As the Gila National Forest supervisor, I participated on Thursday, Nov. 3, in a public meeting – along with representatives from the New Mexico Environment Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – regarding cleanup of the asphalt emulsion spill in Jaybird Canyon.
Struck by the close personal connection to the land expressed by so many members of the community, I felt impressed and grateful for the participants’ passion and care for the forest, its waters, living systems and the Earth itself. I commend the volunteers who reported the spill and stepped up to initiate the cleanup – without your vigilance, the spill impacts would have been even worse and the responsible party might never have been known. You are an asset to the Gila National Forest.
I share many of the public’s concerns, and my staff and I have asked the same questions that I heard during the meeting. I don’t believe that an acceptable answer can be given to the question why the spill was not reported properly. But I am committed to reviewing internal Forest Service procedures and working with other agency partners to clarify the need to report spills – of any kind – that affect forest resources; to clarify and improve protocols for interagency reporting, and for close coordination around projects and activities affecting National Forest System lands.
The initial phase of cleanup is not complete. Additional small rocks and forest debris with adhered asphalt can and will be removed. Given the location of the spill, the classification of emulsified asphalt as hazardous or not is immaterial. The fact is that it does not belong in Jaybird Canyon. My expectation is that it will be removed from the forest to the extent that it can be without causing greater damage. This is an iterative process and it will take time for all the loose material to be removed.
My team will continue to work with New Mexico Environment Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and R. Marley Trucking to monitor effectiveness of check dams or other installed features, and remove them as necessary, conduct stream restoration as needed, improve erosion control, seed along trails, and monitor water and soil conditions. And I welcome further engagement from the community as we navigate the road ahead.