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Improve Fire Prevention and SuppressionReduce Hazardous Fuels
Restore Fire Adapted Ecosystems
Promote Community AssistanceSummary Related Links

Update: Santa Fe Watershed, 2004

WGA Goal - Reduce Hazardous Fuels

Actions to meet goal

  • Reduce acres at risk
  • Ensure communities most at risk receive priority
  • Expand and improve integration of hazardous fuels management program
  • Incorporate public health and environmental quality considerations in fire management activities
  • Develop smoke management plans in conjunction with prescribed fire planning
  • Address fire-prone ecosystem problems
  • Maintain areas improved by fuels treatment
  • Conduct and utilize research to support the reduction of hazardous fuels in WUI communities
  • Factor in local environmental conditions during fuels treatment planning


National Fire Plan Community Assistance Programs have not been used to address the wildfire risk in the Santa Fe Watershed or on private property bordering the watershed. Additionally, progress in reducing hazardous fuels in the Santa Fe Watershed has been slow. Both the City and the USFS have experienced numerous obstacles.



How the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Project began

Mike Hamman instigated the need to address the fire hazard in the Watershed in 1996 after the Dome Fire in the Jemez Mountains. Hamman worked as the Director for the city of Santa Fe Water Department and made the connection between the fire threat in the watershed and the threat to the city's water supply. He wanted to start a dialogue with the USFS to address the wildfire threat in the Watershed. In 1997, Amy Lewis joined the city of Santa Fe Water Department as a hydrologist and Hamman delegated the task to Lewis. Lewis felt the public needed to be involved in the process to decide the appropriate direction to address the fire hazard in the Watershed. She called together the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Wild Watershed, Audubon and some foresters to figure out what the forest might look like once it was thinned. This provided an incentive for the USFS to become involved.

The Process

The process to develop the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Project (SFMWP) began in 1998 when the city of Santa Fe funded an existing conditions study to investigate the watershed. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Team began the NEPA process in June 2000. The EIS was developed by Santa Fe National Forest under the direction of Santa Fe Forest Planner, Susan Bruin. There was active participation by the "Partners' Group", which entailed the City of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Watershed Association, NM State Forestry, NM Environment Department (Surface Water Quality Section), other community and environmental groups, and the academic community. The Partners' Group met over a year while the Environmental Assessment and then the Environmental Impact Statement was prepared. A total of 10-30 people met approximately every month to discuss the EIS. They held 17 meetings, held monthly public tours, provided demonstration and treatment sites, held a large community forum, held meetings with city residents and produced a brochure about the project and a website. The Summary Draft EIS was completed in March 2001.

The Partners' Group had a definitive impact on the EIS. Because of their participation a monitoring component was added, they suggested demonstration plots, they changed the objective from concern about water quantity and water quality to focus only on water quality (because of the perverse incentive water quantity could have provided for cutting more trees). According to Paige Grant, Santa Fe Watershed Association Executive Director, there was "genuinely open discussion" during the process. The Partners' Group disbanded after the EIS was completed.

The Appeal of the EIS

Sam Hitt, through Wild Watershed, Forest Conservation Council and Santa Fe Forest Watch remained dissatisfied with the EIS process and appealed it. The appeal was based on an ineffective monitoring strategy of management indicator species, as mandated through the National Forest Management Act. This legal strategy has been a mainstay of most appeals by environmentalists for years. On January 10, 2002, The Forest Service Appeals Deciding Officer in Albuquerque, Jim Gladden, upheld the decision and denied the appeal.

Thinning on city property

City property image

The city has treated 50 acres, or 4% of the approximately 1,200 owned in the watershed. La Montana, a locally owned company, was hired to thin approximately 400 acres. The La Montana crew of six people thinned the area with chainsaws and snaked the trees down to the road with four-wheel all terrain vehicles. La Montana was paid $835/acre to thin City property. Treatment of the property was more expensive and labor intensive than initially expected. In the end La Montana thinned only 50 acres of the proposed 400 acres.

Thinning on USFS property

The SFMWP was NEPA ready as of January 2002, yet as of January 2003, only 18 acres out of the 7000 acres in the SFMWP had been thinned. According to USFS Espanola GNF image District several factors have contributed to this delay. A delay occurred soon after completion of the EIS in September 2001. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) halted the project due to what they considered inadequate documentation of historical features. USFS archeologist provided the additional information to ensure that SHPO requirements were addresses adequately to allow thinning to begin in 2002. Another delay occurred when the Santa Fe National Forest closed in May 2002 due to an increased wildfire threat and did not reopen until September 2002. No thinning can take place during a forest closure. Lastly, a Montana company, Forest Rehab, owned by Don Peterson, signed a contract in August 2002 to start work on a 760-acre site at $945 an acre. However, previous contracts in Colorado and then snowy weather, which prevents Peterson from fueling his machinery, precluded work from commencing until late spring of 2003. $700,000 was allocated and committed in FY 2002 to Peterson, even though he could not complete the work, meaning this money could not be used for any other thinning projects in his absence.

According to several people interviewed, the biggest impediment for the SFMWP has been the absence of a project manager. The Espanola District Office has been reluctant or unable to appoint a project manager to oversee the "on the ground details" in the watershed. Responsibility for the project is divided among several different people within the Espanola District, none of whom have a consistent or integrated overview of the project.

Failure to provide consistent project management has resulted in several problems with the implementation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to date. Eight demonstration acres were thinned in the fall of 1999 using prison labor under the direction of New Mexico State Forestry. Cottonwoods and other riparian species were cut in one of the demonstration plots in violation of the EIS. Burning took place in the spring of 2001, instead of the fall as prescribed, resulting in the death of a large number of trees. The remaining trees, already under considerable stress, had broken dormancy and were susceptible to scorch.

demonstration plot image

Sam Hitt, through Wild Watershed, has indicated that he will file a summary judgment once the mechanical thinning begins in the Watershed.


Since the site visit, approximately 200 acres, or 3% of the project area have been treated in the Santa Fe Watershed and a number of slash piles burned. The projection is that 700 acres will be treated by June 1, 2003.

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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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