Bingaman Talks About Reducing Forest Fire Threat

In June, Sen. Jeff Bingaman attended the groundbreaking for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Ptoject, which will bring water to more than 250,000 people and create more than 450 jobs through its construction. Courtesy photo

By U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman:

New Mexico has just experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons in the state’s history.

Just weeks into fire season, firefighters were hard at work battling both our largest fire, Whitewater-Baldy, and most destructive fire ever, Little Bear.

With the arrival of monsoon season, we all hope the worst of the fire season is over. Our task now is to focus on fire prevention.

One important way to do this is by continuing to invest in responsible forest restoration efforts that reduce the threat of wildfires.

Forest restoration includes thinning of small diameter trees and brush; removing invasive, non-native tree species; preserving old and large trees; and erosion control through planting trees in watersheds.

More than a decade ago, I wrote a law that has sent millions of dollars to New Mexico to restore our state’s forested lands.

That law established the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program, or CFRP, which funds community-based forest restoration efforts on public lands.

In every case, the winning grantee submitted an application that demonstrated broad community support for the thinning work to be performed.

Since 2000, nearly $60 million has been invested in restoration projects on a combination of federal, tribal, state, county, and/or municipal forest lands in New Mexico. More than 150 forest restoration projects have been undertaken through CFRP to protect and improve over 25,000 acres across our state.

And we’re seeing tangible results. For instance, during last year’s Los Conchas Fire, 1,500 acres of the Santa Clara Canyon were saved because of a CFRP-backed thinning project that rid the area of potential fuels.

In another success story, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps of Taos cleared small-diameter trees from the Carson National Forest and donated the wood to a community woodlot that provides free firewood to elderly and disabled residents of Taos County to heat their homes during winter months.

Another CFRP project helped the Village of Ruidoso develop plans to manage post-wildfire flood risk and strategies for watershed restoration after the community suffered severe flooding in 2008.

Finally, in my travels to New Mexico during the month of June, I visited two successful CFRP-funded projects. One project, involving the Old Wood flooring company in Las Vegas, uses small-diameter tree materials in floor manufacturing.

This project has the potential to create up to 100 jobs in the area over the next few years.

I also visited the Walker Flats Watershed Improvement Project, which in addition to treating 200 acres of the Mora River watershed, has a goal of educating and developing a forest restoration workforce.

Wood generated from the project will be used to provide firewood for economically challenged communities.

As these examples make clear, preventing forest fires and improving watersheds aren’t the only benefits of CFRP projects. In the last decade, more than 700 jobs have been created through these responsible forest restoration projects.

It is my hope that the CFRP continues to bring together members of our local communities to restore our forests, bolster local economies, and reduce the threat of wildfires in our state.

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