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Improved Project ImplementationImproved Accountability and Oversight
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Monitoring Concerns

Update: Santa Fe Watershed, 2004


Monitoring Concerns

A monitoring plan was developed for the SFMWP to evaluate progress of the prescription on an annual basis. The Santa Fe Watershed Association (SFWA), headed by Paige Grant, took responsibility for coordinating the monitoring plan. The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico funded half of the monitoring plan (3,000 acres) and the SFWA is trying to find funding for the rest of plan. In 2001, SFWA received a $45,000 Clean Water Act, Section 319 grant to cover a portion of the expenses associated with the monitoring. This came to approximately $15,000 per year for three years and ended in 2004.

The SFWA established the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), a voluntary group of scientists with expertise in fields related to the evaluation of forest management activities, to oversee the monitoring effort. Working with the SFWA the TAG coordinates the process of completing monitoring plans, data collection and analysis, and preparing quarterly/semi-annual status report on the SFMWP. It is the goal of the Santa Fe Watershed Association that third-party peer review by the TAG of monitoring and management activities in the Santa Fe municipal watershed would assist in the development and transfer of reliable information on the effects of thinning and prescribed burning on ponderosa pine and mixed conifer ecosystems in the southern Rockies; and that this information would help to build public confidence that such forest management activities can be conducted so as to protect ecosystem values while reducing the danger of crown fire. USFS representatives attend the TAG meetings where findings from scientific experts are presented. The RMRS provides annual reports and meets with the Implementation Team when asked. The team evaluates findings that may have implication for adaptive management. Isackson, the Contracting Officer representative and Assistant Fire Management Officer, is tasked with working the contractor to incorporate any changes to the plan of work.

The monitoring requirement as outlined in the EIS is a point of contention among some stakeholders in the Implementation Team. The USFS maintains that it is upholding its monitoring agreement. Many different entities are engaged in monitoring activities. The Rocky Mountain Research Station is conducting ground vegetation and wildlife studies. Fire behavior, forest vegetation, bark beetles, beaver colonies, key wildlife habitat, archeology, soil erosion, and air quality/smoke are monitored by the USFS. The City of Santa Fe is evaluating water quality and peak stream flow. The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) monitors water quality and aquatic insects. The work being done by the USFS and Rocky Mountain Research Station is being paid for out of the $1.5 million annual appropriation. Other monitoring is paid for by other sources. The City has contracted out a paired basin study and NMED is paying for some work.

As of July 2004, data collection continues in the area of water chemistry, riparian geomorphology, the paired basin study, ground vegetation, prescribed fire, air quality, fuel loading, insect infestations, invasive plants, key wildfire habitat features, overstory and understory vegetation, aquatic insects and fish, small mammals, birds and arthropods, and beaver. When the SFWA's funding ran out in the summer of 2004, they requested $271,865 in support from the USFS 2004 $1.5 million appropriation to continue their monitoring coordination, TAG liaison, outreach and reporting and to contract with experts to carry out other necessary functions under the monitoring plan. In response, the new Forest Supervisor, Gilbert Zepeda, offered $10,000 to fund the TAG. In May 2004 Grant stopped work on the SFMWP because she could not support the work financially.

Three most crucial elements from TAG's and SFWA's perspective are not being addressed in the monitoring plan. Specifically, they would like to have 1) the northern side of the project area (approximately 3,000 acres) monitored for vegetation and wildlife by the RMRS; 2) landscape-scale geomorphologic measurements are needed to serve as a baseline in the event of major soil erosion events; and 3) post-treatment monitoring by RMRS study for several years following thinning. Grant is concerned that if the monitoring does not happen, it opens up the opportunity for lawsuits from environmental groups who feel strongly about the monitoring. The USFS commitment to monitoring allowed the environmental community buy-in to the concept of the project. Without monitoring and continued public involvement brokered by the SFWA, the SFMWP Plan would have been appealed and litigated, further delaying implementation measures. Grant also feels the USFS loses an opportunity to learn the ecosystem effects of thinning since most research has studied the impacts of catastrophic wildfire, not intentional thinning projects. Finally, monitoring and adaptive management has worked well in the project thus far, resulting in significant management changes for the better.

According to Grant, the USFS has not acknowledged the soil erosion recommendations nor made any commitment to incorporate them into a revised soil erosion monitoring plan. Likewise, monitoring on the north side of the treatment areas remains undetermined. TAG presented a proposal by the Institute for Conservation Studies to collect vegetation, bird and mammal information on the north side of the riparian areas and the USFS has not acknowledged it except to say they are doing the monitoring they committed to.

From the perspective of the USFS, a great deal has been done to support monitoring and funding limits additional option. "Some of the work [SFWA] proposed is beyond the scope of the original monitoring plan and what was agreed to in the EIS. Some of the work is already being done and being paid for from the funds. We are also providing technical and data support to some of the academic researchers". Isackson believes the Rocky Mountain Research Station will continue to receive funding for this project and expand their research into the northern section. "It was up to each researcher to do their research design in such a way that their work would adequately represent the study area. There are no appreciable differences between the north and south sides of the watershed. There is no reason to think that the information abstained on the south side could not be applied to the north side"

No legal actions are pending with regard to monitoring issues. Dave Isackson believes the Forest Service is following through with the monitoring agreement as outlined in the EIS. "This project is moving forward, has strong support from local officials and partners as well as our Congressional delegations. There has been no indication of legal action stopping the project"

It is clear that the USFS is engaged in adaptive management on this project and that results from the monitoring work are being incorporated into on-going work. Examples include the decision to use the fecon head for mechanical thinning after this technology was successfully used by the contractor in the Los Alamos area and displayed to the USFS and TAG members, the favoring of Southwest white pine in the silvicultural prescription based on the aerial bug surveys, the time of burning activities after evaluating the demo plots and the first round of burning, and the finding of an alternative access in lieu of the northern route when it was found this would require more archeological survey. The commitment to adaptive management of the monitoring plan is what is in question for the SFWA. For Grant the spirit of the EIS embraced an adaptive management component, including adapting monitoring projects themselves. As articulated in the EIS, "This plan may continue to be refined and modified as new relevant information becomes available".

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