with its biggest in the nation reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell approaching the dreaded “dead pool” (where water uses are zeroed as is most hydro-electricity generation).

While data shows this gathering drought is parked at our very doorstep here in Valencia County (look no further than the diminishing water supplies of our Rio Grande), drought is surely part of a global saga. The year 2022 saw the world come together and try to find coherence in our response to the challenges of a changing climate: Will the COP27 conference and the landmark compensation fund be a pivot point in this global struggle, or just another minor footnote in a response that needs to hit true or risk calamity?

As for the wildfire season of 2022, the Big Hole Fire of April 11, 2022, comes immediately to mind. While many New Mexicans were afflicted by horrific forest fires this year, Valencia County’s historic Big Hole Fire hit our county hard, burning through some 900 acres of our treasured bosque, including more than 100 acres of the Valencia Soil & Water Conservation District’s Whitfield Conservation Area Complex. We are now eight months into the process of charting our recovery, continuing to look for help from FEMA and our local county partners as the district tries to resource replacing the more than 1,000 Whitfield trees that were destroyed by the fire. This loss includes our iconic 100-year-old teaching tree, known as the Owl Tree.

Despite this 2022 loss, in 2023 we are choosing to focus on hope. We look forward to the new year as we are working with the community and a cadre of restoration specialists to design a restoration plan for Whitfield. This plan aims to use a plant list containing species adapted to the hotter and dryer predicted weather, while adding native bio-diversity with a few out of the box native species that once grew in the valley but have not been observed for years.

Some woody species candidates are native oaks and nut trees. Our New Year’s resolution is to rebuild the Whitfield Complex as a demonstration area on how to protect habitat while reducing fire danger. Our plan includes forest thinning and a system of fuel breaks to give our brave firefighters access to the bosque and a defensible space to fight the next fire and limit its destruction.

Another source of hope is that 2023 beckons us to explore new ways to stay connected with our community members, including our local farmers, ranchers and artists young and old.

On Feb. 9, the district and the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service will host a local work group meeting to collect local citizens’ conservation priorities that could be supported by federal dollars through the NRCS. Please call us or look on our website, Valencia, for more details.

The district is also working to lift off an exciting 2023 art project. We will be reaching out to the art teachers of all our local schools, asking for their students to make large weather-proof artwork to be displayed along Whitfield’s N.M. 47 fence line. We envision a series of creative works by our children showing a variety of conservation-focused images — which will surely beautify this stretch of public highway.

Here at the end of 2022, in my personal life, I look back at a year filled with a mix of sad challenges, yet also things to celebrate.

While my extended family sadly lost several loved ones in 2022, we also celebrated three new babies born this year. This leaves me humbled in the knowledge that life is a mix of losses and gains, of sad tidings and rejoicings.

As we retire 2022 and usher in 2023, it is my fervent wish that the new year brings us all more positive outcomes and fewer negative ones. May the new year be filled with chances for all of us to contribute to a better future!

(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)

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Andrew Hautzinger, guest columnist
VSWCD District Director | 505-850-2167 | [email protected]

Andrew Hautzinger has been the district director for the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District since 2020. Prior to that, he was a volunteer VSWCD board member for 12 years and spent many years volunteering at the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

Hautzinger has a bachelor of science in watershed sciences from Colorado State University. He worked for more than 27 years as a federal hydrologist working for agencies within the Department of Interior including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service, and for the final 20 years of his career, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Refuge System.