Albuquerque Journal

Let’s take back our forest

- BY SARAH HYDEN Sarah Hyden is a board member of the Santa Fe Forest Coalition and a forest protection advocate with WildEarth Guardians

Who does the Santa Fe National Forest belong to? To all of us! It’s our forest.

Yet, the U.S. Forest Service often acts as if we have no right to be genuinely involved in what happens to our forest, as if it’s their forest.

The Forest Service, along with a collaborat­ive called the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition, is proposing widespread, severe tree-cutting and burning in our local Santa Fe-area forest. Typical Forest Service thinning prescripti­ons call for the removal of over 90 percent of trees. Much of the National Forest the public currently enjoys for recreation and to experience peace in nature could be made unrecogniz­able if the Forest Service has its way — it could be turned into a sea of stumps and slash punctuated by very few trees. And when the forest tries to come back to life, the new growth is normally burned off again.

Environmen­tal law requires the Forest Service to fully include the public in the planning of projects in our National Forests, but instead they are simply going through the motions and keeping the public largely out of the process. They analyzed the first two “Fireshed” projects, the Hyde Park Wildland Urban Interface Project and the Pacheco Canyon Forest Resilience Project, with categorica­l exclusions, the lowest level of analysis meant for routine and non-impactful projects — although these projects are primarily located in Inventorie­d Roadless Areas that are meant to be highly protected. Clearly, removing the vast majority of trees is impactful.

Bringing in heavy machinery, such as bulldozers, masticator­s and large trucks, for thinning projects tears up the forest floor, destroys much of the natural forest vegetation, and causes soils to compact and erode. Wildlife habitat becomes disrupted and wildlife killed. Slash, the chopped-up tree trunks and limbs, is often left for years, which can cause bark beetle outbreaks and increases fire danger in the forest. The remaining trees often appear weakened and unhealthy. The forest is turned into a sad wasteland.

A growing number of Santa Fe-area residents is deeply concerned about what the Forest Service has done to our forest and what it’s proposing to do on a much more massive scale going forward. Many people are concerned about the effects on their health of the frequent smoky low-temperatur­e prescribed burns using chemical fire accelerant­s.

The Forest Service and the Fireshed Coalition often hold public meetings about their plans for our forest. Only the science that supports their thin-and-burn-fuel treatment agenda is presented — even though current research indicates that fuel treatments in our forests are virtually useless for decreasing the cost and effects of wildfire because the likelihood a fire will encounter a forest fuel treatment during the relatively small window of time that it’s effective is very low.

And even though newer research indicates that the primary cause of wildfire is hot and dry weather, not the amount of standing trees in the forest, and that breaking up the tree canopy can make the forest dryer and in some cases more fire prone. And even though an eminent Forest Service fire specialist demonstrat­ed years ago that thinning and fireproofi­ng just 100 feet around structures is all that’s really beneficial for protecting structures.

The Forest Service has also been involved in obstructin­g concerned citizens’ editorials from being published containing informatio­n they feel doesn’t represent the picture they want painted of what they’re doing to our forest. They have called citizens “not factual” for writing about or discussing forest ecology issues from a different scientific perspectiv­e than their own. They are in effect saying: Don’t interfere with what we want to do to our forest.

Let’s take back our forest now, before it’s too late. Tell your elected representa­tives to urge the Forest Service to stop its tree-cutting and prescribed burning program until they do full analysis, an Environmen­tal Impact Statement, first. It’s our right. It’s our forest.

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