US Forest Service, stop harming forests, communities and health

The Forest Service just won’t listen to the public. On December 8, they reinstated essentially the same draft decision for the Santa Fe Mountains that had been withdrawn due to the catastrophic effects of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire caused by two runaway prescribed burns. The Forest Service burned nearly half the forest east of Santa Fe, devastating rural communities and severely damaging Las Vegas’ water supply. It’s like they’ve swept it all under the rug – an incredibly large pile of ruin and debris under our collective rug. Look at him.

After the chief’s report on the Hermits Peak fire, which was a litany of Forest Service incompetence and human error in conducting the Las Dispensas prescribed burn, and not listening to local residents who pleaded with the Forest Service not to burn during a spring high pattern of winds, the review of the National Prescribed Fire Program was published. The recommendations are mostly procedural, with no real short-term solution to the agency’s lack of capacity to safely conduct prescribed burns. Since the review was published, another prescribed burn has escaped in Oregon.

The project plan for the Santa Fe Mountains is to do prescribed burns all the way to the wilderness/city property boundaries. Does the Forest Service have the right to endanger even more communities and potentially cause wildfires in even more of our forest?

Conservation groups and much of the public are pushing for the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement for the project in lieu of the inadequate environmental assessment. This would allow a range of alternatives to be considered, rather than just two alternatives – ‘do the project as proposed’ or ‘don’t do the project’.

Alternatives can be developed, with the help of conservation organizations, that actually support a healthier forest and help truly protect communities from wildfire. Measures can be considered to retain moisture in the forest and make it naturally more resilient and less affected by forest fires. Even if the conservation alternative contains some very mild and limited treatments for thinning and burning, the main focus can be on true recovery. And there may be consideration of parameters for the safe implementation of prescribed burns in our local dry forest and the effects of smoke on public health.

The basic paradigm that the Santa Fe Mountains Project embodies is to permanently disrupt the forest ecosystem so that there is much less vegetation to moderate wildfire behavior and promote “resilience.” This is an interesting understanding of the word sustainability, meaning the creation of man-made new landscapes that look more like a savannah than a forest. And it is questionable whether the treated areas are more resistant to forest fire. In some cases, such heavily treated areas burn as much or more. The science is contested.

The Forest Service can do a lot better. Why do they refuse to consider anything but the outdated treatments they have used for decades with little success and have caused serious ecological damage to our fragile forest and harmful public health impacts?

Unknowingly, after the disaster they created, the Forest Service relentlessly moves forward with the same dysfunctional paradigm that harms our forest, our communities, and our health. Please email your elected representatives and ask them to support an environmental impact statement – see https://www.theforestadvocate.org/officials/

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