The Encino Vista Project

by The Forest Advocate       May 30, 2020, updated September 12, 2023

The 200 square mile Encino Vista Landscape Restoration Project in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Los Alamos is larger than any project ever before implemented in Santa Fe National Forest, and it has never been mentioned in any of the Forest’s frequent news releases. There was not a notice placed in a newspaper announcing the project’s fall 2019 Scoping Document, comment period, or community meeting. The Forest Service is preparing an environmental assessment (EA) for the project. A preliminary EA has been prepared internally.

The description of the project in the Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA) for Santa Fe National Forest is:

To restore the frequent-fire forests by modifying the arrangement of forest stands, openings, and interspaces in order to improve the potential for stand regeneration and offset the risk of forest type loss due to natural success an [sic] wildfire. (p. 3)

In November 2019, the Scoping Document was uploaded to the Forest Service’s web page for the project, and a 30 day scoping comment period began. The scoping document states that the project is proposed because “the existing condition within the project area is not meeting desired conditions.” (p. 10) The proposal includes:

  • Broadcast and pile burning and subsequent maintenance burning in conjunction with or independent of, “uneven- and even-aged silvicultural system methods” on up to 77,106 acres of ponderosa pine and dry mixed conifer
  • “Uneven- and even-aged silvicultural system methods” in conjunction with broadcast and pile burning on up to 22,200 acres of pinon-juniper, spruce/fir, and mixed conifer with aspen
  • Prescribed burning without prior silvicultural treatments on up to 10,907 acres; additional maintenance burning would occur on a 5-20 year rotation for all prescribed burning areas
  • Project-specific amendments to the Forest Plan in relation to guidelines regarding Mexican spotted owls
  • Generation of timber and other wood products: “Many products could result from treatments such as biomass, fuelwood, posts and poles, and saw timber, which could be sold through personal use and commercial wood product contracts. These products would be removed from the project area via existing and temporary roads.” (p. 11)
  • The Forest Service received 14 scoping comments about the project in the fall of 2019 and responded to them in the fall of 2021. As of the start of 2022, it has not published any of these comments online. The Forest Advocate obtained the comments via a Freedom of Information Act request and published them here.

The Forest Service’s Responsible Official wrote in response to the scoping comments:

After considering all comments, I have determined that no significant issues were presented in scoping that would result in unavoidable significant effects and the need to prepare an EIS. The public also did not present new issues that would result in the need to develop alternatives to analyze in detail in order to reduce adverse effects. (p. 2)
. . .
As the Responsible Official, I have determined that no significant issues were raised during scoping. (p. 52)

After the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which began in April of 2022, the Forest Service put the analysis of the Encino Vista Project on hold. 

On March 14, the agency released the Encino Vista Landscape Restoration Project Preliminary Environmental Assessment, and opened a 30-day public comment period. There was little notice of the comment period provided by the Forest Service in the media, except for one news release, one legal notice in the Albuquerque Journal, and one article in the Los Alamos Daily Post. A public flyer was posted in a few locations near the project area, and notice was mailed to a small list of interested parties.
This very limited publicity resulted in only 9 people attending the two NEPA-mandated meetings about the project. 
However, The Forest Advocate, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Public Journal and the Juan Bautista Valdez Land Grant Advisory Board did publicize the comment period, and The Forest Advocate provided a comment guide in a forest update, which was used by a large percentage of commenters. 83 comments were submitted, which was a substantial increase from the 14 comments submitted during the scoping comment period for this highly impactful project. Of those 83 comments, only 7 indicated support for the project as proposed. The majority of the comments requested that an EIS be completed for the project.
The Forest Service did not post the comments in the agency online reading room during the comment period, as has been done in the past. However, after repeated requests from The Forest Advocate, on April 29 the Forest Service posted the comments with the Encino Vista Project documents on their website.