ALONG THE BURNT MESA TRAIL, N.M. — With snow ready to fall, the scramble was on to collect as many ponderosa pine cones as possible.
A crew outfitted with spurs, ropes and hard hats scaled hefty tree trunks and used long clippers to snip branches loaded with the prickly orbs.
The cones being gathered in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico represent the fruits of a bumper crop. Every decade or so, the trees turn out more seeds to ensure future propagation as a hedge against hungry predators and whatever other hurdles nature might throw at the species.
The cones will be dried, their seeds cleaned, sorted and grown into seedlings that can be used to reforest fire-scarred hillsides. Similar work is ongoing in Colorado, South Dakota and other places in the U.S. West.
With warmer temperatures, more frequent drought and the severity of wildfires on the rise, scientists say seed collection and reforestation efforts are becoming more important.