Few people know of the largest cutting and burning project ever proposed for Santa Fe National Forest.
It’s called the Encino Vista Landscape Restoration Project, and it was brought to life quietly by the U.S. Forest Service last fall.
The plan is to cut and/or burn forest in the Jemez over a majority of a 200-square-mile project area starting 15 miles from Los Alamos. That is more than 21/2 times the project area of the Forest Service’s proposed Santa Fe Mountains Project, which is itself the largest cutting/burning project ever proposed for the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristos.
After releasing the Scoping Document for the Santa Fe Mountains Project last June and initiating an official public comment period, the Forest Service received over 5,000 comments on the project from individuals and conservation groups. Almost all of the comments requested preparation of an environmental impact statement, to which the Forest Service would not commit. Subsequently, in November, when the Forest Service released the Scoping Document for the Encino Vista project and began an official public comment period, publicity was so limited that few knew of the project or the comment period.
Only 14 comments were received by the Forest Service for the Encino Vista project, and the Forest Service did not publicly post these comments on its website. The Forest Service’s stated reason for withholding the comments was that personally identifiable information needed to be redacted. At the same time, the Forest Service was, and is, posting online tens of thousands of publicly submitted comments about other actively proposed projects and rule changes, leaving personally identifiable information intact within the comments.
The Forest Service has not deemed that the Encino Vista project qualifies for an environmental impact statement, even though the agency has prepared these detailed analyses for many smaller and less impactful projects both locally and nationally.
According to the Council on Environmental Quality, a federal agency must prepare an environmental impact statement for a project if “environmental effects are likely to be significant.” The Encino Vista project will destroy tens of millions of trees, disrupt wildlife habitat and pollute our air with far more prescribed burn smoke than our area has ever seen. By not committing to an environmental impact statement, the Forest Service seems to be prioritizing moving forward with the project over public interest and environmental law.
The 14 public comments on the Encino Vista project, along with 5,024 public comments on the Santa Fe Mountains Project, have been obtained from the Forest Service through Freedom of Information Act requests. The comments are published at theforestadvocate.org.