The Forest Advocate publishes news and resources on forest protection, with a focus on the Santa Fe National Forest.

Encino Vista Landscape Restoration Project Preliminary Environmental Assessment Released, Public Comments Submitted

The environmental assessment has been released for the largest cutting/burning project ever proposed for the Santa Fe National Forest. 

Encino Visa Project Preliminary Environmental Assessment

WildEarth Guardians / The Forest Advocate / Santa Fe Forest Coalition Encino Vista Project Comments

The Encino Vista Project Proposed Action includes thinning of up to 26,700 acres, implementing prescribed burns on up to 74,600 acres, and logging of 7,202 acres. Trees up to 24” at breast height may be cut.

Summary of Encino Vista Proposed Action

For Encino Vista Project news, go to Public Journal

Time’s running out for commenting on forest project, Santa Fe New Mexican

The Forest Service and their collaborators often do not use reasonably accurate and ecologically appropriate language to describe their forest management strategies and activities. This can cause fundamental ecological issues to not be well understood.

The Forest Service must communicate their proposed actions in clear and transparent language.

The Forest Service’s primary purposes for implementing thin-from-below treatments are for moderating fire behavior and for ecosystem benefit, i.e. forest health. But do thin-from-below treatments actually accomplish these purposes?

On February 2, a coalition of over 200 conservation, climate, and social justice organizations urged President Joe Biden to issue an executive order halting logging in all mature and old-growth forests on public lands.

Sarah Hyden asks conservationists — are we accepting a forest management strategy that puts too much fire on the landscape, too fast, and too recklessly? It’s time to reconsider, and insist that the Forest Service complete a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis.

Last year, three Forest Service prescribed burns escaped and burned approaching 400,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest, several hundred homes, and other infrastructure. Sarah Hyden describes the shift in forest management policy required by the warming climate and the lack of sufficient Forest Service agency capacity. The shift starts from full analysis of what went wrong, and consideration of different strategies going forward. Counterpunch.

Thinned and repeatedly burned area near the Santa Fe watershed.  Photo: Dee Blanco

The Forest Service has concluded that there is strong scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of thinning dense forests and reducing fuels through prescribed burns. However, some ecologists say that logging, thinning and other tactics that may have worked in the past are no longer useful in an era of ever hotter, larger and more frequent wildfires. More fire tragedies could be avoided by shifting wildfire management from a forest-focused approach to a homes-focused one. The Chronicle.

The US Forest Service has stated that there were no significant objections to the project, and they intend to move forward with thinning and burning treatments in the forest outside of Santa Fe. Conservation organizations and a County Commissioner provide their reactions to the decision.

Black Fire, May 16, 2022.   Photo:  US Forest Service

The Forest Service has been greatly expanding wildfires, and even igniting new ones during wildfire management operations. This article, by Saran Hyden, describes three recent such New Mexico wildfires. A genuinely cohesive wildfire management policy must be developed under a NEPA process.

Last year’s Cerro Pelado FIre burned 45,000 acres in the Jemez. During 2022, the Forest Service ignited three wildfires in the Santa Fe National Forest, burning close to 400,000 acres. Albuquerque Journal.

WIldEarth Guardians’ Dr. Lisa Markovchick and Sierra Clubs’ Teresa Seamster recommend that the Forest Service utilize a wider range of forest restoration tools in the Santa Fe Mountains Project. They discuss tools already in use in projects, such as restoring mycorrhizal fungi and protecting microclimates.

A Western landscape and its namesake bird are threatened by climate change and wildfire prevention efforts.  Some bird biologists, like Peggy Darr, are sounding the alarm that today’s thinning methods degrade pinyon jay habitat. 
— Sara Van Note, Santa Fe Reporter

Increasingly, scientific research indicates that trees have a range of cognitive abilities that were traditionally only associated with animals. Should we be considering the possibility that trees may be sentient when making forest management decisions?

Urge them to support an Environmental Impact Statement and a much more conservationist approach for the Santa Fe Mountains Project.

FEMA told survivors of the largest wildfire in N.M. history that it aimed to put temporary housing on their land. But because of its strict, slow bureaucracy, that has happened only twice.
— Patrick Lohman, Source NM

 A stone chimney is all that remains of a home near Cleveland, New Mexico, after a wildfire set by the U.S. Forest Service burned it down – Megan Gleason/Source NM)

Commentary by Frank Carroll, a professional wildfire analyst and former Forest Service planner. He provides evidence that drones ignited much of the Black Fire, in an effort to expand the fire for resource benefit.

Carroll states that the “managed wildfire” approach is being used by the Forest Service without accountability.

The Santa Fe area community and anyone else interested were invited by the Santa Fe County Commission, WildEarth Guardians and The Forest Advocate to a Zoom “listening session” on November 10, 2022. Santa Fe National Forest leadership, members of the Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition and elected representatives were present to hear the public speak about managing and protecting our local forest. Featured speaker, Dominick DellaSala.


George Wuerthner summarizes new paper by Bill Baker, Chad Hanson, Mark Williams and Dominick DellaSala challenging the dominant ecological and forest management view that the historical fire regime in western forests was almost exclusively low severity. The authors state that there is “…a broad pattern of scientific misrepresentations and omissions by government forest and wildfire scientists.”

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore has designated 250 firesheds across the west as under emergency authority, and has eliminated objections and the consideration of multiple alternatives from the NEPA analysis process. This further excludes the public and conservation organizations from fuels treatment project planning.


Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy questioned in Congressional hearing

During a recent US House Subcommittee on the Environment hearing on wildfire prevention, conservation scientist Dominick DellaSala and environmental advocate Carole King pushed back against the widespread cutting and burning paradigm advocated by Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. Watch:

Testimony by Dominick DellaSala

Testimony by Carole King

Sarah Hyden and environmental medicine physician Erica Elliott discuss the impacts of prescribed burn smoke on public health with KTRC’s Richard Eeds.  

Scientists authoring a new study advocate for placing restrictive bounds on the prevailing and heavily funded command-and-control fire suppression methods and the MegaFire Active Management Approach for containing wildfire. These strategies are increasingly ineffective in our changing climate and contribute to the global biodiversity and climate crises.

A new study by conservation scientist Chad Hanson of the 2021 Antelope Fire in California shows that areas commercially thinned were associated with significantly higher overall tree mortality levels than unthinned areas. The study suggests that this is a result of tree mortality from thinning itself, prior to the occurrence of the wildfire, not generally being taken into account. This leaves unreported a potentially important source of tree loss and associated forest carbon loss.

Stable Canyon Burn, Jemez Mountains, Oct 15, 2021. Photo: US Forest Service
The Santa Fe National Forest has responded to the scoping comments it received on the Encino Vista project, which involves fuel treatments on over a hundred thousand acres northwest of Los Alamos. The Forest Service indicates that due to the lack of significance of the public’s comments, completing an Environmental Impact Statement for the project is unnecessary.
USDA / Lance Cheung

The Hill reports on the administration’s new plan for widespread fuel treatments in areas identified as “large, forested landscapes with a high likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities, infrastructure and natural resources to wildfire.”

Does thinning and burning our forests reduce wildfire risk?

The Forest Advocate provides a balanced view of important considerations for protecting ourselves, our homes, and our forests from wildfire, and about the natural and beneficial role of fire in our forest.

The Forest Advocate

“Presumed forest health and reduced fire severity associated with thinning are overhyped by organizations, special interest groups and industries with direct financial interests in federal lands logging, and by politicians promoting logging-related snake oil as fire-risk reduction. This, in turn, creates a false sense of security,” write Dominick DellaSala and Luke Ruediger in

The Western Environmental Law Center and five other conservation groups led a petition to the Council on Environmental Quality, requesting that they disallow use of the “condition-based approach” for project analysis  because it fails to provide the “where,” “when,” and “how” of project implementation. A total of 82 organizations (including The Forest Advocate) signed onto the incisive letter.

Watch The Forest Advocate’s online community event from Oct 9, 2021

Protecting Our Forest,
Our Community,
and Our Health

with conservation scientist
Dominick DellaSala

A presentation and discussion about how the Forest Service’s Santa Fe Mountains Project impacts our forest and all of us, and what we can do about it.  The time for a response has come. 

The Forest Service has made available comments submitted by the public on the draft environmental assessment.  Read them here.

Santa Fe Watershed, thinned and burned repeatedly. Photo: Fred King

The Forest Service and collaborating agencies and organizations often state that if we don’t breathe smoke from prescribed burns, we’re going to be breathing at least as much, or likely more, from wildfire instead.  The Forest Advocate finds any implication of such an equivalence to be highly misleading; please read our comments to the Forest Service about this.

In early September, Santa Fe National Forest released its Final Land Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement for its first-ever complete revision to its original Forest Plan of 1987. 

Subsequent to the release of the Revised Plan, the Forest Service received fifteen formal objections – eleven from organizations, and four from individuals.  Read the objections here, and stay tuned for objection resolution meetings which are open to the public.

Emmy Koponen

Intensive and widespread cutting and burning project largely unchanged from Proposed Action

Read the Forest Service’s summary

Read the full draft environmental assessment

Read the appendices to the draft environmental assessment

Dominick DellaSala and Sarah Hyden discuss the Santa Fe Mountains Project on KTRC’s Richard Eeds Show on 10/01/2021. They explain the ecological damage that may occur to the Santa Fe National Forest from aggressive and widespread thinning and burning.

Urge them to support an Environmental Impact Statement and a much more conservationist approach for the Santa Fe Mountains Project. Contact information for representatives is here.  

The Forest Advocate has published more than 5,000 official public scoping comments submitted to the US Forest Service last year about their proposed 50,000+ acre Santa Fe Project. The Forest Service withheld these overwhelmingly negative comments from their website for almost a year and half.

La Cueva after USFS thinning, seen from drone in 2015. Photo: Jason Johnson
Forest after thinning treatment. Photo: US Forest Service

Chad Hanson — The U.S. Forest Service clears trees from public lands in the name of fire prevention, but it doesn’t work. There are better strategies to protect communities, but don’t expect to hear about them from the logging industry.

“We’ve seen one historic, thriving mountain town after another destroyed by fires in recent years. It’s almost entirely avoidable and preventable if we focus directly on community protection. Instead, public funds are going toward chainsaws and bulldozers in the forest. That will only make climate change worse, damage wildlife habitat, and put communities at greater risk. And that’s not protecting forests or people.”

A New York Times article describes how trees and other plants are interconnected under the forest floor though a vast network of mycorrhizal fungi, and share resources.  Aggressive tree cutting disrupts and destroys the network, degrading forests.

“An old-growth forest is neither an assemblage of stoic organisms tolerating one another’s presence nor a merciless battle royale: It’s a vast, ancient and intricate society.”

The Forest Advocate
La Cueva Block A, 2019. Photo: Lyra Barron

George Wuerthner comments on a lawsuit declaration by atmospheric physicist Dr. Joseph Werne. Werne concludes that “By omitting atmospheric dynamics and wind-drag effects associated with vegetation treatments, fuels reductions designed to reduce fire intensity and fire spread are undoubtedly producing the opposite effect.”

To create effective fire policies, we need to face these facts — prescribed fire increases fire and smoke, is inefficient for public safety compared to home retrofits, and is inefficient for ecological restoration compared to managed wildfire.

The Forest Advocate

WildEarth Guardians webinar with Executive Director John Horning and ecologists Chad Hanson and Monica Bond discussing regeneration in burned forests, the necessity of mixed-intensity fire in forest ecosystems, and the ecological issues of forest thinning and burning treatments.

Have you had adverse health impacts from prescribed burn smoke?  Let the Forest Service know!

The Forest Service should know how prescribed burn smoke is affecting area residents.

Explain health effects prescribed burning has had on you, and send email to Santa Fe National Forest at:
*use the below link if your email program is configured:

US Forest Service

Jack Cohen and Dave Strohmaier explain in Wildfire Today why we must abandon our expectation that we can suppress 100% of wildfires and reject the false narrative that community protection requires wildfire control. . .  Instead, let’s focus on mitigating WU fire risk where ignitions are determined – within the home ignition zone.

The Santa Fe area has been experiencing greatly increased amounts of prescribed burn smoke in recent years. It has become a major health concern to many area residents. The health impacts of prescribed burn smoke should be monitored, and more fully considered in the planning of fuel treatment projects proposed for the Santa Fe National Forest.

Satya Kirsch
George Wuerthner

Does thinning and applications of frequent low-severity fire over large areas restore forests, or does it degrade them? With side-by-side examples of untreated and treated forest, ecologist George Wuerthner explains in the Wildlife News which is ecologically healthier and why.

Most forest fuel treatment and logging projects throughout the west are based on the assumption that megafires have been increasing in recent decades, damaging forests and preventing them from re-growing. But is this assumption correct?

Bryan Bird

The Santa Fe Conservation Alternative was developed in the spring of 2019 by WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife. It was submitted to the Forest Service as a less environmentally impactful alternative to the proposed widespread and intensive tree cutting and prescribed burning for our local area Santa Fe National Forest.

KSFR news director Tom Trowbridge interviews Sarah Hyden about the ways the US Forest Service is not genuinely including the public in the planning process of forest projects.  The interview was aired on July 14, 2020 on Wake Up Call and the Midday Newbreak Program.

Does thinning and burning our forests reduce wildfire risk?

The Forest Advocate provides a balanced view of important considerations for protecting ourselves, our homes, and our forests from wildfire, and about the natural and beneficial role of fire in our forest.

Sarah Hyden describes the importance of mature and old growth forests, and recent and upcoming initiatives to protect them by restricting logging on national forest lands.
Taos resident Christopher Pieper has derived lessons about managing forests from growing food on his farm. He believes that forest management can increase biodiversity and water retention, and benefit local communities.
I don’t understand why our elected representatives and most of the public seem to be fundamentally accepting that the U.S. Forest Service has caused yet another prescribed burn fire in the Santa Fe National Forest, burning over 45,000 more acres, and burning down more homes
When will it stop? It’s up to us. We are now told by the U.S. Forest Service that its actions caused the Cerro Pelado Fire, with yet another escaped prescribed burn.
The Forest Service intends to finalize the Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project decision within a few weeks, and hopes to start the project next month — despite intense public opposition to aggressive tree-cutting and prescribed burn treatments in our local forest.
— Sarah Hyden
Longtime resident of Ojo Sarco, near the Carson National Forest explains why her community is afraid of Forest Service thinning and prescribed burning treatments. She recommends chipping cut trees as an alternative to burning the slash piles.
This inability to separate science (what we know) from management (what we should do) dominates U.S. Forest Service thinking and policy, confuses the public, muddles our understanding of forest science and starts in our forestry schools.
    — Paul Davis.
“Our top priority needs to be solving the root causes of the fire problem by first getting off fossil fuels, storing more carbon in natural forests to slow down runaway climate chaos, and preparing homes through defensible space and home-hardening measures. Backcountry logging does nothing to solve this problem.”   — Dominick DellaSala in the Santa Fe New Mexican
Defender’s of Wildlife Peggy Darr explains that some thinning may benefit bird species, but aggressive thinning reduces the abundance of already declining bird species, such as Grace’s Warbler.
“Presumed forest health and reduced fire severity associated with thinning are overhyped by organizations, special interest groups and industries with direct financial interests in federal lands logging, and by politicians promoting logging-related snake oil as fire-risk reduction. This, in turn, creates a false sense of security,” write Dominick DellaSala and Luke Ruediger in
The Forest Service has not been listening to conservation groups and the public, who want an Environmental Impact Statement for the Santa Fe Mountains Project, and want a conservation alternative that supports a healthier forest and helps to genuinely protect communities from wildfire.
Sam Hitt in the Santa Fe New Mexican: For decades now, the skeptical public has been told that forests are sick and that removing trees on a massive scale would make them healthy… Forests can be a mighty partner in solving the climate crisis if allowed to self-repair and adapt to the warming world. Our lives depend on it. 
Retired Forest Service Deputy Chief  Jim Furnish comments on a commentary written by Forest Service associated scientists,   “Counteracting Wildfire Misinformation.” in which they claim that most science contrary to the aggressive thin/burn paradigm is misinformation. “I encourage authors to welcome contrary opinion and emerging science that does not conform to their collective experience. The nasty truth is that forest fires defy simple explanations and solutions.
    — by Jones et al 2022
Part of the deep intelligence of a forest is that it “knows” how to heal itself and to maintain an incredibly complex community and balance, even after major disturbances such as wildfire or bark beetle outbreaks.
   — by Sarah Hyden
“It’s time to speak up now,” writes Sarah Hyden in the Santa Fe New Mexican. “The impacts of these large-scale and aggressive cutting and burning projects are much more than significant, they’re life-altering to the forest and to us. Let’s stand for life.”
“The government, under the previous administration, but abetted yet by the current one, says it’s time for this thousand-year-old forest to become “resilient.” Says that logging it down to dust—effectively, a thousand-acre clearcut—is the way to teach it resilience. They’ve named this proposed project, this fever dream, a remnant zombie from the previous reign, ‘Black Ram.'”
    — Rick Bass in Orion Magazine
Jonathan Glass writes in the Santa Fe New Mexican that few know of the largest cutting and burning project ever proposed for Santa Fe National Forest.  It’s called the Encino Vista Landscape Restoration Project, and it was brought to life quietly by the U.S. Forest Service in the fall of 2019.
Do you want to see much of your local forest, the beautiful areas where you go to hike and experience nature, thinned so heavily it becomes ecologically broken? Do you want to breathe even more prescribed burn smoke? Sarah Hyden addresses the Forest Service’s Santa Fe Mountains Project in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
It’s time for a forest revolution.
In the Santa Fe New Mexican, Sarah Hyden explains the urgency of taking action to protect our forest from widespread and aggressive fuel treatment projects that proceed without comprehensive analysis.
Dr. Ann McCampbell writes in the Santa Fe New Mexican that the Forest Service needs to return to its commitment of last spring to protect public health by maintaining its moratorium on planned burning during the pandemic. 
It seems like something out of an end-times science fiction movie. Fires are burning across the West.  A smoky pall hangs over everything, people are wearing masks to keep safe from an aggressive virus, and civil discord is steadily increasing. 
Sarah Hyden writes in the Santa Fe New Mexican that although the public has spoken in a landslide of support for protecting and conserving our forest, the U.S. Forest Service isn’t letting you know about it.
A forest resident describes the interconnectedness of the trees in our forests, and how the results of thinning projects show that our relationship with the land is broken. The forest demonstrates that we must live with reciprocity, and be responsible to nature.
Sarah Hyden explains in the Albuquerque Journal how the US Forest Service and their partners have co-opted the language of forest restoration in recent years to mean virtually the opposite — widespread cutting and burning of our forests.  Please read about the real meaning of Forest Service terms such as “forest health” and “resilient forests.”
It’s time to embrace a new paradigm for the forest. Instead of imposing the framework of our limited ecological understanding and perspective onto the forest, let’s be allies of the forest, to help support its inevitable transformation.  A version of this piece appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.
A conservation scientist reflects on the destruction by fire of his town of Talent, Oregon. “We have been falsely promised that if only forest managers can thin, smoke levels would drop and wildfires would be less intense,” Dominick DellaSala writes.
Sam Hitt in the Santa Fe New Mexican: “The roar of chain saws was noticeably absent this fall in the forests near town. We can thank the Mexican spotted owl, a courageous federal judge who exposed Forest Service misdeeds and decades of advocacy by WildEarth Guardians, successor to the scrappy advocacy group I founded 30 years ago.”
From "The Healthiest Forest," a film by the Old-Growth Forest Network

How do forests recover after disturbance? This 4 minute animated film from the Old-Growth Forest Network takes you on a journey that represents 300 years in the life of a forest. See how structure and biodiversity recover naturally, and how continued management like thinning and harvesting interferes with recovery.

Emmy Koponen

The Forest Advocate
Santa Fe, New Mexico