County commissioners urge USFS to conduct EIS on 50,000-acre fuel processing project in New Mexico

Map of the Santa Mountains Resilience Landscape Project
Map of the Resilience Landscape Project in the Santa Fe Mountains.

The Santa Fe County Board of Commissioners in New Mexico passed a resolution Tuesday urging the US Forest Service and the Santa Fe National Forest to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a very large planned fuel management project.

The 50,566-acre Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resilience Project will include specific fire and vegetation treatments on 36,680 acres to improve ecosystem resilience by reducing carrier density, perennial continuity and homogeneity, and increasing diverse forest structure across the landscape. A minimum of 750 acres per year will be treated with manual or mechanical vegetation loosening and no more than 4,000 acres per year will be treated with a defined fire within the project’s 15-20 year time frame.

The Forest Service went through the less complex Environmental Assessment (EA) process, which included a draft Environmental Assessment, public awareness, and acceptance of comments, and then released a Finding No Significant Impact (FONSI) report that they feel enables the project to be implemented.

But after three scheduled burning projects in the Santa Fe National Forest have spiraled out of control since 2018 and had to be turned into wildfires, some locals are concerned about future projects in the forest.

The current 341,735-acre Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire is the result of two described fires that escaped control earlier this year in the Santa Fe National Forest. One of them was a radio burn through the control lines during strong winds. The other arose from leaning piles ignited in late January that continued to burn for months. In mid-April, one or more of these mounds became very active during strong winds and merged with the others that escaped the fire on April 22nd. The fire destroyed at least 400 homes, forced up to 18,000 people to evacuate their properties, and cost more than $248 million in firefighting expenses.

In 2018, another mound burning project in Santa Fe escaped months after it caught fire and had to be turned into a wildfire. Facilitated learning analysis found that “communication” and “preparedness for specific fire and hazard” were common themes.

On Tuesday, delegates voted unanimously for the USFS to go through the EIS process, which takes much longer than EA’s and can be an expensive process.

The resolution states that “people who perform planned burn operations are taking unacceptable risks because they are under pressure to get the job done.” “EIS is appropriate because EA … has not detected or analyzed significant impacts on resources from runaway arson caused by global warming and increased precision fuels.”

The resolution asks the USFS to cease all prescribed burns in the proposed project area “until a greater understanding has been achieved and the associated risk reduction provided by these reviews”.

USFS documentation related to the project can be found here.

Thanks and a tip of the hat out to Sarah.

author: Bill Jaber

After working full-time in prairie fires for 33 years, he continues to learn, striving to be a student of fire. View all posts by Bill Gabert

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