A large gray and weathered juniper grows on the Bandera Cinder Cone Volcano.
A large gray and weathered juniper grows on the Bandera Cinder Cone Volcano. NPS photo.

November 18, 2021 – The National Park Service, El Malpais National Monument, is seeking information concerning an illegal timber harvest of alligator juniper trees within the Monument. The trees that have been harvested could be hundreds of years old.

Alligator junipers, while not listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife threatened and endangered species list, are considered rare due to their slow growing rate. A diameter growth rate of approximately 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) per decade, is typical for young trees. A mature tree has deeply furrowed bark that is broken into square plates giving the appearance of alligator skin, hence the name. A seed from the alligator juniper can take up to 18 months to mature after pollination. An individual tree of this species can grow to be hundreds of years old.

Alligator Juniper

The NPS recently conducted mechanical fuel reduction activities in the same area of the Monument in preparation for a series of prescribed fires to restore fire into an ecosystem that depends on this type of disturbance. Fuel reduction targets the buildup of vegetation that easily carries fire and leads to destructive fire behavior and large catastrophic fires. The illegal harvesting of trees impacts the biodiversity of the forest and degrades the health of the forest ecosystem. This area will take many decades to recover from the illegal harvest of the larger alligator junipers.

If you see something suspicious in any NPS location, or if you have information that could aid this investigation, tell us about it. Talk to any NPS employee for help in reporting suspicious activity or submit a tip for any NPS site anytime. The NPS Investigate Services Branch Tip Line can be reached at 1-888-653-0009 either through calling or texting. A tip can be submitted online at  www.nps.gov/ISB or via email to e-mail us. If you actively see something happening, find a safe place and call 911.

Source: NPS