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Lifting of firewood ban sought

Larry Martinez from Española hand lights a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe watershed in 2015 for the U.S. Forest Service. The forest service is seeking clarification on the scope of an injunction suspending the sale of fuel wood. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation has asked the U.S. Forest Service to take immediate action to resolve a court ruling that has halted all timber management on New Mexico’s national forests, including prescribed fires and firewood collection.

WildEarth Guardians, the group that brought the lawsuit, meanwhile, has responded to the statewide backlash and asked the District Court of Arizona to exclude cutting and collection of firewood from the list of prohibited timber management activities.

The decision was the result of a WildEarth Guardians lawsuit alleging the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service had not adequately monitored populations of the Mexican Spotted Owl as required under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland, and Xochitl Torres Small, all New Mexico Democrats, wrote to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen on Friday.

“We strongly encourage the Forest Service and other parties to the lawsuit to work quickly to respond to the ruling and resolve a variety of issues, including, but not limited to, traditional firewood gathering, tribal cultural activities, and forest restoration and fire mitigation projects,” the lawmakers wrote. “We likewise strongly urge the Forest Service to undertake the action necessary to comply with the Endangered Species Act to allow the resumption of forest activities and minimize impacts to traditional uses and projects that improve the long-term health of the forest.”

Laura McCarthy, State Forester with the New Mexico State Forestry Division, decried the ruling but said there are alternatives while the injunction is in place.

“This court ruling is causing confusion and concern for many New Mexicans who rely on timber from our national forests for firewood to heat their homes in the fall and winter,” McCarthy said. “While State Forestry does not have jurisdiction over National Forest System Lands managed by the USDA Forest Service, we can offer options and will do everything we can to help until there is a resolution.”

The Santa Fe National Forest’s Cuba and Jemez Ranger districts are issuing firewood collection permits for use on BLM lands only. Permits are also available for certain areas from the Bureau of Land Management, the New Mexico State Land Office, the Village of Corrales and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. NMForestry.com has a full list of agencies providing permits.

Local firewood salespersons said Thursday they were told by state agencies that it may be months before the issue is resolved in court.

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