Do you want to see much of your local forest, the beautiful areas where you go to hike and experience nature, thinned so heavily it becomes ecologically broken? Do you want to breathe even more prescribed burn smoke, settling down into the Santa Fe basin from our surrounding forest as it is burned repeatedly?
That’s what is in store from the Santa Fe Mountains Project. The public and conservation groups have clamored for comprehensive analysis, but the U.S. Forest Service chose to do a much lesser type of analysis, an environmental assessment.
Following this inadequate analysis, the Forest Service plans to carry out nearly the same aggressive and damaging thinning and burning treatments that have appalled much of the public in recent years, but on a much larger scale. The final public project comment period goes through Oct. 29.
Many of us have emphatically told the Forest Service that we want them to protect and conserve our Santa Fe area forest. During the first project comment period, almost all of the over 5,000 comments called for a comprehensive environmental impact statement to be completed, and the great majority were against the project as proposed. Some rejected the project entirely because they believed the premise, to cut and/or burn most of trees and understory to prevent them from burning in a fire, or to improve forest health, was not reasonable. Others wanted a light-handed and targeted approach.
Did the Forest Service listen? No. Officials still are proposing to clear the vast majority of trees from large tracts of our forest right outside of Santa Fe.
They still plan to burn repeatedly most of the project area, even right next to communities, which will greatly increase the amount of prescribed burn smoke and fire accelerant chemicals we already breathe. And it’s risky — prescribed burns can get out of control.
Not only is the Forest Service not listening to us, they seem to be radically understating what they are intending.
At a recent City Council meeting, a representative from the Forest Service gave a presentation about the project. He claimed they would do “fairly light thinning on 18,000 acres.” In reality, the draft environmental assessment indicates that almost as many trees per acre will be cleared as in past projects, which often amounted to over 90 percent of the total trees being removed in thinned areas.
When asked by a councilor about the proposed prescribed burns, he characterized them as “a really light prescribed burn where we basically just burn the needles off the top of the soil.” In fact, the draft environmental assessment states that, “in units where mechanical thinning is not needed to reduce ladder and crown fuels prior to burning, prescribed burning would reduce surface and ladder fuels and, to a lesser extent, crown fuels through isolated tree torching.” That means prescribed fire would be burning shrubs, small and medium sized trees and torching some larger trees — not just needles.
The Forest Service will be having two public meetings about the project. But you will not be getting the whole story, nor a balanced conservationist perspective on what really does reduce fire risk and genuinely promotes forest health.
The Forest Advocate will be holding a community Zoom event at 10 a.m. Saturday. The featured speaker will be ecologist Dr. Dominick DellaSala, who will address these topics, and why an environmental impact statement is required for the project. We will discuss how to write effective project comments. To register for the event, go to theforestadvocate.org. It’s open to the public and there’s no charge. Please come.