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

Top left – Santa Fe watershed, thinned in the early 1990’s and burned twice. Photo: Fred King. Top right – Prescribed burn smoke over the Santa Fe ski basin. Photo: Satya Kirsch. Bottom left – A USFWS firefighter watches a prescribed fire. Retweeted by Santa Fe National Forest. Photo by USFWS. Bottom right – La Cueva Fuel Break, thinned in 2017 and burned once. Photo: Lyra Barron.
Lee Hai

FIRE OVER FIRE                 Lee Hai
The great turning,
Mountains are ablaze….
Through the smoke filled sky,
Sun emerges dressed bright
in orange and red.
Like Autumn leaves,
voicing the ancient trees’ songs,
‘I am Alive, I will Be again!’
Every death ushers in a new rebirth
Dream deep and true……
The Phoenix’s brilliancy rising
from its ashes…….

The Hermits Peak Fire, an escaped prescribed burn, and the Calf Canyon Fire have grown to become the second largest wildfire complex in New Mexico history. See the current status of the Hermits Peak Fire on InciWeb.  

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

Join Los Padres ForestWatch and John Muir Project for a webinar featuring a panel of independent scientists & field analysts as they discuss how modern fire suppression tactics and forest management techniques are impacting forests in the western U.S.  Recorded March 30th, 2022.

If you wrote draft EA comments or scoping comments for the Santa Fe Mountains Project, you have the right to object to the Forest Service’s Finding of No Significant Impact decision. Please do so, as the prescribed burn caused fire has shown us how critical it is to engage in protecting our forest, our communities and our health.

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.”

“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 Ashland.news.

 

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 October 9th

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. 

Public comments on the
Santa Fe Mountains Project
draft environment assessment available

 Vast majority opposed to project
as proposed, and request an
Environmental Impact Statement

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. Photo: Dee Blanco

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

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.  

Dominick DellaSala and Sarah Hyden discuss the Santa Fe Mountains Project on KTRC’s Richard Eeds Show, 10/01/2021

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:

SM.FS.r3sfnfmail@usda.gov

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.

The Forest Advocate
“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
“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
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. 
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. 
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.
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.”
The Forest Advocate
The Forest Advocate
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