Time is running out for public comment on plans that will be used to manage our national forests for years to come. In New Mexico, national forests make up millions of acres — that’s a chunk of land, important to every resident of our state.
Containing surface and groundwater, acres of critical wildlife habitat, migratory corridors and other resources, the stewardship of these forests is more important than ever given changing climate and the push to develop into wild areas. The forests need protection, too, whether from companies that seek to exploit them or an administration bent on extracting the public’s treasure for profit.
That’s why people who have something to say about managing these forests need to speak up, because the Carson (1,390,885 acres), Cibola (1,616,435 acres) and Santa Fe National Forests (1,544,748 acres) all are revising forest plans, the guide to how the forests will operate for the next 20 years or so. The plan is open for comments through Thursday.
Current forest plans date back to the 1980s, meaning the updates are overdue. But details matter, and as we look at the preliminary proposals, we know that public comments will improve the final plans in all three forests.
People can examine the document — go to the website for the specific forest to find the plan you want to address — and decide what to suggest. We’d start with pointing out the need for additional wilderness areas, keeping alive the eligibility of wild and scenic rivers, and pushing for better management of wildlife corridors. The ability of wild animals to navigate without being mowed down by human activity is crucial if we plan to protect species.
New Mexico is a leader in this area, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing the first-in-the-nation Wildlife Corridors Act earlier this year. That legislation directs the Department of Game and Fish and Department of Transportation to work together to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions throughout the state. The U.S. Forest Service plans for managing the forest need to address wildlife corridors, with state and federal governments working together on this important initiative.
Specifically in the different forests, we would point to the Carson plan, which falls short in wilderness designation. Left out are wildlands such as the Cruces Basin, the Valle Vidal and the northern Pecos regions. The forest also would strip the wild and scenic eligibility of 62 segments of rivers and streams, potentially opening them to degradation while threatening the recreational interests and livelihoods of thousands of New Mexicans.
Then there is the proposal for the Santa Fe National Forest, which needs protection from hard-rock mining so that traditional and recreational uses can continue without negative impact. Over at the Cibola, managers could expand the Withington and Apache Kid Wilderness areas, creating connected corridors in the San Mateo Mountains. Current recommendations aren’t large enough to make a difference in protecting species.
But read the plans and see for yourselves. There’s a lot to learn and appreciate, while we work together for find the best plans for managing our public lands. Hurry, though, time is almost up.