Geography ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-10-2017


Dozens of catastrophic forest fires have impacted New Mexican communities over the last two decades, threatening humans, property, and livelihoods. Ecologically, forest systems are stressed by historically unprecedented tree density, drought, increased temperature, and dwindling ecological diversity, further increasing fire danger. An increasingly common response to these threats is to actively manage New Mexico’s forests using mechanical tree thinning and prescribed fire, with a goal of “restoring” forests to a healthier ecological state. Restoring forests is both a scientific and cultural act. While the science is well studied, land managers often struggle to understand how human values impact forest restoration decisions, and how those values differ from one community to the next. This paper examines a restoration project in La Cueva, New Mexico, a community that is debating whether and how to restore forests near their homes. Qualitative interviews with La Cueva residents and forestry professionals reveal that conflicting concepts of “nature” influence how individuals define successful forest restoration and beliefs about what (if anything) should be done to manage nearby forests.

Degree Name


Department Name


Level of Degree


First Committee Member (Chair)

Melinda Harm Benson

Second Committee Member

Chris Duvall

Third Committee Member

K. Maria D. Lane

Document Type



Forest restoration; La Cueva; nature studies