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Why It Makes Sense to Manage Wildfires Now

SANTA FE, NM – Fire managers on the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) are taking advantage of three unplanned lightning-caused wildfires to achieve significant benefits on the ground, including safer communities and healthier forests and watersheds.

The Ojitos Fire on the Coyote Ranger District, Deer Creek Fire on the Jemez Ranger District and Palmer Fire on the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District are being managed for resource benefit, part of a national strategy to use low-intensity fire under optimal conditions to reduce the frequency, size and duration of future wildfires.

During a managed fire, the Santa Fe National Forest works closely with the National Weather Service and state and local partners, including the New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Department of Health, to mitigate smoke impacts on communities and individuals.

When lightning strikes in a forested area where fire can have positive benefits, fire managers take a close look at conditions on the ground and conduct a risk assessment to determine if it makes sense to actively manage the fire.  Beneficial outcomes of managed wildfire include reducing the buildup of hazardous fuels, improving wildlife habitat, recycling soil nutrients and building the trees’ resilience to insects and disease.

When important values, like homes and infrastructure or culturally and historically significant sites, are not threatened and other conditions are optimal, public land managers will use slow-burning surface fire to speed the ecologically important process of decomposition by safely consuming dead and down logs, fallen leaves and pine needles, dried grasses and seedlings.  This clears the way for healthier soils, an increase in desirable herbaceous plants and a decrease in invasive species and noxious weeds.

Some of the biggest benefactors of a managed wildfire are wildlife species.  Historically, fire played a major role in shaping forest habitats.  Wildlife evolved with fire over thousands of years, and some species are actually dependent on fire for their survival.  Low-intensity fire on the ground makes room for new grasses and shrubs, which grow well in soil fertilized by fire-related nutrients.  Birds and insects feed on the new growth, followed by deer and other grazers.  Predators soon follow, setting up a renewed cycle of life.

“The vast preponderance of best-available science supports the positive role fire plays in resource management,” Santa Fe Forest Supervisor James Melonas said.  “In the fire-adapted forests of the American Southwest, it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we will see fire on our landscapes.  We are focused on using every tool at our disposal, including managed wildfire and prescribed fire, to turn the inevitability of fire on the Santa Fe National Forest to the forest’s advantage.”

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