Restoring the Southwest Jemez Forest and Protecting our Favorite Streams

Ron Loehman,
Conservation Chairman

In July 2010, a collaboration of the Santa Fe National Forest and the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and several Pueblo tribes was awarded a ten-year $40 million Federal project to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the Southwest Jemez. The objective is to restore many of the characteristics the forest enjoyed before centuries of overgrazing, logging, and fire suppression produced the landscape we see today of smaller, closely spaced trees that are susceptible to massive crown fires.

After a lot of study, formal environmental assessments, and many public hearings, the collaboration has released its Proposed Action Plan, which is available on the Santa Fe National Forest website http://www.fs.usda.gov/. The project area comprises about 210,000 acres around the middle Jemez river drainage, including all of the Valles Caldera Preserve and it includes many of the streams that New Mexico Trout members know so well.

235A lot of research has shown that before the early 1800’s the southwestern forests were adapted to frequent, small-scale fires that rarely, if ever, reached the calamitous proportions of the Las Conchas fire. (The book, Wildfire, George Wuerthner, ed., Island Press (2006) is a good reference.) The objective of the Action Plan is to get back to that state using a combination of techniques, including mechanical thinning and proscribed burns in the upland areas, and riparian restoration along the streams.

New Mexico Trout members have a big stake in the success of this work. Fire experts have stated that in its present state, it’s not a case of whether the rest of the Jemez will burn, but when. The Las Conchas fire destroyed fish populations in Capulin, Peralta, Frijoles, and San Antonio creeks. Only part of the Rio San Antonio watershed was affected and it seems to be recovering. The others, however, may take a decade before they can again support fish.

Funding for this project is by yearly appropriation of the Federal government.   If you think, as I do, that this is worthwhile, cost-effective, and something the government should support, you can tell that to our senators, Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

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