Wrong direction for forest burning policy

the cover of a current Santa Fe National Forest plan revision document

New Mexico’s new “shared stewardship” agreement with the U.S. Forest Service seeks to “elevate and formalize” state and federal collaboration on forest policy (“State, Forest Service team up on stewardship,” Nov. 15). This is concerning because current state and federal policies each strongly support the highly questionable practice of deliberate, extensive forest burning.

We should be strenuously reevaluating our burning policy instead of making new commitments to work with the leading agency dedicated to aggressive burning. The Forest Service has been setting fires across several million acres each year, and it seeks to burn much more. In the spirit of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13855, Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen has deemed that about 80 million acres of national forest are in critical need of cutting and burning. That is more than half the forested area of the national forest system.

Deliberate burning across millions of acres may seem unthinkable to some, but it is happening. The Forest Service and its allied proponents of “landscape scale prescribed burning” have convinced many political leaders that any drawbacks to burning, such as adverse health effects from smoke, are insignificant relative to the benefits. The most commonly suggested benefit is reducing the risk of “catastrophic fire.”

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