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Sacramento Mountains Watershed Study

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This study evaluated the hydrologic effects of tree thinning in a densely forested, high-elevation watershed (>8000 ft) in the Sacramento Mountains. It was a collaborative project between the Bureau of Geology, NM Tech, NM State University, and NM Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute (Highlands University) and funded three graduate students. In 2011, 400 acres of the watershed were thinned. Results can help water and land managers to apply vegetation management methods to maximize groundwater and surface water resources. Our findings include:

  • Tree thinning significantly increases the amount of rain, and to a lesser degree snow, that reaches the ground
  • Tree thinning causes a significant decrease in the amount of water taken up by trees
  • No effect on runoff related to tree thinning was observed
  • Soil moisture significantly increased due to tree thinning
  • Potential recharge likely increased due to tree thinning in part because of macropores or “preferential flowpaths” that allow water to quickly move through the soil and into the shallow aquifer

Funded by the New Mexico State Legislature through Otero SWCD, NMISC, USFS, NRCS and NM State Forestry.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Talon Newton, Hydrogeologist


  1. Newton, B. Talon; Mamer, Ethan; ReVelle, Peter; Garduno, Hector, 2015, Sacramento Mountains Watershed Study - The effects of tree thinning on the local hydrologic system, New Mexico Bureau of Geology Mineral Resources, Open-file Report, v. 0576
  2. Newton, B. Talon, 2015, Sacramento Mountains Watershed Study Summary and Results, Summary Brochure, October 2015

  3. Newton, B. Talon; Gierke, Casey; Garduno, Hector; Canaris, Nathan; Kludt, Trevor, 2012, Sacramento Mountains Watershed Study: Can we increase our water resources by thinning trees in the mountains?, Preliminary Report, June, 2012.

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