(2015) LaFevor, M. C. and Butzer, E. K. (in prep) Snow Harvesting for the Public Good: Environmental Justice in Colonial Veracruz, Mexico. Environmental History
Abstract. This article explores the collection and consumption of snow in colonial Veracruz, Mexico (1687-1810), where snow served as the primary cure for the tropical diseases and fevers that plagued the region. Considered a colonial possession, the Spanish Crown monopolized all snow deposits, auctioning only to merchants the right to collect it and to sell it to the public. This paper examines the conflicts that developed among consumers, merchants, and the Spanish Crown over access to the medicinal benefits of snow. Primary colonial documents reveal the Crown faced a financial-moral dilemma over whether to increase the profitability of the royal snow industry versus making public access to snow more affordable. Findings show the Crown’s governance of the snow merchants focused more on humanitarian relief for the poor and the sick than on increasing profits for the Real Hacienda (Royal Estate). The Crown also protected indigenous workers in mountain communities against being ‘compelled’ to harvest and transport snow for the industry, or from allowing free grazing of their mountain pastures by the merchants’ pack animals. This paper illustrates a more conflicted and compassionate side of the Real Hacienda’s environmental governance – one focused more on environmental justice for the poor than on simple profit maximization for the Crown.
(2015) Ramos-Scharrón, C. and LaFevor, M. C., (in revision) The Role of Unpaved Roads as Active Source Areas of Precipitation Excess in Small Watersheds Drained by Ephemeral Streams. Journal of Hydrology
Abstract. Unpaved roads are widely recognized as significant sources of sediment within managed forested landscapes, but their apparent role in altering runoff response appears limited to small rainstorm and watershed sizes. Small forested watersheds (~10's ha -1's km2) drained by ephemeral streams are particularly vulnerable to alterations in runoff response due to the paucity of storm flow triggering rainstorms and the propensity of unpaved roads to generate precipitation excess even during small rain events. Changes in hydrologic response are of vital land management relevance when these may affect aquatic habitats of ecological and economic importance.Here we evaluate the role of unpaved roads in enhancing the development of precipitation excess runoff and their potential relevance to watershed-scale storm flow in small watersheds drained by ephemeral streams flowing towards coral reef bearing waters of the Northeastern Caribbean. Infiltration capacity curves for undisturbed forest soils and unpaved roads were developed based on hydrologic characterization performed by a Guelph permeameter. Results demonstrate that infiltration capacities from unpaved roads are roughly a quarter of those for forest soils. Consequently, per unit area precipitation excess from unpaved roads is about three times greater than on forest soils and unpaved roads can generate excess precipitation roughly ten times more frequently than watershed-scale runoff. Comparison of unpaved road precipitation excess with observed watershed discharge suggests that road networks may represent up to 62% of total discharge for up to 3.0 cm rainstorms even for watersheds with low and moderate road densities of 0.8 to 2.3 km km-2. For watersheds with high road densities of 7.6 km km-2, roads may contribute about one-quarter of storm flow for up to 10 cm rain events. Our results highlight the sensitivity of dry tropical watershed storm flow response to land disturbance, even when disturbance occurs in the form of unpaved roads covering only about 1% of the land surface. In the particular case of watersheds drained by ephemeral streams draining towards coral reef bearing coastal waters, unpaved roads prove capable of altering the time distribution of runoff and sediment delivery from a naturally infrequent and sporadic character to one that is potentially chronic. Although the total magnitude of runoff-dependent levels of stress is an important metric to evaluate ecosystem conditions, the frequency at which the stressors are imposed on an ecosystem must also be considered and addressed by land management strategies.
(2015) Suding, K., Higgs, E., Palmer, M., Callicott, J. B., Anderson, C. B., Baker, M., Gutrich, J. J., Hondula, K. L., LaFevor, M. C., Larson, B.. M., Randall, A., Ruhl, J. B., Schwartz, K. Z., Committing to Ecological Restoration: Efforts Around the Globe Need Legal and Policy Clarification. Science 350(6235): 638-640.
Summary. This paper proposes four principles for planning comprehensive ecological restoration. These are meant to give legal and policy clarification to the practice of ecological restoration and to improve the structural and functional diversity of ecosystems. Diverse ecosystems are more likely to be durable and capable of adapting to future challenges of climate change, introduced species, and land-use change and can be sustained with a declining investment of human and financial capital over time.
(2015) LaFevor, M. C., Environmental Concerns Facing the U.S. and Mexico: An International Perspective. In Neighborly Adversaries: Readings in U.S.-Latin American Relations, 3rd Edition. Michael J. LaRosa and Frank O. Mora, eds. (Roman and Littlefield): 265-276.
Abstract. This chapter traces the historic "geographic" challenges faced between the United States and Latin America, with an emphasis on the relationship between the United States and Mexico. Given that the two nations share a two-thousand-mile border, water and air quality, population growth, and the health of plants, animals, and humans are all vital concern. Professor LaFevor, a geographer, addresses these issue from a historic and thematic framework. He points to the importance of human exigency in an evolving international dynamic.
(2014) Hudson, P. F., LaFevor, M. C., Introduction: Managing and Monitoring Human Impacts on Landscapes for Environmental Change and Sustainability, In P. F. Hudson and M. C. LaFevor (guest eds) special issue of the Journal of Environmental Management 138: 1-3.
Excerpt. Managing and monitoring human impacts on landscapes for environmental change and sustainability Understanding the impacts of human activities on landscapes has long been important to environmental scientists and management (Marsh,1864; Goudie,1981), but has never been more pressing than today. Broad scientific engagement with the subject of climate change since the early 1990s has resulted in a new appreciation for understanding landscape sensitivity to environmental change (Turner et al.,1990). This is essential, for against forecast average changes in climate at a global scale is great variability in temperature and precipitation at regional and seasonal scales(e.g.,IPCC, 2007). Additionally, the past couple of decades have witnessed a paradigm change in landscape contextualization. Scientists no longer singularly uphold the idea of a pristine environmental base-line for restoration purposes, as natural landscapes untouched by human presence are unlikely to have existed(Turner et al., 1990; Vitousik et al., 1997; Zalasiewicz, 2011). The coupling of these two concepts implies that decision makers and land managers must understand the historic environmental context and inherent sensitivity of landscapes to implement effective strategies to defend and mitigate against anticipated climate change. These topics steered the direction of this special issue,which examines human impacts on landscapes from two perspectives, specifically i) managing the environmental impacts of human actions, and ii) monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of these efforts. The first seeks to better understand the historic controls and processes that led to environmental change in order to develop appropriate responses or remedial measures. The second explores processes of environmental monitoring and assessment that are, ideally, guided by previous analyses and cumulative understanding of environmental cause and effect. Analysis and response to degradation are synergistic in their effects -- better understanding of root causes informs management strategies. Subsequently, periodic review and reassessment of these strategies serves to strengthen future efforts and the empirical foundations upon which sound decision making is based. The latter approach is increasingly included within new“integrated”approaches to environmental management, and is explicitly included in the European Union’s sweeping Water Framework Directive (European Council, 2000).
(2014) Hudson, P.F. and LaFevor, M.C., (guest editors) Management and Monitoring of Land Degradation and Environmental Change. Journal of Environmental Management 138: 1-96.
Excerpt. The papers published in this special issue were presented at sessions organized by the Commission on Land Degradation and Desertification (COMLAND) for the International Geographical Union’s Congress in Santiago, Chile in November 2011, and in the IGU’s Main Congress in Cologne, Germany in August 2012.
(2014) LaFevor, M. C., Restoration of Degraded Agricultural Terraces: Rebuilding Landscape Structure and Process. Journal of Environmental Management 138: 32-42.
Abstract. The restoration of severely degraded cropland to productive agricultural capacity increases food supply,improves soil and water conservation, and enhances environmental and ecological services. This article examines the key roles that long-term maintenance plays in the processes of repairing degraded agricultural land. Field measurements from Tlaxcala, Mexico stress that restoring agricultural structures (the arrangements of landforms and vegetation) is alone insufficient. Instead, an effective monitoring and maintenance regime of agricultural structures is also crucial if the efforts are to be successful. Consequently, methods of wildland restoration and agricultural restoration may differ in the degree to which the latter must plan for and facilitate a sustained human involvement. An improved understanding of these distinctions is critical for environmental management as restoration programs that employ the technologies of intensive agriculture continue to grow in number and scope.
(2014) LaFevor, M. C., Review of Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico (University of Arizona Press, 2013) edited by Christopher R. Boyer. In Journal of Historical Geography 43: 187.
Excerpt. A Land Between Waters is a diverse collection of case studies on human-environment interactions in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mexico that should be of broad interest to environmental historians, historical geographers, and specialists on Mexico alike. The chapters explore such varied topics as agricultural soil and water management, pearl aquaculture in the Gulf of California, the production of knowledge in Mexico’s Royal Botanical Gardens, water infrastructure in urban environments, the inter-play of class and nature in northern Veracruz’s petroleum landscapes, the boom and bust of the Yucatán henequen trade,deforestation on the slopes of Tlaxcala’s La Malintzín volcano,and the conflicts and contradictions inherent in the very existence of Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. Each contributor’s discoveries further the existing literature and open new paths to research, but these cannot be adequately summarized here.Instead, I recommend the book’s concluding chapter, which dis-tills each earlier chapter’s arguments and highlights their most salient points.
(2014) LaFevor, M. C., Review of Estudio Costero del Suroccidente de México (CIGA-UNAM, 2013) by Donald D. Brand. In The AAG Review of Books 2(3): 113-115.
Excerpt. Donald D. Brand’s Estudio Costero del Suroccidente de México is a highly detailed account of the Pacific coast of the state of Michoacán during the 1950s. El Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental (CIGA; UNAM Morelia campus) recently published the work in Spanish, some fifty years after Brand and his collaborators compiled it. The Spanish translation is easily readable by those proficient in the language, although dictionaries of geomorphological and historical nautical terms might be helpful.
(2013) Hudson, P. F., Sounny-Slitine, A., LaFevor, M. C., A New Longitudinal Approach to Assess Hydrologic Connectivity: Embanked Floodplain Inundation along the Lower MississippiRiver. Hydrological Processes 27: 2187-2196.
Abstract. Hydrologic connectivity is fundamental to understanding floodplain processes along meandering river corridors. This study contributes to understanding hydrologic connectivity by utilizing a high resolution Light Detection and Ranging DEM with anew GIS-based approach for identifying the precise elevation of flood stage. The method created a high-resolution longitudinal channel bank profile, enabling a detailed examination of embanked floodplain hydrologic connectivity. A simple channel cross-section approach is likely to result in a large underestimation of floodplain inundation and hydrologic connectivity along meandering river floodplains because of differences in the elevation of the natural levee surface relative to floodplain bottoms and the considerable variability in the elevation of the channel bank profile. There is a large disparity in discharge duration associated with floodplain inundation in comparison to river channel bank inundation. A discharge duration of 10% is associated with inundation of 87% of the floodplain surface whereas only 53% of the channel bank profile is overtopped. An apparent threshold in inundation occurs as the discharge duration decreases below about 35%. While a duration of 25% results in very little of the channel bank being overtopped, it inundates 50% of the floodplain surface. Floodplain borrow pits, which are created in association with dike construction, represent a constant anthropogenic influence on the lower Mississippi embanked floodplain morphology, and are inundated by low discharge magnitudes. The results of the investigation shed new light on the topic of hydrologic connectivity for an important embanked fluvial system that has previously received little attention concerning its physical floodplain processes.
(2012) LaFevor, M. C., Building a Colonial Resource Monopoly: The Expansion of Sulphur Mining in New Spain (1600-1820). Geographical Review 102(2): 202-224.
Abstract. The discovery, extraction, and monopolistic control of key natural resources was a priority of New Spain’s colonial administration. Managing the region’s abundant resources,however, often proved difficult for the Spanish Crown. Human and environmental challenges impeded proto-industrial growth and development, and monopolistic control of resources often met resistance. In this article I examine these processes in the context of New Spain’s little-known monopoly on sulphura yellow, powdery mineral the Crown jealously guarded as its own. Sulphur was critical for gunpowder and explosives production, yet the Crown often failed to produce enough of it to meet the growing demand by its military and the silver blast-mining industry. Colonial documents reveal administrators’ attempts to improve sulphur production through reform measures, which included advising sulphur miners on how to discover sulphur deposits and, eventually, how to develop their mines. Efforts to improve sulphur production were moderately successful, although the process was messy and inefficient.
(2012) LaFevor, M. C., Sulphur Mining on Mexico's Popocatépetl Volcano (1820-1920): Origins, Development, and Human-Environmental Challenges. Journal of Latin American Geography 11(1): 79-98.
Abstract. This paper traces the origins and development of a little-known extractive industry in nineteenth-century Mexico: volcanic sulphur mining. Unpublished documents from Mexican archives, nineteenth-century travel literature, reports from early scientific expeditions, and historical newspapers provide the bulk of data. Documents show how both Mexican and United States interests – indigenous sulphur miners (azufreros) and venture capitalists – confronted the challenges of mining sulphur from the crater of Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano, at 5,426 meters (17,802 feet) elevation.
(2010) LaFevor, M. C., Review of Cartographic Encounters: Indigenous People and the Mapping of the New World (Reaktion Books, 2009) by John Rennie Short. In Journal of Latin American Geography 9(2): 183-185.
Except. In his latest book John Short explores the roles of indigenous peoples in the exploration and mapping of the New World. In doing so, he interprets “cartographic encounters” more broadly than do previous works, such as Malcolm Lewis’ Cartographic encounters: perspectives on Native American map making and map use (1998). Instead of focusing on the specific role of map-making or cartographic interpretation,Short analyzes the encounter narratives themselves for evidence of indigenous cartographic contributions to exploration. He proposes that a closer (postmodern) re-reading of these narratives reveals that the explorers were more dependent on information gained from indigenous peoples than has been popularly recognized. By highlighting their contributions, Short attempts to dispel what he calls the myths of discovery and exploration, which tend to glorify the ‘discovery’ of the New World by the Europeans. He writes, “The image of the lone, western hero exploring virgin territory is so far off the mark as to be laughable” (p. 127).
(2010) LaFevor, M. C., Mountains and Creative Mexican Maps: From Seminar to Survey. Portal: LLILAS Annual Review 5: 28-31.
Excerpt. In the mountain community of San Nicolás de los Ranchos, Puebla, citizens use maps in creative ways. Every year, families gather on the town plaza to engage in artistic map-making rituals as part of a local government campaign to strengthen a sense of community and regional identity. The small town’s ministry of culture provides the materials and refreshments while school kids and their parents draw representations of their surroundings. Parents begin by tracing the municipal boundaries and surrounding mountains, filling in empty spaces with roadways. With these outlines in place, children map their schools, athletic fields, and other, more abstract images that perhaps only they under-stand. Perceptions of space and place are depicted artistically while geographical knowledge is passed between generations. Families, however, seem to consider the event more for enjoyment and less as a serious educational experience. Regional music plays loudly over the plaza speakers as the children proudly display their creations on the walls of municipal buildings for the entire community to view and enjoy.