Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Group Proposes Innovative Partnership with Forest Service to Restore Forest and Watershed Health
“We believe some partnerships with the Forest Service and local communities can restore degraded forests,” said Bryan Bird of WildEarth Guardians. “Road decommissioning and strategic thinning would improve water quality, create safer communities and provide the opportunity to return natural fire regimes to New Mexico’s forests.”
The Santa Fe National Forest has the highest road density of any forest in the Southwest Region and exceeds the recommended density set by the Department of Interior of 1.5 km/km2 (2.5 mi/mi2) for properly functioning watersheds. Because roads have been shown to contribute significantly to soil impacts, water quality impacts, wildlife habitat impacts and increased human fire ignitions; maintaining approved road densities is critical for forest restoration efforts to be complete and effective. Wildfire frequency and seasonality are related to road density. Also because fuel breaks around communities based on existing roads can serve as defensible space, strategic thinning along roads is considered necessary for wildfire management.
The ‘Community Forest Restoration Act’ sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman provides incentives for collaborative forest restoration projects on National Forest System lands in New Mexico. The Act creates annual grants up to $450K over four years to create collaborative partnerships that promote healthy watersheds and reduce the threat of large, high intensity wildfires, insect infestation, and disease in the forests in New Mexico.
“In northern New Mexico we must learn to live with natural processes such as fire that keep our forests healthy,” said Bird. “Safeguarding communities and preparing for fire is economically efficient and sets a positive course for the future.”
Several other partners would be participating in the collaborative forest restoration project in northern New Mexico including the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and the Acequia Mesa del Medio Association, if the funds are secured. The partnership would facilitate skills training and a forest restoration infrastructure that would be permanently in place for future projects. There is decades of restoration work ahead in New Mexico’s forests and building the workforce capacity to accomplish the work is critical.
“WildEarth Guardians recognizes the huge potential for family-wage jobs and income associated with forest restoration in northern New Mexico,” Said Bird. “We are committed to finding the common ground where projects protect communities, restore water quality, and prepare for the inevitability of fire. There will be jobs associated with this work.”