The Forest Service just won’t listen to the public. On Dec. 8, they reinitiated essentially the same Santa Fe Mountains Project Draft Decision that was withdrawn due to the disastrous aftereffects of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, caused by two escaped prescribed burns. The Forest Service caused almost half the forest to the east of Santa Fe to burn, devastating rural communities and seriously damaging Las Vegas’ water supply. It’s as if they’ve swept all this under the rug – an incredibly big pile of devastation and debris under our collective rug. Look at it.
Following the chief’s report concerning the Hermits Peak Fire, which was a litany of Forest Service incapacity and human error in carrying out the Las Dispensas prescribed burn, and of not listening to the locals who were entreating the Forest Service not to burn during a spring high winds pattern, the National Prescribed Fire Program Review was released. The recommendations are mostly procedural, with no real near-term remedy for the lack of agency capacity to carry out prescribed burns safely. Since the review was released, yet another prescribed burn has escaped in Oregon.
The Santa Fe Mountains Project plan is to do prescribed burns right up to wildland/urban interface property lines. Does the Forest Service have the right to jeopardize even more communities and to potentially cause wildfire in yet more of our forest?
Conservation organizations and much of the public have been urging the Forest Service to complete an Environmental Impact Statement for the project, instead of the inadequate environmental assessment. This would allow for a range of alternatives to be considered, instead of just two alternatives – “do the project as proposed,” or “don’t do the project.”
Alternatives could be developed, with the assistance of conservation organizations, that actually support a healthier forest and help to genuinely protect communities from wildfire. Measures could be considered to hold moisture into the forest and make it naturally more resilient and less impacted by wildfire. Even if a conservation alternative contained some very light-handed and limited thinning and burning treatments, the primary focus could be on genuine restoration. And there could be consideration of parameters to safely implement prescribed burns in our local dry forest, and of the public health impacts of the smoke.
The underlying paradigm that the Santa Fe Mountains Project embodies is to perpetually stunt the forest ecosystem so there’s much less vegetation, in order to moderate wildfire behavior, and to promote “resiliency.” It’s an interesting take on the word resiliency to mean creating human-designed novel landscapes that resemble savanna more than forest. And it’s questionable if the treated areas are more resistant to wildfire. In some cases such highly treated areas burn just as much, or more. The science is contested.
The Forest Service can do so much better. Why do they refuse to consider anything but the outdated treatments they have been implementing for decades, with little success, and have caused severe ecological damage to our fragile forest, and detrimental impacts to public health?
It is unconscionable that after the disaster they created, the Forest Service is relentlessly forging ahead with the same dysfunctional paradigm that is harming our forest, our communities, and our health. Please email elected representatives and request that they support an Environmental Impact Statement – see https://www.theforestadvocate.org/officials/