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Improve Fire Prevention and SuppressionReduce Hazardous Fuels
Restore Fire Adapted Ecosystems
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Update: Santa Fe Watershed, 2004

WGA Goal - Restore Fire Adapted Ecosystems

Actions to meet goal

  • Perform burned area stabilization and rehabilitation work in emergency areas
  • Restore burned areas and repair and improve lands unlikely to recover
  • Place priority on at risk watersheds that have been damaged by wildland fire
  • Establish native seeds and other plant material
  • Publicize and train in the use of minimum impact suppression activities
  • Promote research of effective restoration practices
  • Research interactions between fire, land management and other disturbances

The Restoration Prescription

The prescription agreed upon by the various stakeholders in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process is one that focuses predominantly on ecosystem restoration. The first phase entails various components: 1) no trees will be harvested commercially; 2) trees up to 16" in diameter will be cut and the trunks laid along slope contours to decompose; 3) trees will be cut by feller buncher, except on steep slopes where chainsaws will be used, no new roads will be constructed nor will skidding be allowed; 4) forest canopy cover in a variable density mosaic that mimics natural fire disturbance patterns in a ponderosa pine forest; 5) the southern ridge of the Watershed will be cut into fuel breaks up to one quarter mile wide to keep erosion out of the canyon and thinned to 20-30 large trees per acre or 20-30% canopy cover.

The second phase of the prescription entails burning slash piles once they have dried, approximately 3-12 months after the cutting takes place. The third phase calls for low intensity broadcast burns to reduce density of small trees and surface fuels. The fourth phase involves annual monitoring and evaluation to determine treatment effectiveness and environmental effects.

The Monitoring Plan

A monitoring plan has been proposed to evaluate progress of the prescription on an annual basis. The Santa Fe Watershed Association (SFWA) has taken responsibility for implementing the monitoring plan. The USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station in Albuquerque is funding half of the monitoring plan (3,000 acres) and the SFWA is trying to find funding for the remaining portion of the plan. SFWA received $45,000 from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 319 grant to cover some of the expenses associated with the monitoring plan. The grant funds $15,000 per year for three years and will end in 2003. Little monitoring has been accomplished on the ground to date due to the delays in thinning by the USFS.

The Technical Advisory Group

The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is a group of scientists with expertise in fields related to the evaluation of forest management activities in the Santa Fe Watershed. The TAG is convened by the Santa Fe Watershed Association to provide independent scientific guidance of the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Project (SFMWP). Third-party peer review of monitoring and management activities in the Santa Fe Watershed by the TAG will develop and transfer reliable information on the effects of thinning and prescribed burning on ponderosa pine and mixed conifer ecosystems in the southern Rockies. This information will help to build public confidence that forest management activities can be conducted to protect ecosystem values while reducing the danger of crown fire. The Santa Fe Watershed Association will report interesting and significant findings to the Santa Fe National Forest, other agencies participating in the SFMWP, and to the public.

Initial thinning treatments in the watershed led to a re-evaluation of the technologies available to reduce fuel loads in the project area. Total reliance on piling and burning would significantly slow the pace of treatment since the anticipated burn "windows" would only allow the treatment of 200-300 acres per year, far less than the annual target of 700-1000 acres in the EIS. For the SFMWP the wood must be disposed of on site. As an alternative to burning, the USFS is now pursuing a complementary strategy of "chunking" the debris and leaving it on the ground. The use of the "chunking" technique will not completely replace prescribed burning, which will still be necessary to fully restore ecosystem function.

The Rocky Mountain Research Station is being funded through the Espanola District at $75,000 per year for monitoring, but it is still unclear how the data will be cycled back into the management of the Project.



The Santa Fe Forum

The Santa Fe Forest Forum was held in Santa Fe on June 27, 2000. It brought in researchers in ecology and management of fire-adapted Southwestern forests and woodlands, to engage in a public dialogue about what should be done in the SFMWP. The forum consisted of a technical workshop from noon until 4 pm and public presentation from 6 to 9 PM, which was attended by over 250 people. The Forum was a collaborative effort of the Santa Fe Watershed Association, Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, Sierra Club, City of Santa Fe, SFNF and State Land Office.

The Santa Fe Forest Forum began to coalesce support among some of the more skeptical environmentalists. The Forum provided environmentalists with a consistent message about the wildfire risk in the watershed and that taking an adaptive approach with a good monitoring and evaluation component would provide a sound basis for action in spite of the imprecise nature of science on the topic. A minority of environmentalists, including Wild Watershed and Forest Conservation Council, rejected this science claiming alternative viewpoints and noting that these scientists mostly were funded by the USFS and had little incentive to rock the boat or provide unconventional views.

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

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