As the summer finally sets in, Santa Fe enters our warmest month of the year in July. Especially at this time of year, our city sees the impacts of the urban heat island (UHI) effect. As a result of fewer trees and vegetation and more buildings, asphalt, and concrete, urban areas in our city retain more heat than nearby suburban and rural neighborhoods. Especially in the face of a warming climate, heat is an important weather phenomenon to attend to. In fact, extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the country – ranking above natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes.
Santa Fe is addressing the UHI effect, along with other impacts of a changing climate, through protecting our natural resources and native ecosystems. Native trees, plants, and pollinators provide shade and absorb heat and store carbon dioxide within our community, helping to counterbalance the UHI effect and create a more comfortable and sustainable environment. By embracing diverse and thriving ecosystems, we help to sustain life and support community and economic vitality in our city.
Protecting Native Plants and Pollinators
To preserve ecological balance, Santa Fe is actively working to protect and restore native plants and pollinators. Native plants are well adapted to the local climate, require less water, and provide essential resources for native pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The city encourages residents and businesses to incorporate native plants into their landscapes through initiatives like the Neighborwoods program, helping to restore the native ecosystem and enhance biodiversity. Additionally, through the TreeSmart Santa Fe initiative, we are using data-driven insights and an equity lens to leverage “smart trees” that cool our city, conserve energy and water, and nurture vibrant and livable neighborhoods.
The Santa Fe Xerces Society is also playing a key role by promoting the Santa Fe Pollinator Trail, a connected and climate-resilient habitat across the urban portions of Santa Fe. According to this organization, New Mexico is home to 1,000 native bee species – a quarter of the United States’ native bee diversity. To ensure pollinators have accessible habitat throughout the City, the Xerces Society has developed Pollinator Habitat Kit programs which provide a curated selection of native, pesticide-free pollinator plants for residential properties and public spaces. As of June 2023, the organization has established over 20,000 native plants and has plans to distribute 6,600 plants in August.
Given the region's vulnerability to wildfires, Santa Fe takes proactive measures to manage and mitigate fire risks. This includes adopting sustainable land management strategies, such as thinning overgrown forests, creating defensible spaces, and implementing controlled burns. In fact, the Santa Fe Fire Department (SFFD) is proud to be one of the only fire departments in New Mexico to have a full time Wildland Division dedicated to wildfire response, prevention and Wildland Urban Interface issues. Residents are urged to maintain defensible spaces around their properties and to stay informed about wildland preparedness tips.
Call-to-Action: Encouraging Sustainable Landscaping Practice
The city also promotes sustainable landscaping and gardening practices that reduce ecological footprint while maintaining the beauty of its surroundings. If you want to bolster our city’s ecosystem, try planting a tree (and practice drought-smart tree care!) or using a Xerces Society Santa Fe Pollinator Trail Habitat Kit to boost your native plant species. Make sure to halt watering between 10am and 6pm from May through October, and try these six practices outlined by Save Water Santa Fe:
Santa Fe Water Conservation Office’s native cactus xeriscape demonstration garden
- Add organic matter & mulch: Compost will improve the water-holding capacity of your soil
- Deliver water to the root-zone: Use soaker hoses to ensure that 90% of water you apply to your garden is available to your plants
- Use free water: Utilizing a rain barrel or cistern to collect water from your downspouts relieves stress on home infrastructure and reduces the amount of drinking quality water used outdoors
- Choose plants carefully: Drought tolerant and pollinator-friendly plants will help your garden thrive in Santa Fe’s climate
- Reduce your lawn: Use only native grasses and consider planting groundcovers or low-maintenance perennials instead
- Take care of your plants: Keep on top of weeding, thinning, pruning, and monitoring pests – you'll water less frequently