Group creates tree guides for a warmer, drier Albuquerque »Albuquerque Journal

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A cyclist rides past a poplar tree on a path near Little Cloud Park, east of the tram near Paseo del Norte NE. Many of the city’s old canopy are at the end of their natural lifespan. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

The Bosque’s poplars are a staple of Albuquerque’s natural landscape. However, the city’s other aging trees and changing climate underscore the need to plant more trees that can withstand the city’s varied soils, moisture levels, and rising temperatures.

A group led by the Nature Conservation Agency evaluated more than 130 tree species to create a list of climate-friendly trees.

So when planting a tree, consider desert pastures and think twice before planting white mulberry. New Mexico olive trees made the cut, but the invasive Siberian elm did not.

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Sarah Hurteau, New Mexico City Conservation Director for Conservation, said the year-long project focuses on choosing the right trees to plant in the right place.

“We’re really going to see quite a significant change in our climate over the lifespan that the trees we’re going to plant,” said Hurteau. “We may not see all of these changes, but the trees will.”

The group scaled down the global climate models used by the United Nations. The results are sobering: Albuquerque could see summer temperatures rise by 10 to 15 degrees by 2099.

Rising temperatures are exacerbated by the urban heat island effect that occurs when asphalt and concrete store heat during the day and radiate that heat at night.

The urban areas of Albuquerque, especially those with few trees, are several degrees warmer than the surrounding desert.

Trees that are ideal for Albuquerque’s current temperatures may not thrive in a hotter future climate.

The project was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Project advisors included tree experts from the city of Albuquerque, Albuquerque’s Bernuilloque County Water Authority, several universities in New Mexico and Arizona, plant associations, and landscaping and tree companies.

The experts have aligned the climate models with the hardiness zones of the US Department of Agriculture to create a guide for climate-friendly trees.

Tree species are sorted based on how well they grow in Albuquerque’s xeriscaped areas, places where rainwater is collected, heavily irrigated areas, and even restricted green spaces in parking lots and sidewalks.

Many of Albuquerque’s ancient canopy trees are at the end of their natural lifespan, Hurteau said. The city’s limited tree cover could continue to decline without careful species selection.

“The guide will help you choose the tree that will fit in its full size in a room,” said Hurteau. “If you’re planting in a strip of parkway and only have 3 feet of soil and it’s hot, you don’t want to place anything that uses a lot of water. But if you have a small rain garden in your front yard, consider planting a tree from another list. “

A more diverse “urban forest” would help prevent pests and disease from wiping out all trees in Albuquerque.

Andrew Lisignoli, Trees of Corrales Sales Director, grows trees to sell to nurseries and landscaping companies. Lisignoli brought five decades of tree industry experience to the project.

“If we know which trees are ready for climate change, we can better plan for the future,” he said. “The producers now have to start the production process.”

City planners use the guide to help decide which trees to plant in parks and other green spaces.

Mayor Tim Keller has set a goal of planting 100,000 trees in Albuquerque by 2030.

“We have new alternatives like blue oak and screw bean mesquite that add tree diversity to our canopy,” said Joran Viers, Albuquerque city ranger.

Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America Corps, a water and environmental researcher for the Albuquerque Journal.

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