Uncharacteristic wildfires can be devastating to natural resources and our communities. This year’s fire season is showing us that firsthand.
Too many trees and unhealthy forest conditions, a dry winter and spring, above-average temperatures, low humidity and near constant wind events created extremely dry vegetation that was ready to burn. If you live in the Southwest, it’s easy to realize these conditions favor a potentially long and difficult fire season.
And we got it – but we, in the wildland fire business, were ready. And here’s why.
We took actions to help prevent fire starts and protect both human life and the forests. We restricted campfires and other activities when fire risks increased, and closed forests when conditions became extreme. We brought in firefighters and equipment three to four weeks early and made sure helicopters and air tankers were in close proximity.
Restrictions, closures and securing resources early are not cure-alls. We need each of you to take personal responsibility to stop fires from starting.
We are fortunate to have committed individuals both inside and outside the Forest Service, who risk their lives every day to minimize the impact of wildfires. With nearly 200,000 acres burned this spring on forests in New Mexico (and more each day); hundreds of threatened homes and businesses have been saved.
Many communities including Mayhill, Ruidoso and Queen have been threatened by various fires.
Despite extreme fire behavior, we saved the majority of homes, losing three in the Mayhill Fire, five in the White Fire and one in the Last Chance Fire. Heroic efforts of local, state and federal firefighters were aided in these successes by the previous removal of trees to thin forests in and around communities.
Many individual homeowners worked hard to “firewise” their homes. Thinning done around Mayhill and Ruidoso can be credited with protecting those communities from the Mayhill and White fires. Efforts to thin forests around communities paid off.
Fire is a natural and important part of southwestern forest ecosystems, so we will never eliminate all impacts from fire. But we can and are striving to minimize those undesirable impacts by restoring our forests to a more healthy condition.
We have accomplished good things, but they aren’t nearly enough.
We need innovative thinking, committed partners and a vibrant wood products industry to achieve our goal and overcome financial and other challenges we face. Federal resources alone will never be sufficient.
We need you to observe restrictions and closures and do your best to make your homes defensible (see www.firewise.org).
The Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration project in northern New Mexico and the 16 Springs Stewardship project in southern New Mexico are two examples of what we can do when we work together.
The Southwest Jemez project is a collaborative, landscape-scale initiative designed to restore fire-adapted ecosystems on 210,000 acres in northern New Mexico. Together, with a diverse group of stakeholders, the Santa Fe Forest is working toward restoration of this landscape across forest, National Park Service, state, private and tribal lands.
The 16 Springs Stewardship is a partnership between the Lincoln Forest and the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The goal of the project is to improve forest health and reduce hazardous fuels and associated fire risk to tribal lands, the community of 16 Springs, the Village of Ruidoso – rated the most at-risk community in New Mexico and number two in the nation – and forested lands.
I ask for your support, your energy and your ideas to help us meet this challenge. We stand ready with your help – to both fight fires and to restore forest health to make fires a more manageable part of the future.
Photo Credit – Photo Credit