Forest Service says thinning project delayed by enviromental groups
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Environmentalists say they’re out to protect endangered species, watersheds and human habitations in forested areas but their critics counter by saying they’re making a flammable situation worse.
The debate has taken on a sharper edge in New Mexico as the state has already battled the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire that set a state record for most square acres burned and the Little Bear Fire in the Ruidoso area that wiped out nearly 250 homes.Now comes this story from the Ruidoso News:
Damage from the Little Bear Fire could have been reduced if a proposed Forest Service thinning project had not been delayed by an appeal from two environmental groups, a Forest Service official said Tuesday.
“Any type of treatment we could have done would have reduced the severity of the fire,” said Chad Stewart, fire and timber officer for the Lincoln National Forest. While the fire as a whole could not have been stopped by thinning efforts, especially in the face of 40 mph wind gusts, damage to the Bonito watershed likely would have been greatly reduced, he said.
The thinning project, aimed at 11,600 acres surrounding Bonito Lake was delayed by an appeal from the two environmental groups in late 2011.
… [Bryan Bird, an ecologist with the Santa Fe-based group WildEarth Guardians,] added that with the shift in typical conditions in the Southwest to a dryer, drought-ridden landscape, he questioned whether thinning would be effective, or feasible in the backcountry. “The bottom line is that you can fire-proof a community, but you can’t fire-proof a forest,” he said.
Click here to read the entire Ruidoso News story.
On Wednesday (June 27), state Sen. Phil Griego (D-San Jose) said the state legislature’s Water and Natural Resources Committee will discuss forest thinning and strategies for fighting wildfires in October.
“You have interest groups out there that say, ‘you can’t do that because of the spotted owl, you can’t do that because of the lizard.’ But all of a sudden, you have a fire like Ruidoso that takes place, or the place in the Gila, or like in Los Alamos and it destroys everything — the houses, the habitat, the animal, everything,” Griego told Capitol Report New Mexico. “Now if you allow the Forest Service to come in a clean up the forests, you may disrupt the habitat of the spotted owl or the lizard but they will have an opportunity to move and go some place else. But with a fire, it’s completely destroyed. It makes absolutely no sense … You need more thinning, more cleaning.”
Griego points to the Mescalero Indian Reservation and its thinning projects that have been used extensively on its tribal lands as a possible model for the Forest Service to adopt.
That echoes comments of Gov. Susana Martinez, who talked to us earlier this week:
Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) sent out a news release Friday (June 29), callling on Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee to hold an emergency hearing to address fire risk and suppression, especially on federally-owned and managed lands — including discussion over thinning.
“We have seen the damage that catastrophic wildfires have had on New Mexico,” Rep. Luján (D-NM) said in the press release, adding that he’s introduced the Forest Stewardship and Fire Fuels Reduction Act of 2012, which is a 10-year reauthorization of a federal program aimed at reducing overgrown vegetation in forests that “contribute to the intensity and devastation of wildfires.”
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Ben Ray Lujan, Capitol Report New Mexico, Forest Stewardship and Fire Fuels Reduction Act, House Natural Resoruces Committee, Little Bear Fire, Mescalero Indian Reservation, Phil Griego, Ruidoso News, Susana Martinez, US Forest Service, Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire