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Feds finance the national expansion of New Mexico’s wildfire tool | Environment

Feds finance the national expansion of New Mexico’s wildfire tool | Environment

With $20 million in federal funding for wildfire mitigation and restoration, a New Mexico fire fighting tool will soon go national. This is thanks to the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute will use the funding to expand their existing vegetation treatment database and make it a national one. It will also help them better assess the effectiveness and efficiency of various forest treatments, such as prescribed burning and tree thinning.

A Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute press release stated that the federal infrastructure bill allocates $5.4 billion for wildfire mitigation and forest restoration projects across the country. $20 million will be going to the Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes in five years. The Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes are comprised of the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute (Highland University), the Ecological Restoration Institute (Northern Arizona University) and the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute (Colorado State University).

A spokesperson for the Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute stated that approximately 545 treatment projects were mapped on Taos County’s 50,000-acre Taos County. Most of these were completed by the N.M. Forestry Division and U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Tribal entities also began to implement them in the 1990s.

“The institute really wants encourage private landowners add any kind of tree or watershed treatments to the database,” the spokesperson stated, encouraging the public access to the document via the institute’s web site.

Katie Withnall (geographical information systems specialist at Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute) said that the vegetation treatment database currently maps more then 50,000 projects across New Mexico and Southern Colorado. Although most treatments involve selective tree cutting, she noted that the database is divided into different types of treatment, such as fire, chemical, and biological.

The majority of the treatments are designed to manage forests for the prevention of wildfires. [tree]Withnall suggested that prescribed fires and thinning be done.

Withnall stated that the database provides information necessary for fire modeling which can help predict wildfire risk. The database will also help land managers from multiple agencies coordinate cross border project planning.

Withnall explained that people can look at the database to see what’s beyond the fence line and plan their own treatments.

We get data mostly from the larger agencies [like]Withnall stated that the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior, as well as the Forest Service, BLM and New Mexico State Forestry are all important. This is a large one that works on private property. We also get data directly from the State Land Office, some municipalities, and soil and water conservation district tribes.

Dennis Carril is the fuels program manager for Carson National Forest and Santa Fe National Forest. He said that the database will enable a wide range of agencies across the nation to collaborate on and prioritize watershed project planning, much like in the 2019 Agreement for Shared Stewardship.

Carril stated that the state action plan for state forestry included a large analysis to prioritize watersheds throughout the state based upon proximity to infrastructure, erosion soils, and other considerations. He also said that more cooperation leads to greater efficiency. It ranked the watersheds that were suitable for treatment.

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Carril mentioned that the Forest Service maintains its public accessible restoration and treatment data base, the Forest Service Activity Tracking System. This system is used by the institute to draw data and combine it with other agencies.

Carril stated, “What’s become of the infrastructure bill is an national filter.” They have [an]Analysis from a few decades back, looking at priority firesheds. Watersheds refer to water following a gravity path. Firesheds point out that fire doesn’t respect boundaries or jurisdictions.

A national vegetation treatment database will help prioritize areas where fire is likely to spread for treatments. It also serves as a planning tool for pretreatment compliance surveys related cultural sites and the federal Endangered Species Act.

Carril stated that the infrastructure bill will change the way that the Forest Service conducts business. “This is the same concept as in New Mexico, but for the entire country.” [national] system.

Barton stated that mapping treatments will provide the infrastructure necessary to facilitate the work on the ground. Congress has committed to the database and foresters see its value. It will be a valuable tool once it is up and running, Barton stated. He also said that the Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes will need to increase their staff in order to create the national vegetation treatment database, conduct research on treatment effectiveness, and other projects.

We are currently trying to figure out how to make that map a national map. Barton said that Congress had given us this charge. Not every state is like New Mexico. Some states have a more intensive forest management and others have very little forest management.

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