SANTA FE – Prescribed burns are well underway on U.S. Forest Service land in New Mexico.
The Forest Service has conducted pile burns, a kind of prescribed burn carried out in the snowiest months, in three of the state’s five national forests: Lincoln, Cibola and Gila.
Cibola National Forest Fire Fuels and Aviation Staff Officer Matt Rau said crews have conducted two prescribed burns in recent weeks, with the first taking place in the Red Canyon Campground area of the Mountainair Ranger District.
“That was quite successful. In fact, crews are still out there, monitoring those and making sure that they’re staying put,” he said.
The Forest Service conducted the second in the Sandia Ranger District, which was paused due to poor ventilation. He said they hope to restart that operation next Tuesday.
Spokesperson Punky Moore said the Forest Service has completed over 1,300 acres of burns so far this fiscal year, which began in October, including 270 acres of broadcast burns and about 1,100 acres of pile burns.
“As we resumed our prescribed fire programs, we were met with a cooler and wetter winter than last year,” Moore said via email. “The precipitation is much needed, but it can hamper our plans as fire managers prepare for their projects.”
She said in some forests, like the Gila, there is too much snow to access some project areas.
Gila National Forest Spokesperson Maribeth Pecotte said crews have burn plans for a few areas in the Glenwood and Reserve ranger districts and expect information soon about more from the Silver City Ranger District.
In the Santa Fe National Forest, plans are underway for a pile burn that will start as early as next Wednesday near N.M. 126.
And Spokesperson Zach Behrens said the Carson National Forest is waiting for good conditions for smoke ventilation to arrive to begin its only planned pile burn this year near Hopewell Lake in the Tres Piedras Ranger District. This year of prescribed fires comes on the heels of a 90-day national pause last year following the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. Two prescribed burns merged after getting out of control, resulting in the largest fire in state history. The fire lasted four months and destroyed hundreds of homes in the Las Vegas area.
After the pause, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore gave new recommendations for prescribed burns that New Mexico national forests now follow. They include more thorough reviews of weather and environmental conditions and daily authorizations on burns. The recommendations are meant to address conditions that become less predictable each year due to climate change.
Rau, with the Cibola National Forest, said that means the process looks a little different, but it’s not too much of a lift.
“We know we’re in the spotlight and we just have to hold our heads high and know that we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to be prepared and prevent an unintended outcome.”