February 3, 2023

Bill expanding State Forestry Division’s ability to prevent fires passes committee

Laura Paskus

A longer wildfire season in the West, and forests that have a harder time growing back under warmer conditions, are just two of the impacts of climate change

A bill that would expand the State Forester’s ability to improve forest health and address post-fire concerns passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 11-0 vote on Thursday.

The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, and Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview.

HB 195 would allow the State Forestry Division to conduct or contract for activities to prevent or suppress fires. It would also give the SFD the ability to “conserve forests and forest resources, maintain and improve forest health, conduct post-fire slope stabilization, erosion control, riparian restoration, seeding and reforestation of burned areas, research forestry and forest fires, conduct urban and community forestry, establish nurseries, and furnish forestry and forest fire-related technical assistance to New Mexicans, including through technical advice and projects related to the mitigation of or adaptation to conditions caused by climate change,” according to the fiscal impact report.

Prior to discussions, Nibert introduced an amendment that would make it clear that the state could only go onto private property without permission in an emergency situation, such as if a fire was approaching and actions needed to be taken on private property.

State Forester Laura McCarthy spoke about last year’s record-breaking wildfires as she encouraged the committee to support the legislation.

“The 2022 wildfires affected everybody statewide,” she said.

McCarthy said from the Cooks Peak Fire in Colfax County in the northeast to the Black Fire and McBride Fire in southern parts of the state, regions throughout New Mexico dealt with the impacts of wildfires.

“Everybody wants to do something to make sure that we are prepared the next time,” she said.

HB 195 now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.