Learn more about the New Mexico Humanities Council’s Chautauqua programs at nmhum.org/chautauqua .
AZTEC — Naturalist William Dunmire presented four centuries of New Mexico's livestock history on Tuesday at the Aztec Public Library.
Dunmire's visit, which was part of the New Mexico Humanities Council's Chautauqua program, centered on his more than three years of research on the integration of animals in the state.
"I always said that when I grew up, I was going to become a park ranger with one of those Smokey Bear hats -- and I did," Dunmire said.
With degrees in wildlife management and zoology from the University of California at Berkeley, Dunmire spent 28 years in the U.S. National Park Service as a naturalist and superintendent. He eventually moved to New Mexico and spent 10 years as a field biologist with The Nature Conservancy.
He has also devoted time to being a writer, lecturer and photographer.
His latest book, "New Mexico's Spanish Livestock Heritage: Four Centuries of Animals, Land and People," was published this year. His wife, Vangie, a watercolor artist, contributed illustrations to the book.
Dunmire, who has published six books, is also the author of "Our Gift from Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Came to New Mexico" and "Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America."
His new book is the first to provide the history of the application and effect of domesticated animals in the state.
Dunmire spoke at the library on the shift from Old World practices to New World incorporation of technological advances in livestock use and the cultures they supported.
"New Mexico has, I'm certain, the most fascinating livestock story of any state for two reasons," Dunmire said. "One, our story goes all the way back to 1598. And, secondly, we are known for the many ethnic cultures we have. So how livestock affected the Puebloans and the Navajo is a very big part."
Livestock was the livelihood of peoples throughout the state and served as a large driver of the state's economy. Despite horses taking center stage as the iconic livestock animal of the Southwest, Dunmire emphasized that New Mexico has no native livestock animal.
"There is no native animal that could be tamed, though I'm sure they tried, like the bison," he said. "The largest domesticated animal was the llama, from Peru."
Dunmire also devoted much of his research to the effect incorporation of livestock had on grassland environments. That move, he said, devastated farms through soil erosion and lowered water tables.
"The Rio Puerco ('filthy river') is without a doubt the worst example of riparian degradation in New Mexico, if not the nation," Dunmire writes in his new book. "The so-called river gained national notoriety for carrying the densest-known load of suspended sediments of any stream in the United States."
Dunmire, 83, considers his research-based writing to be complete, though he's considering writing a memoir of his mountain climbing experiences."I might write about my experiences," he said. "I have a lot of experiences that might make for a good read."