15-Year Plan Calls for Burning 74,000 Acres North of Los Alamos (NM)

Doagy Fire. Wildland firefighters in New Mexico work to put out the Doagy Fire. Photo by Avi Farber, BLM contract photographer. Original public domain image from Flickr

Scott Wyland
The Santa Fe New Mexican
(TNS)

Apr. 1—The federal government plans to conduct large-scale tree thinning and prescribed burns northwest of Los Alamos in a 10- to 15-year project intended to enhance forest lands and watersheds while reducing wildfire risks.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to burn 74,000 acres, thin more than 26,000 acres and allow commercial logging on about 7,200 acres over the next 15 years in the northern Santa Fe National Forest.

In what the agency is calling the Encino Vista restoration project, crews will remove a volume of trees and vegetation that supporters say is needed to make an overgrown forest less flammable.

Critics, however, say the project is too aggressive.

The agency also will remove or improve old logging roads, some carved into the landscape decades ago, to prevent storm runoff from eroding hillsides and carrying sediment into waterways.

See also  New Mexico Wildfire 75 Percent Contained

The public can comment until April 15 on the environmental assessment the agency conducted for the project in the Coyote Ranger District.

“In general it’s an important project in an important area,” said Eytan Krasilovsky, deputy director of the Forest Stewards Guild, which aids public land managers in reducing wildfire risks. “As an organization, we support this kind of work.”

The project is part of a larger effort by the 2-3-2 Cohesive Strategy Partnership to bolster forests, water quality, wildlife habitat and communities in the region, Krasilovsky said.

The organization’s name denotes two states, New Mexico and Colorado, collaborating to improve the health of two watersheds and three rivers — the San Juan, Rio Chama and Rio Grande.

Crews will reintroduce fire into forests that have become too packed with fuels, which make them serious wildfire threats, Krasilovsky, said. Decreasing the risks is especially important around communities bordering forests, he added.

The plan calls for conducting prescribed burns on up to 8,000 acres a year and thinning 2,000 acres yearly.

See also  Boy Scout Ranch Focuses in Wildfire Recovery as Season Nears

One conservationist said the pace would be too fast, especially as climate change dries out the landscape and creates tighter windows to safely burn — as the historic Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire showed two years ago.

“Because of the drying climate, they don’t have days where conditions are just right,” said Sarah Hyden, co-founder of Forest Advocate. “They’re trying to do something that doesn’t add up — burn more with less good burn days.”

Compounding the hazards is the plan’s lack of preventive measures to keep a planned burn from escaping the lines and turning into a wildfire, Hyden said.

She called the overall plan aggressive. Thinning 2,000 acres a year seems excessive, both in how much tree cover it will reduce and the slash piles it will generate that will require burning, she said.

Crews tend to overdo thinning, she said, whacking down much of the canopies and leaving behind scattered trees or sickly stands, leaving weeds to overtake healthy undergrowth.

See also  Progress Made on New Mexico Wildfires

The result “doesn’t look like a healthy Southwest forest,” Hyden said. “It looks barren and unnatural.”

Hyden said she supports decommissioning roads and reseeding them so they no longer cause torrential runoff, erosion and contaminated streams. But that probably will be a small part of the project, with most of the focus on cutting and burning, she said.

She said she’s concerned about the plan to install six miles of temporary roads. Although the Forest Service says the roads will be removed after the project is finished, she’s skeptical that will happen.

Commercial logging is also worrisome, she said, because the crews can take out trees up to 2 feet in diameter.

“Those are huge trees,” Hyden said.

Krasilovsky contends the project as a whole is well thought out.

There’s always some risk in igniting prescribed fires, but crews are taking more precautions now, he said, adding letting forests grow denser with fuels is riskier.

“Being proactive about it carries less risk than ignoring it,” he said.

___

(c)2024 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Topics

Subscribe to Our Monthly Newsletter

Stay in the loop with our wildland newsletter.

Scott Wyland The Santa Fe New Mexican (TNS) Apr. 1—The federal government plans to conduct large-scale tree thinning and prescribed burns northwest of Los Alamos in a 10- to 15-year project intended to enhance forest lands and watersheds while reducing wildfire risks. The U.S. Forest Service plans to burn 74,000 acres, thin more than 26,000 […]

Get The Wildland Firefighter Newsletter

Related Articles

Reckless Burning Charge Against Federal Burn Boss Dismissed

Reckless Burning Charge Against Federal Burn Boss Dismissed

JAYSON JACOBY - Baker City Herald, Ore. Criminal charges have been dismissed against Ricky Lane Snodgrass, the U.S. Forest Service employee charged with reckless burning after overseeing a prescribed fire in Grant County in October 2022. Charges were moved from Grant...