Forest Service reseeding burn scar - Albuquerque Journal

Forest Service reseeding burn scar

U.S. Forest Service crews refill a helicopter bucket to spread seeds and mulch across the area burned by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. The project aims to add ground cover to severely-burned areas that are repelling water and causing flash floods. (Courtesy of Daniel R. Patterson/U.S. Forest Service)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s fire season has been particularly destructive this year.

Now, help is on the way from above.

The U.S. Forest Service is using helicopters to drop native plant seeds and mulch over areas northwest of Las Vegas that were badly burned by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire.

The agency’s Burned Area Emergency Response, or BAER, team has evaluated soil and watershed conditions in the burn scar and is now working on post-fire rehab projects.

Olivia Bruce, a BAER team spokesperson, said the crew has seeded about 2,500 acres of forest lands as of Thursday.

“Hopefully, this will mitigate sedimentation and erosion,” Bruce said. “As we get monsoon rains, this new ground cover will help to hold in some of that water.”

Seeding and mulching is focused on the most severely-burned areas.

The northern New Mexico blaze burned across more than 340,000 acres and is 98% contained.

A helicopter lifts off with a load of mulch to spread over areas burned by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that more than 180,000 acres in northern New Mexico sustained moderate or high-severity soil burns. (Courtesy of Daniel R. Patterson/U.S. Forest Service)

Two separate Forest Service burns sparked the fire that became the largest in state history.

Firefighting costs have exceeded $297 million.

A BAER analysis found that more than 180,000 acres sustained moderate or high soil burn severity.

Burned soil repels water, especially on the steep mountain slopes of the Sangre de Cristos.

Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak turned many trees to matchsticks.

Even small rainstorms can send ash and debris flowing downhill.

Residents in and near the wildfire area have endured weeks of flash floods.

Two helicopters from a Colorado-based company are scattering the materials over the burn scar.

The crews truck the materials through Gallinas Canyon to Johnson Mesa. Then the aircraft loads the seeds into buckets and nets and flies over the Gallinas Creek and Tecolote Creek watersheds.

Each flight can carry about 2,000 pounds of native grass seeds and barley.

Mulch helps retain moisture and protect the seeds while they take root, which may require several weeks or months.

The project will likely continue for the next month.

Seeding areas are closed to the public.

“After this is done, we’ll still have folks go out and see what conditions are like on the ground,” Bruce said. “Monitoring regrowth – that will go on for years.”

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