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Up In Smoke: Electric Cigarettes, Bark Beetles, and New Mexico's Environmental Challenges

With wildfires, water shortages and deforestation plaguing the state, New Mexico might want to look into that "Land of Enchantment" motto.


It’s easy to see why Eastern New Mexico is referred to as “Little Texas.” The same proliferation of pump jacks dot the landscape here as it does in its neighboring state and gas is cheaper than anywhere in the country outside the greater Texas region. After five days in Odessa, West Texas I’m anxious to cover some new ground, and I can’t seem to stop tinkering with the AC or scrolling through music until I settle into the flat, shrubby southeastern expanse of the "Land of Enchantment."
Just outside of Roswell, a deep, lush valley cuts west and into the picturesque mountain town of Ruidoso before tumbling back over the peaks into a distilled vision of the Southwest. I finally opt for the new Walkmen album and relinquish the AC in favor of the cool breeze coming through the windows.
The recent scars of the Little Bear Wildfire are the only things complicating my desire to zone out to the sound of Hamilton Leithhauser’s warbling voice. One of the most destructive wildfires in New Mexico’s history, it burned 44,000 acres and destroyed 254 structures, the most of any one fire in the state’s history. Heading into Socorro, I pass over the now less-than-formidable Rio Grande, referred to by my father even in rainy years as the “Rio Pathetic.” Currently dammed to a halt upstream, this nearly 2,000-mile river defining most of the Texas-Mexico border is overtaxed by demographic and precipitation upsurges in the region.
I’ve arranged for an interview at the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a renowned birder’s paradise and bird migration hub. I pull into a nearly empty visitor’s center and a park volunteer swooning over his recent sighting of a rare roseate spoonbill entertains me as I wait for Gina Dello Russo, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ecologist.

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