Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Plan Would Close Some SF Forest Roads
That density, the highest of any Southwestern national forest, puts the district out of compliance with its management plan, which seeks to keep road densities under 2.5 miles per square mile of forest for optimal watershed health.
“The primary concern is that we simply have more roads than we can maintain, and we have more roads than we need,” said Coyote Ranger District resource planner John Phillips.
In about a month, the cash-strapped district will release for public review its proposal for reducing road density- which degrades water quality and wildlife habitat- by decommissioning 355 miles of road and closing another 111 miles over the next 10-15 years.
In the meantime, the WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe-based environmental group better known for its lawsuits against the Forest Service over land management decisions, is looking to work cooperatively with the agency to help close and decommission unneeded roads through a unique forest restoration program created by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
WildEarth Guardians’ partners would include the Coyote Ranger District, local fire departments, the Acequia Mesa del Medio Association and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
If accepted, the Forest Guardian proposal would funnel about $240,000 federal dollars into the district to help get the road closure and decommissioning plan under way. Those federal dollars would be matched by about $60,000 from the WildEarth Guardians in time and resources.
Unique to New Mexico, the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program was created under the federal Community Forest Restoration Act of 2000, which was sponsored by Bingaman. The program is designed to improve ecosystem health by reducing tree density, not road density.
The idea of applying the federal funding to road closure as a means of restoring forest health is new.”This is really pushing the envelope of forest restoration,” Bryan Bird, forest program coordinator for the WildEarth Guardians, said about the group’s proposal, which includes thinning small diameter trees on either side of decommissioned roads.
“You can’t restore forest health simply by thinning trees alone,” he said.
Roads are a major contributor to degraded stream water quality due to heightened erosion and runoff, and they also adversely affect wildlife, Bird said.
Another consequence of high road densities is human-caused fires. Studies suggest as many as three-quarters of human-caused fires start within 265 feet of roads.
“You get fires starting at the wrong time in the wrong place,” Bird said, noting the proposal would mean an overall reduction in management costs to the district due to reduced fire fighting costs.
Bird said the communities of Coyote, Mesa Poleo and Gallina would benefit from strategic fuel breaks created by tree thinning along the decommissioned roads.
Phillips said the proposal has merit, though at first he thought it might be a stretch to make road closure and decommissioning fit into the forest restoration grant program.
But after working with WildEarth Guardians and Bird, Phillips said he thinks that the proposal fits well with the goals of the district to reduce road density, decrease fire hazards and restore forest health while contributing to the area’s economy.
“The good thing is we can decommission some roads and improve forest conditions while supporting the local community infrastructure,” he said.
Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal – Reprinted with permission