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Prescribed burn following thinning in La Cueva. Photo: Lyra Barron

Dear forest friends,

On December 8, the Forest Service issued a statement notifying the public about the re-release of the Santa Fe Mountains Project Draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact and Final Environmental Assessment (EA), after having been withdrawn last July due to the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. This means the Forest Service still does not intend to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.

There is an additional 100 pages in the newly-released version of the EA. The analysis still utilizes the condition-based approach, which means that the Forest Service has only identified very broad parameters for what they intend to do, lacking needed specifics.

The Draft Decision Notice appears to contain the same project decision as the previously withdrawn decision, although the document contains a few small additional sections.

It will take a little time to determine if there are any substantive changes, but none are apparent at this point.

This was expected, but it is still stunning that the same project decision would be reinitiated after the devastation of rural communities, and the burning of so much of the forest to the east of Santa Fe due to two escaped Forest Service prescribed burns. The Forest Service has not changed their project decision, despite it being clear that they do not have the capacity to carry out greatly increased amounts of prescribed burns safely, despite the public health impacts of increasing amounts of prescribed burn smoke, despite the intense public controversy concerning the project as currently proposed, and despite that the science underlying the project plan is contested.

The objection period has started, again, and will end on January 23, 2023. The Forest Advocate will be providing more information about how to submit objections, and from whom objections will be accepted by the Forest Service.

At the Tuesday, December 13 Santa Fe County Commission meeting, which starts at 2 PM, Acting Forest Supervisor James Duran will be giving a presentation explaining his decision and introducing the new Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor. Commissioner Anna Hansen is inviting those concerned about our forest and our communities to attend, and there will be an opportunity to speak during the “Matters of Public Concern” section of the meeting. To speak, please sign up here in advance. We expect James Duran’s presentation to begin after 3 PM, perhaps 3:30. The meeting will be held at 102 Grant Ave. or you can attend the meeting virtually by clicking here.

The November 10 listening meeting, sponsored by the Santa Fe County Commission, WildEarth Guardians and The Forest Advocate showed how informed and engaged our community is concerning the Santa Fe National Forest. Dr. Dominick DellaSala gave an excellent short talk about the potential ecological impacts of the project, and he suggested to leadership of the Forest Service, who were in attendance, that they should listen to the public and develop a project that is much less ecologically impactful, and that has the consensus of the Santa Fe area community. If you could not make it, please watch the video recording, available both on Google Drive and Vimeo.

Following the meeting, there was some discussion about it in the Santa Fe New Mexican opinion section. Three Fireshed Coalition Scientists wrote an op-ed questioning Dr. DellaSala’s ability to meaningfully discuss Santa Fe National Forest fire and forest ecology because he is not focused primarily in this area. They called the work of scientists whose research opposes their own “misinformation." Dr. DellaSala responded with an excellent op-ed on Sunday explaining why he, an independent scientist who has studied forests around the world including dry forests such as our own, and without any stake in government funding, may be able to give a more objective assessment of the project.

Dr. DellaSala wrote,

Scientists often disagree over how we view the natural world. I see forests as a kind of super-organism, an interconnected marriage of form, function and process uniquely adapted to fit the environment and sometimes in need of legitimate restorative actions.

My critics ostensibly view the forest as “fuel” in need of “active management,” without which forests would somehow discombobulate if not for massive intervention. Their view represents a profound misunderstanding about the science of cumulative effects of large-scale human interventions, which is not unlike what I see in many forests all over the planet.

A woman who deeply loves our forests, Emmy Koponen, sent a beautiful contemplation of the true meaning of the word “resiliency.” The Forest Service states that one of their primary purposes for carrying out the Santa Fe Mountains Project is to increase forest resiliency. But what is resiliency? Her short essay is below.

Finally, The Forest Advocate is undergoing some transition, and plans to hire a technical support person and forest advocate for website management, simple computer graphics, basic research, cataloging materials, maintaining the mail system, a very small amount of accounting, and other miscellaneous tasks. The work could expand into some editing and writing, if interested. It will be up to 10 hours per week and flexible. If you are interested, or know of anyone who would be a good fit for this part-time position, please email

For the forest,
The Forest Advocate

by Emmy Koponen

With resilience is the ability to snap back. Observing the results of the many rains and how the earth has responded speaks to this. It offends me to see the Forest Service name their plan the Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project.

Growth was so needed after the scary drought and prescribed burn damage from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. Waterways seem to be permanently damaged. Lives of people and animals plus all the organisms in and above the soil — shrubs, trees, mosses and lichen, and more -- were perhaps irreversibly affected.

It is a sad time indeed. For those on the east side of the mountains, their loss is unimaginable. The bureaucratic and inadequate compensation on the part of the government is unacceptable. People have lost too much. The fire was the fault of the US Forest Service and they should be held responsible.

Diversity is what a forest offers. Without that the forest does not exist.

The saying “can’t see the forest for the trees” is appropriate now more than ever. Under the trees, dead, living and dying, are the forms of life that belong to the forests. The rocks with their lichen and shade, the soil teeming with organisms I would like to believe that man cannot define, the creatures in abundance that crawl and creep and slither to be eaten by larger residents, the shrubs and grasses and forbes that shelter and feed so many, the soil itself ever being added to, plus the atmosphere being made in the forest, all form a unique ecosystem.

For the Forest Service to continue with their already created plans is insane. Nothing is normal. Fires burn, rain falls and dogs bark. What is being protected really in these burns? Why not protect around houses and towns directly? They may be saved as the forest burns.

I recently read of a man sentenced to death, in a Jack London story. In his final statement he stated that everything he loved is gone.

Please let us keep our forest even in its decline. The soil is still there now. Surely nature has a plan and this may be a transformation. Perhaps man is not included.


Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire scars. Photo: Emmy Koponen