AP NEWS

Burn prescribed to reduce Santa Fe forest fire threat

October 30, 2018 GMT

A prescribed burn to decrease wildfire danger in the Pacheco Canyon on the Santa Fe National Forest is set to start on Thursday or Friday, depending on weather conditions, and last one to two days, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Forest Service and personnel from other agencies will burn about 500 acres approximately six miles east of Tesuque Pueblo and three miles west of Ski Santa Fe. Smoke, which is expected to be visible from Santa Fe, Tesuque, Nambe and other areas, is predicted to settle into low-lying areas by nightfall, Forest Service fire managers said.

The burn “is expected to enhance wildlife habitat and reduce fire risk,” Forest Service fireshed coordinator Hannah Bergemann said in a recent interview.

The Pacheco burn is part of the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Project area, which includes the Hyde Park Project that proposes to reduce fire danger near Hyde Memorial State Park by thinning about 800 acres of generally smaller trees there over a three- to four-year period.

The trees are then piled and burned generally in the fall and winter. That proposal is being challenged in an ongoing lawsuit alleging it violates federal law, filed earlier this year by conservation groups.

Thinning work on 180 acres of small diameter trees in the Hyde Park area is scheduled to start Monday and is allowed because a judge has not issued an injunction preventing it, a Forest Service spokesman said.

Sam Hitt, the founder of Wild Watershed, one of the parties in the lawsuit, confirmed their attorney had filed a motion several weeks for a preliminary injunction to halt the Hyde Park thinning but withdrew it when the Forest Service agreed not to clear-cut a stand of 100-year-old aspen. The conservation groups and the Forest Service have agreed to a court schedule for the lawsuit with a ruling expected in February or March of 2019, Hitt said.

The Pacheco Canyon area, which borders some of Tesuque Pueblo’s tribal lands, hasn’t had much wildfire activity for more than 100 years, said Forest Service fuels program manager Dennis Carril .

Because of fire suppression efforts since about 1890 , the area has lacked “low severity surface fire” which burns the accumulation of dead and down and small live trees, he said. The low intensity fire scenario is “what we are trying to emulate,” said Carril.

Tree growth in the region has continued largely unfettered but now the Forest Service wants to control matters rather than have a possible catastrophic unplanned fire that could have occurred during the bone-dry days of earlier this summer.

“We try and pick the time, the place, the right conditions to where we could re-introduce fire back into our ecosystem in a beneficial way in that we reduce the dead-down fueling,” said Carril.

The goal is to “make that area more resistant (to fire) and resilient,” he said.

More diversity in size and type of tree cover can reduce competition among species and improve tree health to repel insect infestations, the Forest Service managers said.

The Pacheco burn is part of the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Project area, which includes the Hyde Park Project which proposes to reduce fire danger near Hyde Memorial State Park by thinning about 800 acres of generally smaller trees there over a three to four-year period.

Bruce Hill, spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest, said officials expect to start a test burn Tuesday at Borrego Mesa. Carson National Forest also is looking into a burn on its side of the Borrego Mesa on Tuesday or Wednesday, he added. Both of these burns could create smoke visible from Santa Fe.