Just in case you have a short memory or haven’t lived in fabulous New Mexico for very long, here’s a painful reminder of the past. Twenty-two years ago a so-called “controlled burn” near Bandelier National Monument was whipped into a firestorm by the annually occurring high winds of May. Just about everyone who lives in the Land of Enchantment knows the winds blow hard in April and May – but apparently, no one ever told the heads-in-the-sand Forest Service managers. And the state was, as it is now, locked in a seemingly unending drought. More than 400 families living in nearby Los Alamos lost their homes in the 43,000-acre fire.
Now we’re dealing with a two-fire conflagration that’s already consumed over 315,000 acres and an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 structures. Not included in this devastating statistic is the loss of an untold number of tractors, harvesters and related farm and ranching equipment. The toll on those directly and personally impacted is beyond calculation. And we haven’t even begun to consider, much less try to tally, the irreplaceable loss of wildlife and watershed that’s undoubtedly occurred.
These three fires have one thing in common – the United State Forest Service is to blame, for they have publicly admitted the controlled burn they couldn’t contain became the Hermits Peak Fire, and a “pile burn” they failed to monitor properly became the Calf Canyon Fire.
How long will New Mexicans remain the victims of USFS management incompetence?
Have you ever attended a public meeting hosted by the USFS during which they lay out their plans for thinning and “controlled burns?” Sometimes, but not always, they produce charts that “prove” their decision-making is in the best interests of the public and the forests, but rarely are those claims backed up by modern, hard science. They’ll happily point to their supporters from the Forest Stewards Guild, an organization with an environmentally friendly sounding name, without ever acknowledging the guild receives financial compensation for its involvement in projects euphemistically called “forest restoration.”
The first listing in the Forest Service’s mission statement reads, “Advocating a conservation ethic in promoting the health, productivity, diversity and beauty of forests and associated lands.” I studied the entire document but couldn’t find anything that states “We’ll use our bureaucratic power to ignore the will of the public while our incompetence will be demonstrated by our ongoing destruction of the very forests we’re charged with protecting.”
It is beyond time for the arrogance and incompetence of the USFS to be called into question or, at the very least, for their off-the-wall decisions in starting these un-controlled burns in April and May to be ended. In fact, it’s beyond time for the USFS to put all plans for such burns, as well as for ill-advised “restoration projects” more properly titled “destruction projects,” on permanent hold.
Every New Mexican and every American is paying the price for the incompetence of the very people we’ve entrusted with the protection and preservation of our national forests. How much longer will it go on before the public demands it stops? Oh, right. It will stop after the few remaining trees are nothing but charred stumps.