The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill with a provision that could have a big impact on three national forests in southern New Mexico. Lawmakers voted 232 to 188 to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 Wednesday. The final bill included an amendment sponsored by New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce that will exempt certain forest thinning, logging, watershed improvement and habitat restoration projects from reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act. Speaking on the House floor, Pearce said thinning and logging activities in New Mexico and across the western United States have been “drastically reduced,” contributing to the size and severity of wildfires. “The best way to restore our forests while preserving their ecosystems is the creation of restoration projects that will return them a healthy density,” Pearce said.
First there’s a spark, and then the fire. We all stare at the sky, smell the smoke. After the trees and brush and roots are gone, floods roar through arroyos and down hillsides. Weeds invade as soon as the ground has cooled. Often, the long-term changes aren’t that obvious, especially when compared with flames and floods.
As political winds blow and funding for research ebbs and flows, communities still have to prepare for wildfires. Like the kind of devastating fires New Mexicans have seen erupt in recent years: Las Conchas in the Jemez Mountains in 2011, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso in 2012 and that same summer, the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest. By studying fire history, scientists can help land managers protect vulnerable areas today—before catastrophic fires occur and threaten communities or watersheds. One useful tool is tree ring data. Each year they grow, trees add rings.