For the first time in a decade, the state has released a broad forest management plan that looks at how to restore and fortify woodlands and watersheds amid the threats of climate change, increased wildfire risks and encroaching urban growth.

State officials are touting key changes in the 2020 New Mexico Forest Action Plan that they say will make it more effective than the first version crafted in 2010.

The U.S. Forest Service requires each state to come up with a forest action plan every 10 years under the federal farm bill.

This time around, the state is collaborating with federal agencies, tribes, nonprofits, conservation groups and private landholders rather than going it alone, State Forester Laura McCarthy said.

“Since 2010, it’s become obvious that no single agency can fully address the impacts of climate change and other forces on our forests and watersheds, and that we all need to work together,” McCarthy said.

This collaboration enables the state Forestry Division to better carry out the 2019 Agreement for Shared Stewardship between the state and Forest Service, she added.

The shared stewardship pact aims to boost cooperation between state and federal agencies, especially in dealing with escalating challenges brought on by climate change — longer wildfire seasons, more severe droughts, depleted waterways, diminished wildlife habitat and threats to residents living near forests.

In an email, Forest Service spokesman Shayne Martin agreed the agencies are working to align their resources on the forest action plan. “Our shared goal is to reduce the risk from wildfire, protect communities and better address the ever increasing effects of climate change,” Martin wrote.

The action plan seeks to go even further and cover lands owned by other entities, McCarthy said, noting the Nature Conservancy, nine pueblos and the New Mexico Forest Industry Association are among the dozens of diverse partners.

McCarthy noted their participation in the plan is voluntary.

“The point is to have a shared vision of what we need to accomplish together in terms of the future we want for New Mexico’s forests and watersheds,” she said.

The plan aligns with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2019 executive order to combat climate change. A working group was created from the order on how to manage forests effectively under a changing climate, McCarthy said.

Two basic principles will be applied to this end, she said: avoiding catastrophic wildfires and adding more trees to absorb carbon emissions, both through reforestation and expanding the state’s woodlands.

Crews are collecting seeds, including from ponderosa pines, that could be used in genetic research to produce a tree that could withstand whatever the climate conditions are in the year 2100, McCarthy said.

The state also has adopted the Forest Service’s methods for protecting and restoring areas around rivers and streams, she said. The forest plan calls for applying the methods in state forests.

A Santa Fe environmental group that is not among the state’s partners but is familiar with the plan gave the new version a mixed review.

“I think this plan is a really positive step — it’s also not the gold standard for 21st-century forest management,” said Madeleine Carey, conservation specialist for WildEarth Guardians.

Carey thinks there is still too much emphasis on trying to reduce wildfire risk and not enough on combating climate change.

The plan refers to wildfires 178 times versus 62 times for climate change, Carey said. Forest health is mentioned only a dozen times, she said.

Tree thinning and prescribed burns don’t guarantee wildfires won’t ignite and spread, Carey said, noting last year’s raging wildfires in Oregon blazed across clear-cut meadows because of dry vegetation and high winds.

She also noted the Forest Service’s riparian plan, which the state is emulating, is being reviewed by the Biden administration because it might be too industry friendly.

“These forestry departments are rooted in the production of timber,” Carey said. “So it’s a really big shift to go from saying, ‘We’re going to manage for timber harvest’ to say, ‘We’re going to manage for the biologic integrity and biodiversity of these forest systems in the face of climate change.’ ”

Still, she applauded McCarthy for basing the plan much more on science than it was in the past.

McCarthy said reforestation will be a priority.

The state, she said, is looking into a reforestation technique that is more selective and surgical in how trees are planted.

For instance, in a 30,000-acre burn scar left by the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, crews will plant seeds in pockets where water collects so the trees will thrive. That beats the traditional method of mass planting trees in dry, barren areas where they won’t grow at all, she said.

“This is the kind of strategy that’s in this plan,” McCarthy said.

(6) comments

Emmy Koponen

correction: 91.3 square miles not 9.1.

Karen Weber

With the drought that we are experiencing in the southwest, and as stated in a recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican to be the worse in over 100 years and expected to get worse, with this changing climate and the increased encroachment of humans in wild areas, it seems to me that wildfires will occur more frequently and of higher intensity. I hope this shared stewardship group will also address the issue of land use, of sensibly responding to the wilderness urban interface, not only for mitigating private homes from wildfire as important as that is, but also where building can occur. According to the Insurance Information Institute in 2018 there were 4.5 million homes in high risk fire areas in the United States. I can only imagine there are millions more now with the rate of expansion that is happening. Unfortunately, we seem as a species to be very short-sighted and with little regard for leaving wild places as they are.

Emmy Koponen

Thankfully it appears that questioning authority of the FS and The Nature Conservancy among others is finally alighting. Our forests are the source of water, air and life in general here. The crime of ruining years of protected earth to poison the air through chemically ignited fake fires, which incidentally are hardly the tiny flames indicated in the photos since they have been seen for miles as we inhale the toxic residue.

We are in a precarious state. Having worked for the forest circus, they used to have $ to burn and there was good information. Now the Fire Service would be a more descriptive term.

I started reading the 170+ page 2020 forest draft plan which public comments have been closed for months now. Only the choir of the Forest Stewards Guild, Nature Conservancy, and others cajoled by them , will profit.

Our air quality is poor enough. 200+ years of ground cover cannot be replaced by struggling Ponderosa seeds in the name of reforestation. Diversity is the key to a healthy forest.

So happy to read the comment above.

We only need one percent of people to stand up to this insanity.

Burning larger and larger swaths in the forest is hardly protection. Or restoration. Surgical thinning as Dominique DellaSalla of the IPCC said, would be possible but have we any surgeons in the FS or in the juvenile or prison crews?

Please promote alternatives. Sandbags are put on shores since a tsunami cannot be stopped. Fires do get unstoppable and burning the forests intentionally is really backfiring in all creatures and plant life.

Mandi Ravan

Las Cochas one of our largest fires:huge, caused by downed power lines, as are a large proportion of 'wildfires': burying power lines =solution.

84% of fires are human-caused- even when the forests are tinder, they need the spark humans provide, almost all of the time. Stop human fire-starting, why do we refuse to curb deadly human behavior?

We are willing to burn down our forests to save them (currently ForestService has admitted what they pre-burn in the Jemez, and most of NewMexico, will not return as forest, but as grassland!)- but we refuse to invest in them with sensors, uv spark detectors, drones and all other 21st century tech and approaches?

We cannot afford to lose our mature, slow-growing forest. Optimal carbon capture by ponderosas is at 59-90 years old- New Mexico cannot afford to destroy or weaken our established ponderosas, nor will we be able to replace their ideal carbon capture, under ClimateChange. Don't irrevocably destroy our forests, protect them!

PG&E caused 1500 wildfires in CA over 6 years-

Tom Ribe

Mandi is incorrect that "pre burned" forests are converted to grasslands. Pre-burn is not a term professionals use so it's hard to know what Mandi means. Prescribed fires do not result in forest conversions. They result in stronger, older trees with more diverse plant life on the forest floor.

Emmy Koponen

Tom Ribe, With the 550 acre Pacheco , the 4,300 acre Rowe Mesa, and the current 997 Cuba prescribed burns, how possibly can such areas totaling 9.1 sq miles, recover in this climate time of heat, drought, insect and animal decline? the trees and fauna were already tackling so much pollution . Our skies and air quality depend on purification and air currents, not too cheery that Fukashima affects us to. These burns are terrible timing with Covid also.

The older trees do not exist alone. In the name of defending diversity stop these giant prescribed burns.

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