The Santa Fe Project
The Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project, or Santa Fe Project, is by far the largest thinning and prescribed burning project ever proposed for the forest directly outside of Santa Fe. The Forest Service has proposed to cut the majority of trees over up to 33 square miles, and to repeatedly burn up to 67 square miles within a 50,566 acre project area which abuts Santa Fe and surrounding communities. The stated purpose of the project is to increase forest health and to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.
Past projects have left behind damaged, barren and dried out ecosystems lacking ecological integrity, and the natural beauty of these large sections of our fragile high desert forest have been highly compromised. The frequent prescribed burn smoke has become an increasingly serious health hazard to the public.
The Forest Service’s proposal for the Santa Fe project is contained in its Scoping Document of June 10, 2019.
The Scoping Document outlines in only a very general way the types of thinning and burning treatments that are proposed to be done. There is no site-specific information, so it is unknown where treatments may be done within the project area, nor any real specifics about how many or what size trees will be cut. The document states that no trees above 24” will be cut (diameter of the tree trunk), but most trees in the Santa Fe National Forest are well below 24”, so it places very little limitation on the size of trees that can be cut. It does state that thinning methods would include both hand-crews using chainsaws and heavy equipment such as masticators and buncher-fellers. No information is provided about how treatments would be carried out in the Roadless Areas making up much of the project area.
The scoping process and official 30 day public comment period for the project began in June 2019. The Forest Service is currently preparing a draft environmental assessment (EA). Upon the draft EA’s release, another public comment period will begin. The Forest Service expects to release the draft EA in October or November of 2020.
Over 5,000 members of the public and organizations submitted written comments to the Forest Service about the project, and over 98% of these comments were critical of the project as proposed. Almost all of the comments called for an Environmental Impact Statement to be completed before project work begins.
In the past, the Forest Service has produced Environmental Impact Statements for much smaller and less impactful projects, as is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Also in the past, the Forest Service has made public comments on their projects available to the public. This time, however, despite the size and scope of the Santa Fe Project, the Forest Service has withheld the comments from the public and has stated that an Environmental Impact Statement is not likely to be necessary. It was necessary to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to obtain the public comments, and even now the Forest Service is not providing a way for the public to view the more than 5,000 comments received.
In the interest of transparency, The Forest Advocate has published the comments obtained under FOIA so that the public can understand the Santa Fe Project as thoroughly as possible. You may view the comments here.
For more information, see
The Forest Advocate
Santa Fe, New Mexico