Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Sandias Project Aims to Make Forest Safer


The next step in an ongoing project to improve the health of the Cibola National Forest within the Sandia Ranger District has begun.

These steps will include the removal of hazard trees up to 250 feet from roads and trails and up to 330 feet around developed recreation sites as well as the removal of trees identified as part of a longer-term mitigation up to 600 feet from roads, trails and around developed sites, according to a Cibola National Forest news release.

“Treatment methods may include mastication, hand-thinning or cut, skid, and deck, depending on the location of the trees, steepness of the slope and access,” the release said. “The removal of hazard trees and ladder fuels along the Crest highway, developed recreation sites, trails and other road systems will reduce the continuity of fuels and provide fire breaks.”

This will help make the forest safer for the public’s use and aid fire fighters in suppression activities by providing “areas where fire personnel can respond to incidents with less exposure and therefore increase tactical options,” the release said. “Implementation of these treatments, as part of a long-term hazard tree mitigation plan, will provide for additional wildfire risk mitigation by increasing public, employee and emergency personnel safety in the event of any suppression or evacuation.”

Additionally, the measure will aid in infrastructure protection.

The overall goals of the Sandia Hazard Tree and Thinning Maintenance project in the Sandias is to increase public and employee safety; protect high value fir trees within recreation sites; protect existing capital investments through long-term hazard tree mitigation and reduce the potential for uncharacteristic wildfires in the Sandia Mountains.

“A combination of several factors including drought, insect and disease mortality in trees (most recently in white fir trees by the tussock moth), and long-term effects of suppressing fire, have contributed to a build-up of live and dead fuels, resulting in unhealthy forest conditions,” the release said.

The project began in 2018 and covers about 5,000 acres on the eastern slopes of the Sandias.

“The ongoing thinning around the Crest Highway is the product of a 20-year Stewardship Agreement between the Cibola National Forest and the New Mexico Forest Industry Association – entitled ‘East Mountain Restoration and Enhancement,’” said Gennaro Falco, Cibola forestry program manager.

The agreement began in 2014 and will run through 2023, he said, adding it also includes the Mountainair Ranger District.

The current project is among several included within the agreement and is being paid through the USDA Forest Service, the New Mexico Forest Industry Association and the Nature Conservancy – Rio Grande Water Fund.

The work should not overtly impact the public using the area, but, Falco said, the public should keep their eyes open, as well.

“Currently, there are no closure orders in effect,” he said. “If members of the public see mastication equipment or crews working, they should stay away. The masticators can throw debris for a distance and falling trees, of course, present a hazard.”

Treatments will focus on roads, trails, and recreation and administrative sites along the corridors of the NM 536 and NM 165 in Las Huertas Canyon. The project does not include treatments within the Sandia Mountain Wilderness Area.

This phase of the project will primarily be focusing on the following units within the next 6 months: West 9 Mile, North 10k, Tree Springs, Lagunitas 2, and 10k CSD. See attached map. At times, temporary site and trail closures may occur within the project area.

“Closures will generally be tied to the immediate area being treated and will resume normal operations upon completion,” the release said.


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