Nearly everyone, it seems, has opinions about what sorts of controlled burns, if any, are right for national forests. People sound off about logging proposals or raise a ruckus over perceived threats to streams and wildlife. They care about climate change and its impact on public lands.
Now, all the critics, supporters and commenters on all things wild have the opportunity to weigh in on updates to the management policy for the Santa Fe National Forest — the first time in more than 30 years that guidelines for managing the forest are being rewritten. All five national forests in New Mexico face similar scrutiny.
With the first of 11 public meetings on the plan taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Jemez Room of the Santa Fe Community College, now is the time to step up. (Read the plan at fs.usda.gov/goto/santafeforestplan. The 90-day comment period ends Nov. 17.)
Already, forest officials have held some 250 public meetings to garner input and feedback, compared current forest conditions to those in 1987 and worked to draft a 354-page document ready for review — along with several alternatives to the draft and accompanying draft environmental impact statements. When completed, the plan is designed to ensure Santa Fe National Forest’s 1.6 million acres are well-managed for the next 10 to 15 years. That’s a goal we all share.
The plan vision spells it out: “We will be a leader, both in the forest and partnering on lands across Northern New Mexico, in achieving three goals: (1) restore fire resiliency to our forest landscapes, (2) provide clean and abundant water, and (3) connect people to the land and their heritage.”
Of particular interest is the plan’s segment on vegetation in the forest. In it, forest officials discuss objectives over the next 10 years to plant new species, thin dense areas and continue to conduct prescribed burns as a way to prevent disastrous wildfires. That’s always a controversy, with many in the environmental community who believe prescribed burns damage wildlife, trees and reduce air quality.
One portion of the plan we enthusiastically support calls for more attention to removing invasive species, including the bull thistle and Siberian elm. The goal is to address at least 600 acres annually, reducing the risk that such invaders will overtake native plants. This is a project that the U.S. Forest Service could bring in assistance to complete, perhaps involving young people interested in forest management careers to help begin digging out the pests. The document states that managers want to “consider programs to address invasive plant species using integrated pest management strategies.” That’s fine, so long as the strategies do no include adding toxic chemicals to the mix. That would put water, animals and the soil at risk. These details, of course, are what public meetings are designed to find out.
The plan is massive, which it should be considering the size of the terrain to be managed and the numerous native plant and animal species — at least 1,350 known — present in our national forest. If the Santa Fe National Forest thrives, then so do the creatures within as well as the humans in surrounding communities. All those with a stake in that happening should weigh in.