New Mexico fires linked to Trump administration failures, Republican Perdue

Fire managers have climate change guns to their heads so it’s usually damned if you do and damned if you don’t conduct prescriptive burns. But it’s probably a straight line from the previous administration’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and crashes in morale within the US Forest Service to current wildfires and conditions on the Santa Fe National Forest.
A Santa Fe National Forest crew ignited what was supposed to be the 1,200-acre Las Dispensas prescribed burn April 6, and officials have since said “unexpected erratic winds” fanned embers beyond the perimeter of the burn site. The prescribed burn was previously scheduled for mid-March, but officials called it off due to snow on the ground, according to a statement at the time. In May 2000, the National Park Service ignited a prescribed burn near Los Alamos. Winds also spun that fire out of control, eventually destroying hundreds of Los Alamos homes and causing $1 billion in damage. [U.S. Forest Service defends prescribed burn that caused Hermits Peak fire]
New Mexico has been home to much larger aspen communities in the fairly recent past and because it reproduces clonally underground from adult trees aspen (Populus tremuloides) is one of the first plants to reestablish after fire. Fuel treatments on the Santa Fe National Forest helped contain the Medio Fire in 2020 and have been accelerated after President Joe Biden took the oath of office. 

Cattle on the Forest are browsing on aspen shoots because fine, flashy fuels and creosote are the only other choices.

These aren't natural forests where wildland fires are raging: they're largely second-growth pine monocultures allowed to overrun aquifer recharges after a century of fire suppression. Federal agencies always coordinate prescribed burns with local and state officials while using weather models to optimize fuel treatment effectiveness. 

The native bison, elk and deer have been hunted to near extinction in most of the Southwest or killed in collisions with motor vehicles and the Forest Service is scrambling to clear fuels Indigenous used to burn off every year. Pre-European Indigenous cultures in the Jemez Mountains raised turkeys, beans, squash and maize. That cattle have been allowed into national forests and other public ground for pennies a head is a crime that needs to end.

The cost per acre of conducting a prescribed burn can top $2,000 per acre but because of contributions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources wildfires can cost less than $50 an acre to manage. Lightning-struck fires are usually allowed to burn as resource benefit or fuels reduction but are best for hardwood release.

Nevertheless, numerous bills have been introduced in the US Senate to shackle the Forest Service including S.1100: the Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2015 that was intended to embarrass then-President Barack Obama in favor of the timber industry.
Steve Inskeep talks to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about what the federal government can do to help reduce the risk from wildfires, like the ones devastating California. 
INSKEEP: One other thing, Mr. Secretary. A couple of years ago, I got a chance to interview Robert Bonnie, who was then a top Agriculture Department official. He oversaw the U.S. Forest Service during the Obama administration. He named two big problems. One of them is fuel loads, which is what you and I have been talking about. The other is climate change. What is the role of climate change here? And how, if at all, does the legislation address that? 
PERDUE: Well, we know that our forest fires in the last few years have gotten hotter. The humidity's gotten lower. Whether that's a cyclical change, we also - there are also data and history, Steve, that show back in the '30s there were huge major forest fires that make these look small even today. So we do know that we're back-to-back record years, and whether it's permanent climate change or a cycle of low humidity and hot air and wind currents, then it remains to be seen. [NPR]
"Hot air," indeed. 

Democracy is messy business. The feds are shooting feral goats in the Tetons and feral cattle on the Gila because domestic livestock are so destructive on public lands. It takes political courage to just say no to domestic livestock on public lands and pass legislation that pays reparations and some through land repatriation but bravery is a trait conspicuously absent in Congress right now.

At post time it is being reported that during extreme wildfire conditions embers from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire have spotted some four miles from the main burn.

Learn more at the Santa Fe Reporter.

No comments: