The Santa Fe Mountains Project

by The Forest Advocate       May 30, 2020, updated October 22, 2021

The Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project, or Santa Fe Mountains 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 28 square miles, and to repeatedly burn up to 59 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 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 draft environment assessment  of September 2021.

The draft environmental assessment 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 16” will be cut (that’s the diameter of the tree trunk at breast height), but most trees in the Santa Fe National Forest are smaller than 16”, 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 official 30 day public comment period for the draft environmental assessment began on September 30, 2021 and runs through October 29, 2021. The Forest Advocate has posted guide points for commenting; there is a short guide for quick comments and a more comprehensive guide for longer comments. The Forest Service has a web form for commenting on the project and also accepts comments by mail and email to comments-southwestern-santafe@fs.fed.us and Espanola District Office; 18537 US 84/285, Suite B; Espanola, NM  87532. 

Over 5,000 members of the public and organizations submitted written comments to the Forest Service about the project’s scoping document in 2019, 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 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 most of the 5,000+ comments which they 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

Santa Fe Mountains Project resources

Forest Service map of the Santa Fe Project area — from the Scoping Document:

Cover photo of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Santa Fe National Forest's Forest Plan Revision, June 2019
Santa Fe Watershed - thinned and burned twice. Photo: Fred King
La Cueva Block A, thinned in 2016. Photo: Lyra Barron
Santa Fe watershed above Black Canyon, thinned in 2002 and burned twice. Photo: Dee Blanco

The Forest Advocate
Santa Fe, New Mexico