February 18, 2023

Bill expanding forestry division’s ability to protect forests, prevent fire passes House

Hannah Grover

Fall colors are seen north of Chama

A bill expanding the State Forester’s ability to improve forest health and address post-fire recovery passed the New Mexico House of Representatives on Friday on a 66-0 vote.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, and Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, sponsored HB 195.

The House amended the bill to clarify that the landowner must consent to the State Forestry Division going onto their property to perform conservation work or fire prevention work. Nibert said the State Land Office has said it wants a similar provision that would allow it to consent prior to conservation work or fire prevention work on state trust lands.

“That’s what this amendment does,” Nibert said.

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

Currently, the law allows the State Forestry Division to cooperate with federal, state and local agencies “in the development of systems and methods for the prevention, control, suppression and prescribed use of fires on rural lands and within rural communities.”

HB 195 expands that authority, including allowing the State Forestry Division to act independently or in conjunction with the federal, state or local partners instead of mandating the involvement of other agencies.

Under HB 195, the State Forestry Division would have the authority to conserve forests and forest resources and engage in projects to maintain or improve forest health. It would also be able to work on preventing, controlling or suppressing forest fires and conduct fire suppression rehabilitation and repair. The division would be tasked with post-fire slope stabilization, erosion control, riparian restoration, seeding and reforestation as well as researching forests and forest fires. The bill would further allow the State Forestry Division to do prescribed burns and to conduct urban and community forestry. The division would also be able to establish and support nurseries and to provide technical advice to New Mexicans regarding forests and fires. That advice could include mitigation or adaptation to climate change.

Much of the discussion on the House floor centered around policies needed to create healthy forests, with Republicans like Rep. Candy Ezzell of Roswell talking about forest thinning and animal grazing.

The bill now heads to the Senate.