By Arnie Leshin
Fire managers on the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) are preparing for the potential resumption of prescribed fire operations before the end of the year to reduce hazardous fuels, improve wildlife habitat, and create healthier, more resilient forest and watershed ecosystems.
Although New Mexico and Arizona have received solid monsoonal moisture this year, alleviating drought conditions for the short term, much of the western U.S. continues to experience hotter, drier weather conditions and high fire activity. The national wildfire preparedness level is at 5 (PL5), the highest level of wildland fire activity with several large, complex wildland fires and at least 80% of the country’s firefighting resources committed to wildland fire incidents. New Mexico and Arizona are currently at PL2, experiencing high to extreme fire danger but able to manage fire activity with resources on hand.
A final decision on whether to proceed with a specific prescribed burn on the SFNF will depend on multiple conditions, including the national wildland fire preparedness level and resource availability, fuel moisture levels, air quality and forecasted weather. Prescribed burns are designed to meet specific objectives and are always managed with firefighter and public safety as the first priority.
SFNF fire managers have prioritized their prescribed fire projects by district. All the following projects have been cleared under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Coyote Ranger District
· Potrero, 429 acres
· Camino slash, 575 acres
· Rincon, 2,140 acres
· Cordovas Unit 6, 98 acres, and Unit 7, 118 acres
· Cordovas piles
· Poleo Unit 4,446 acres
Cuba Ranger District
· La Jara, 170 acres
· Diego, 370 acres
· Golondrino Mesa, 2,386 acres
Espanola Ranger District
· Santa Fe Watershed, 350 acres
· Borrego Mesa, 125 acres
Jemez Ranger District
· Stable Canyon, 1,600 acres
· North Holiday, 852 acres
· Cat Mesa, 585 acres
Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District
· Las Dispensas, 1,204 acres
· East Rowe Mesa, 2,000 acres
The National Interagency Fire Center reports that this year to date, the U.S. has had 44,461 wildfires that have burned a total of 5,567,600 acres. Today, NIFC reports 81 active large fires with 21,862 personnel assigned. As fire seasons become more severe, the need for and efficacy of fuels treatments becomes clearer.
The Forest Service’s land management strategy is centered on long-term forest health, which includes reducing forest fuels and using prescribed fire on the landscape. A healthy forest is a resilient forest that undergoes fire occurrences on a regular basis. The SFNF works with partners, collaborators, and communities to clearly identify objectives and address concerns during the planning process for prescribed fires.
The SFNF manages prescribed fires in compliance with New Mexico state regulations on air quality and smoke management. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems or heart disease are encouraged to take precautionary measures. Information on air quality and protecting your health can be found online at the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) website. Information on the Forest Stewards Guild’s HEPA Filter Loan Program is available here.