CHAPTER 5: NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT (continued)
Meanwhile, the park administration continued to highlight weed control and personnel training. The accumulation of dry weeds in arroyos and along the fences became fire hazards and required constant removal. Superintendent Homer Hastings hired Margarito Lovato and his team to mow undesired plants. In the fall, the New Mexico Highway Department again helped clean the firebreaks along the entrance road and inside the eastern edge of the monument. Also, Hastings conducted a fire control inspection and instructed the employees on the proper use of the fire-fighting equipment.  By the end of the 1950s, the monument staff had acquired the basic skills and equipment for fire control.
In managing water resources, Fort Union encountered a different situation. The problem was one of scarcity rather than abundance. The operation of the monument entailed furnishing a supply of water adequate for the needs of both the employees and visitors. A small spring meandering in the gully just west of the Third Fort could not meet the demand of ten-gallon-per-minute. The Park Service had to find other sources. To determine the feasibility of obtaining a ground water supply, the Park Service requested that U.S. Geological Survey study and assess ground water conditions. In addition to the field survey in July 1956, samples of well and spring water were sent to the laboratory in Albuquerque for chemical analysis. After the study, the surveyors affirmed the quality and quantity of ground water in the area. Later they helped select a suitable location for the well. 
As the first scientific study of the monument's natural resources, the survey gave people a better understanding of the fort's environment. While they searched for water, geologists examined various aspects of the park's geography, geology, and topography. In December, geologist I. J. Winograd presented a final report on the survey and its conclusions. His thirteen-page document became a collection of information useful for future research. The essential motive of the survey, however, came from a need to acquire water, not from a desire for more knowledge. As soon as fresh, pure water gushed out of the well, the Park Service lost interest in learning more about the area's environment. Accordingly, the Regional Office failed to conduct another scientific study on the natural resources at the monument for another 14 years.
The pragmatic and utilitarian approach to natural resources also guided erosion control and landscaping. Although annual precipitation measured only 18 inches, occasional rainfalls could leave their distinct mark on the once overgrazed land, washing away topsoil and creating small ravines. As a by-product of the ruins stabilization work in 1957, Superintendent Wing initiated efforts at erosion control by dumping unwanted earth and broken bricks into a gully at the northeastern corner of the Third Fort. The work eased the erosion problem for a small section.  Except for this experiment, there is no record showing any other erosion control in this early period.
During the construction of support facilities, bulldozers made people realize the need for landscaping. In Wing's view, "a great amount of regrading and reseeding" in the residential and visitor center areas was "required to make the environs of the new homes presentable."  Paul Gensemer of Las Vegas received a contract to beautify the natural scenery of the park. Although the Park Service expected him to complete the work before the formal dedication of the monument in June 1959, he did not meet the deadline. By the end of August, with exception of four loads of manure scattered over designated places, no progress occurred. In the following month, the Park Service terminated the contract, and later awarded it to James Vander Sys, a nurseryman from Santa Fe. Securing a number of Apache plum trees, salt bushes, and sumacs in Watrous, he planted them around the new visitor center and the residences. On April 29, 1960, he fulfilled his contract. 
Leaking sewer water caused by the inconsistent construction activities was another problem. It remained difficult to get the newly completed sewer lagoons to hold water due to the porous soil in the area. No sooner did the water enter the lagoons than it soaked into the ground. In the spring of 1958, Acting Superintendent George Cattanach made arrangements with Fort Union Ranch to put a dozen horses, loosely roped together, into each lagoon for a few hours to help compact the loose soil on the bottom. This method proved effective, and the lagoons began holding water in a sufficient quantity to permit them to function properly. 
The park administration realized the impact of nature on cultural resources. Wind, rain, snow, hail, drought, and fire threatened the historic structures at Fort Union. To protect the ruins, the monument staff had to pay attention to the area's natural resources. Although none of them had any formal training in natural resource management, their daily actions, as mentioned above, benefited the environment. Meanwhile, the fort sought to collect weather information by recording daily temperatures, wind speeds, and precipitation. In May 1957, Fort Union began submitting monthly precipitation reports to the Albuquerque Office of the U.S. Weather Bureau, in the hope of encouraging a systematic study of the climate of the Mora Valley. 
The monument carried on its traditional trouble-shooting strategy for handling natural resources into the 1960s. In the new decade, this passive and reactionary attitude still dominated all the decision-making processes. As long as the ruins and other man-made structures were safe, there remained no clear agenda for natural resource management. This did not forestall the fort administration in improving its ability in certain fields such as fire control. For example, in 1960 an additional tank and slip-on pump arrived at the fort, supplementing the existing fire equipment. Six years later, a new fire attack unit consisting of a 110-gallon water container and a one-horsepower pump replaced all existing equipment, which had proved unreliable in cold weather. 
Meanwhile, weed control efforts continued. The maintenance crew constantly inspected and cleaned the fire-breaks. Sometimes they had to work extra hours due to excessive weeds and grass caused by unusually wet weather. In August 1963, about six inches of rain fell, damaging the fire-break and the service roads north and east of the Third Fort. The maintenance crew quickly repaired them but correcting the soil erosion was beyond the park's capabilities. Again in 1965, more than 22 inches of precipitation, 15 percent above normal, resulted in abundant plant growth, which became a fire hazard. After failing to control weed growth in the summer, the maintenance workers had to conduct a controlled burn inside the foundation outlines of the historic buildings. 
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001