Our Threatened Jemez Forests

Rep. Jim Hall of White Rock, center, during a workshop in the Jemez last week focused on changing forest management policies based on current forestry science. Courtesy photo

Column by Rep. Jim Hall

I attended a Desired Condition Workshop May 9 and May 10. The workshop was a joint effort of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, the Forest and Watershed Institute at New Mexico Highlands University and the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University.  

The focus was on the changing forest management policies based on current forestry science.  

The workshop included morning presentations, a field trip in the Grants area, and field trips in the Jemez.   

Based on this workshop and the developing changes in forest policy, I can’t emphasize enough the need for local residents to get involved.

Participants gather for the Desired Condition Workshop in the Jemez May 9 and May 10. Courtesy photo

The presentations discussed (1) the science that supports changes in forest management policies, (2) threats to our forests, and (3) the costs and challenges of Forest Service restoration activities in Northern New Mexico. 

Attendees included Forest Service personnel, local citizens, conservation group representatives, state forestry personnel, commercial forest products representatives, a county commissioner and myself.

It came as no surprise to attendees that our forests are in trouble. 

Quotes from scientists:

  • The greater ecosystems of the West are in widespread decline
  • We are in a race with Mother Nature
  • Either we act or bugs, disease, and massive fires will bring these systems back in line… 
  • Beetle and defoliator epidemics are already in the West threatening millions of acres of forest

Those of us who lived through the Cerro Grande and Las Conchas fires understand how serious the situation has become. 

The presentations began with discussions of modern forestry science results. Scientists have made tremendous progress in developing models of past forest conditions and events, and in understanding the roles that different soils, elevation, microclimates, and species play in restoration plans.  

A leader in this science is Craig Allen (who lives in District 43, see http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/10003/10003.pdf  for an example of his research.)

The results of his work and other recent research are summarized in a desired conditions document at http://sweri.eri.nau.edu/docs/DC_Workshop/setting_the_stage.pdf

This document provided background material for workshop presentations and field tours (it has good pictures).

Field tours gave attendees opportunities to observe some restoration work done under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP.)  

The difference between restored sites and unrestored areas of the forest is dramatic.    

Restored sites are characterized by open landscapes of grass and browse interspersed with clumps of trees of different maturities.  

Based on the best records available, these sites closely replicate the sustainable ecosystem that existed before clear cut logging, fire suppression, and overgrazing began in the early 1900’s.  

A view of an area in the Jemez taken during a workshop May 9 and May 10. Courtesy photo

The challenges facing our area are significant: forests need restoration and funding is inadequate. 

The Santa Fe National Forest is about 1.25M acres and restoration costs $250/acre–$1000+/acre—although, of course, not all areas need restoration.  

Coordinated efforts by all parties—public, non-profit, and private—will be required to make significant progress in reducing the risk of continued catastrophic fires, infestations, and disease.   It will be a long, expensive, and challenging effort. 

Those who are interested in more information on upcoming projects should sign up by May 25 for one of three educational field trips into the Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration project area (http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe/jemez_mtn_rest/index.html

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