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Smoke from the Cerro Pelado Fire, May 2, 2022 — Photo: Margaret Wright, for Source NM

When will it stop? It’s up to us.

Dear Forest Friends,

We are now told by the Forest Service that they caused the Cerro Pelado Fire, with yet another escaped prescribed burn. How much burning of our local forests and damage to our communities are we going to tolerate? Are we going to accept the Forest Service's assurances that they are learning from their mistakes and that they can safely proceed with more widespread and aggressive thinning and burning treatments? The agency tells us that last year's wildfires, caused by their treatments, are proof that our forests need even more of the same treatments. Also, they tell us that climate change primarily caused the wildfires, and the fires would have happened whether they ignited them or not. No, they wouldn't have.

Those fires occurred because the Forest Service was conducting fuels treatments which are no longer safe to carry out in a warming and drying climate. They include, in addition to large-scale broadcast prescribed burns, massive tree cutting, which requires subsequent burning of the many slash piles left behind. Two of the wildfires caused by the Forest Service in the Santa Fe National Forest last year were due to smoldering slash piles. The third was caused by a broadcast prescribed burn ignited during a high wind pattern.

When are our elected representatives going to truly stand for our forests and our communities? With the exception of the Santa Fe County Commission, which has taken consistent action to protect our forests and communities, our elected representatives express outrage, then accept that the agency continues on essentially the same dangerous and destructive path. It's time for action.

It’s time that we hold the Forest Service accountable for their lack of transparency. The Forest Service, by their own admission, knew weeks before the Calf Canyon Fire broke out that the Calf Canyon pile burns were spreading. Yet it took almost two months for them to tell us that the smoldering slash piles were the cause of the Calf Canyon Fire. And it's taken over a year for the Forest Service to make public that the Cerro Pelado Fire was also caused by an escaped pile burn.

The National Prescribed Fire Program Review, created as a result of the devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, provided mostly added procedures for burning, and not much more. The Review identified, as the root of the problem, a broad-based lack of agency capacity and problems with agency culture. According to the review, the agency has a serious shortage of personnel (especially well-trained specialists), a lack of equipment, a lack of appropriate models for implementing prescribed burns in a warming climate -- and a lack of morale. This lack of capacity still exists, yet the Forest Service committed last year to increasing fuels treatments up to four times the current levels. This virtually guarantees another disaster. No wonder morale is low.

An independent investigation must be done of the wildfires last year in the Santa Fe National Forest which were caused by prescribed burn escapes. All thinning and burning treatments must be paused until the investigation is complete. Then, we must develop a conservation strategy for managing our forests in a warming climate, which allows for fire in the ecosystem, yet retains moisture in the forest instead of drying it out by cutting and burning vast swathes of trees.

Regarding the Santa Fe Mountains Project, it's unacceptable that the agency didn't once mention the potential for escaped prescribed burns in the inadequate project analysis they did complete. They must rescind the project decision, and consider the potential for escaped prescribed burns specific to the landscape and climate of the project area, within a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.

This has become a dire situation for our forest and communities. Please keep writing to our elected representatives. Officials' contact information can be found on The Forest Advocate. If we don’t rise up, in a powerful but peaceful way, agency-caused and expanded wildfires will keep occurring. We need a conservation paradigm for managing our forests, one that recognizes times have changed and that our forest cannot tolerate heavy-handed interventions. We must utilize management methods that support the natural processes of our forest.

For the forest,


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