New Mexico Naturalist: Brooke Harper

Brooke Harper holds up a Pale Swallowtail from her adventures this summer looking for and identifying butterflies around the state.

Brooke Harper is our February New Mexico Naturalist in this series from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. We hope you’ll enjoy learning about her, her thoughts on the outdoors, and her hobbies in this profile!

Read more New Mexico Naturalist: Brooke Harper

New Mexico Naturalist: Bianca Gonzalez

Bianca Gonzlez is our New Mexico Naturalist for the month of December! She currently works as a Land Planner for the New Mexico State Land Office and enjoys running, climbing, and getting outside with her dog.

Bianca Gonzelz is the December New Mexico Naturalist in the monthly New Mexico Naturalist series from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. We hope you’ll enjoy learning about her, her thoughts on the outdoors, and her work in this interview.

Read more New Mexico Naturalist: Bianca Gonzalez

New Mexico Naturalist: Joaquin Gallegos

Joaquin Gallegos speaks with students in the hoophouse at Northern New Mexico College’s on-campus farm. Learn more about Joaquin, his work, and thoughts about nature in New Mexico in this interview.

Joaquin Gallegos is the October New Mexico Naturalist in the monthly New Mexico Naturalist series from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. We hope you’ll enjoy learning about him, his philosophies, and his work in this interview.


Name: Joaquin Gallegos
Location: Española, NM
Occupation: Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Northern New Mexico College
Favorite Place in New Mexico: The Hidden Lake following the road up from El Valle
Favorite New Mexico Critter: Black Bear

Joaquin Gallegos was born and raised in the Española Valley. After graduating from Pojoaque High School, he moved to Las Cruces to obtain his bachelor’s degree and a master’s in Range Science from New Mexico State University. Since then, his career has taken him across the state and has included working for the New Mexico State Extension Office, as a private contractor for the Forest Service, and even a stint as a “professional cowboy.” 

Now, Joaquin is in his sixth year of working as an Associate Professor in Northern New Mexico College’s Environmental Science Department. Though he’s now working in education, he enjoys getting back to his time working with the Forest Service and connecting with nature by doing small-scale management projects on his own property.

How would you define a “naturalist”?

I would define a naturalist as an individual who recognizes that they are a part of the natural ecosystem and the land that surrounds them — it impacts us, we impact it. A naturalist is someone who attempts to understand that relationship.

When did you first start to love nature?

Probably more toward my early teen years. I was really good friends with a set of brothers, whose family owned a fairly decent sized farm. Like any farming family, whenever I’d go and hang out, they basically saw me as free labor. I’d go over there to play and the dad would very quickly put us to work. I’d help clean ditches, haul bales, irrigate, and more. That’s when I started to see the benefit and beauty in hard work and that connection to the land.

In conjunction with that, when we were able to get away, we would mountain bike in some of the hills behind the farm. Going up to the top of these little ridges and watching the sunsets, it was amazing. To me, that’s what New Mexico is.

Joaquin has worked with students in the past to do research on the encroachment of different tree species within our forests, particularly in pinyon-juniper lands.

What word makes you feel most at home when you think about nature?

Probably “the land.” To me, it is more encompassing because, coming from the Range Science background that I have, I draw very strong distinctions between cultivated land and uncultivated land. “The land” incorporates all of it. We are not outside of the ecosystem, we’re a part of that system. To me, “the land” definitely represents more of an encompassing way of looking at things. “Nature” makes me think of an environment that has less human impact.

 

What are your hopes or concerns for the future for nature in New Mexico?

Respect for what nature gives us here in New Mexico. What I find very beautiful, and I think why I love New Mexico, is that I consider New Mexico to be a very marginal landscape. We are very drought-prone. You can see through our historic establishment of communities — the majority of them are along a waterway of one form or another. Of course, the most limiting resource that we have here in New Mexico is going to be our water. As a result, I think we need to instill a very strong respect for that water, understand the limitations of New Mexico, and really try to live within those limitations. 

Sometimes, growing up, people will tell you, “Be all you can be! You can do anything you want.” We have to understand that that’s just for us. We cannot project that out into the world. We cannot make a semi-arid or arid environment into a lush garden. We have to live oftentimes within the limitations of that ecosystem or environment.

What are your hopes for the next generation of New Mexico children?

You have the groups of individuals who were maybe born and raised here in New Mexico who are used to traditional uses and accesses of nature. Especially in this part of the world, a lot of homes’ main heat source is firewood. Going for firewood is an annual tradition among some families. So they see nature and access to nature as their annual trip up into the woods where they spend maybe a whole month every weekend hauling firewood. That is sometimes opposed by individuals who see the beauty of New Mexico, maybe move here for the beauty of the state, and see the access to nature as more recreational.

There sometimes has a tendency to be a little bit of a conflict there. My hope for the future of New Mexico, in terms of children, is for them to understand, respect, and love nature, but love it for both of what it is. It is a beautiful recreational area, but at the same time it is a source of livelihood for individuals. That water that you may enjoy rafting down ends up in someone’s irrigation ditch that helps feed their fields. The rancher who encounters a recreationalist, can recognize that the recreationalist may donate money to a given organization that helps habitat restoration and improvements for that rancher and range. We need that balance between the two. In my opinion, we need those two communities to understand each other and communicate very strongly.

If you’d like to learn more about Northern New Mexico College’s Environmental Science department, visit their website here.


New Mexico Naturalists is a monthly series produced by the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) to highlight the work and experiences of people throughout the state that are making meaningful connections with nature and wildlife. Read our previous New Mexico Naturalist profiles here.

Have a suggestion for a naturalist that we should feature in the future? Email publicity@peecnature.org to let us know! PEEC is the non-profit organization that operates the Los Alamos Nature Center.

New Mexico Naturalist: Michael Scialdone

Michael Scialdone, or “Scial,” is September’s New Mexico Naturalist. He works as the Bosque Project Manager for the Pueblo of Sandia. In his spare time, he volunteers for the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation and enjoys river running. Get to know him in this month’s New Mexico Naturalist feature!

Michael Scialdone is the September New Mexico Naturalist in this monthly series from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. We hope you’ll enjoy learning about him and his work in this interview, and that you’ll join us on Tuesday, September 15 at 7 PM for a live-streamed talk on river restoration in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. Learn more and sign up here.


Name: Michael Scialdone, or “Scial”
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Occupation: Bosque Project Manager for the Pueblo of Sandia
Favorite Place in NM: “At any given moment, it is probably any place that I’m at that is outside of a city.”
Favorite NM Critter: Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Michael Scialdone considers any day spent alongside a river to be a successful one. He goes by “Scial,” pronounced “shell,” and currently works as the Bosque Project Manager for the Pueblo of Sandia. Though his day job sounds like it might be one spent in the outdoors, he says it’s mostly a desk job. 

To get his nature fix, Scial is an avid river runner, and also enjoys hiking and biking. He also spends much of his out-of-work time volunteering with the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation. The organization’s focus is to get people outside doing restoration projects to improve riparian function.

“I stay very much grounded by being involved with the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation. Just to have that connectivity with people that are also interested in getting out and giving back to the outdoors,” he says. “When your eyes really open to how damaged our landscape is, it can be overwhelming. But being around people that want to get their hands dirty, get outside, and give back, gives me hope and helps keep me grounded.”

Prior to working at the Pueblo, Scial worked on crews focused on non-native removal and native planting and as a consultant for various restoration projects in New Mexico and Colorado.

How would you define a “naturalist”?

Somebody that has innate curiosity about nature and wants to learn more about it. That can look like self education, taking classes, or just going outside and observing. The latter of those three is probably the most important — just spending time outdoors and observing all of the ways that nature operates. A naturalist is somebody that takes that internal curiosity about the world around them and looks to learn more.

Scial enjoys getting out on the water as a way to enjoy nature.

When did you first start to love nature?

I don’t have an a-ha moment or anything like that. It was kind of always in me. I grew up in El Paso. My best memories are playing in the giant mulberry tree in the backyard and going to visit Cloudcroft or White Sands.

I don’t really remember not getting enthused about nature. I’ve always enjoyed digging up worms and getting into trouble. In retrospect, despite those early experiences, it wasn’t really my family’s thing, so I really started to get more into being outdoors after moving away from home.

 

What are your hopes or concerns for the future for nature in New Mexico?

We’re already seeing what there is to be concerned about, this crazy horrible water year is kind of a portent of things to come, and this was with an “average” snowpack. I went to college back in the 1990s and everything they were saying about climate change back then has unfortunately come true in terms of things becoming hotter and drier, not that we weren’t hot and dry to begin with here in New Mexico. 

The battles, if you will, of how we’re going to have to distribute water between ecosystems and people and share that water between three states is just going to get evermore complicated. The end thing for me is, what does that mean for the ecosystem? We can argue about the economy and all of these things, which are important, but if you don’t have an environment, it doesn’t matter. My biggest concern is that we’re already seeing the reality of a climate changed world with severe wildfire and drought.

The bosque ecosystem is also drying. The bosque was a creation unto itself. Cottonwoods are not long lived trees — 80 to 100 years is old growth for a cottonwood, and that’s where all of these trees are at. The conditions to create new bosque habitat are not at the levels that they were previously and we’re not going to have floods that will generate cottonwoods. It’s going to play with our brains in a relatively short period, less than a generation. The bosque we know today is going to look different. 

What are your hopes for the next generation of New Mexico children?

You hear a lot these days about “nature deficit disorder.” Kids spend too much time playing video games and watching TV, which is true, but it was also true for my generation. 

I am definitely only seeing a certain group of kids through my work, but they have been immersed more in nature and issues of climate change than me and my friends were growing up, and that gives me a little hope for the future. I hear their knowledge when kids come on projects and I have conversations with them. It impresses me that they seem more educated and aware of things that it took me a lot longer to learn about.

There seems to be more people, at least here in New Mexico, that want their kids out in nature and immersed in nature. I think organizations like the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP) here in Albuquerque or PEEC help with that. It gives me a little hope for New Mexico that kids will follow in the footsteps of say Aldo Leopold, who lived here generations ago and came up with the land ethic to consider ourselves a part of this community of creatures and soil versus above it.

Learn more about Scial’s volunteer work or get involved with upcoming projects from the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation by visiting their website here.


New Mexico Naturalists is a monthly series produced by the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) to highlight the work and experiences of people throughout the state that are making meaningful connections with nature and wildlife.

Have a suggestion for a naturalist that we should feature in the future? Email publicity@peecnature.org to let us know! PEEC is the non-profit organization that operates the Los Alamos Nature Center.

New Mexico Naturalist: Mariana Rivera Freeman

Mariana Rivera Freeman is the Field Science Specialist at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. Prior to that, she spent three years studying prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve. Get to know her in this New Mexico Naturalist feature!

Mariana Rivera Freeman is the first New Mexico Naturalist in this new monthly series from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. We hope you’ll enjoy learning about her and her work. Along with this interview, Mariana gave a talk on her experiences studying the Gunnison’s prairie dog in Valles Caldera National Preserve. If you missed it, watch it here.


Name: Mariana Rivera Freeman
Location: Los Alamos, NM
Occupation: Field Science Specialist at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center
Favorite Place in NM: Redondo Meadow in Valles Caldera National Preserve
Favorite NM Critter: Gunnison’s Prairie Dog

Mariana Rivera Freeman started loving nature when visiting family in Puerto Rico in her childhood. She spent hours outside with her sisters and cousins exploring the plants around her grandparents’ home. She remembers one plant, the morivivi, truly sparked her curiosity about the natural world. The plant’s name comes from the Spanish words morir and vivir, meaning to die and to live. When you touch the plant, it folds in on itself, and then reopens.

“Seeing a plant that moved so immediately was like magic to me,” Mariana says. “Plants can be kind of static unless there’s wind. So, it made the plant seem like it had a personality. It just really sparked my imagination.”

Now, Mariana is the Field Science Specialist and an educator at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. Prior to that, she work at Valles Caldera National Preserve for three years studying prairie dogs.

How would you define a “naturalist”?

For me, the only requirement to be a naturalist is just an appreciation of nature. You don’t have to know what you’re looking at, but if it sparks curiosity in you, I think you’re automatically a naturalist. I think there’s a spectrum. You can be a casual naturalist, you can be an expert naturalist, but most of us fall somewhere in between.

I also think you can be a naturalist indoors or outdoors. If you have a plant indoors and you take care of it, think about it, and explore it, that’s just as important as being out in the wild.

How do you connect with nature in your life or work today?

Every morning when I take my dog out, I sit in a hammock for awhile. I have a gathered end Puerto Rican hammock that I like to sit in. It’s really nice, so I’ll just spend my mornings there, just kind of with no distractions while my dog is wandering around. It’s kind of meditative. I might read some poetry or do things like that while I’m outside.

I actually suffer from major depression. I try to be open about it because I think it’s really important for people to get out in nature when they suffer from depression. It’s really healing, so I try to deliberately go out there and sit in the hammock. It’s more recent that I’ve taken some poetry out there and tried to recite poetry. Some people will pray when they’re in nature, but I like to recite poetry.

I also like hiking and going to the Jemez as often as I can. When the nature center was open and hosting field trips, I enjoyed taking kids out in nature as a part of my job.

 

Mariana’s prairie dog research sometimes involved sitting in a tower for long days observing the prairie dog populations in Valles Caldera National Preserve.

What word makes you feel most at home when you think about nature?

I’ve been trying more recently to embrace “the land.” We’re pretty settled now in New Mexico and I used to move around a lot. I never felt a particular connection to the land before. Home was always family to me. We were really tight knit, so everywhere we went, it was really just the family that was home.

When we settled in Los Alamos, I started to feel this desire to get to know the land more. The Jemez Mountains are really special to me now and I’ve just been trying to embrace land as home.

 

What are your hopes or concerns for the future for nature in New Mexico?

My biggest concern since I moved to the Southwest has always been water. Global water conflict is always something that I’ve kept an eye on. When I talk to kids about water, I always try to tell them that it’s a resource that we should share. It belongs to no one and it belongs to everyone and you have to respect both sides of that coin. 

With accelerated climate change, water is gradually becoming more scarce in the Southwest and its availability is becoming less and less reliable. Wildlife have difficulty accessing water to the point where they will die if they can’t get enough water, so we have to be cognizant of that. We also have to be cognizant of how water matters to different cultures and the history of water use and of taking water. The more we know about it, the easier it is to share water.

What are your hopes for the next generation of New Mexico children?

Mariana has bachelor’s degrees in English and Wildlife Biology. Some of her undergraduate research involved working with bears in Maine.

You see a lot of vitriol out there right now and a lot of it is disagreements over science, like the science of coronavirus and the science of climate change. The great thing about kids is that there’s really a general lack of vitriol, they’re not at that point in their lives where they’re full of anger. It’s great to tap into that. Children have a way of finding truth in facts, but also finding truth in imagination, empathy, and even whimsy. I think if you can tap into those things for kids, recognize them, and really cultivate them, there’s definitely a lot more hope for society and for the planet if you can keep that alive in children.

I always say that facts are not going to save the world. Facts are important, but I think they are really kind of impotent when you present them without being empathetic toward people, especially without understanding culture and cultural differences. Childhood is a perfect time to really instill that facts and empathy go together and you can’t just depend on the truth of facts when you don’t recognize the truth of culture or the truth of traditions or the truth of empathy.

 

Anything you would like to add?

In wildlife, I encounter a lot of my peers in the field have difficulty communicating science because we are empathetic toward nature, but sometimes we don’t reserve that empathy toward people and I feel like as conservationists we need to do that more. Culture and tradition don’t take kindly to insult. When we call people idiots because they deny science, it’s just so counterproductive.

The way you treat nature is intrinsically linked to the way you treat people. They come together and if you reserve all of your empathy for nature without leaving some for people, then you’re doing everybody a disservice. People are part of nature, so everything we do to nature affects people, whether directly or indirectly, and vice versa.

Learn more about Mariana’s research on Gunnison’s prairie dogs on this website, which she maintained alongside her mentor, John Hoogland.


New Mexico Naturalists is a monthly series produced by the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) to highlight the work and experiences of people throughout the state that are making meaningful connections with nature and wildlife.

Have a suggestion for a naturalist that we should feature in the future? Email publicity@peecnature.org to let us know! PEEC is the non-profit organization that operates the Los Alamos Nature Center.