Senators Heinrich And Flake Introduce Bill To Protect And Restore Watersheds In National Forests

on July 17, 2015 – 7:50am


WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Wednesday July 15, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., both members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced S. 1780, the Restoring America’s Watersheds Act, a bill to protect, restore, and improve the health of watersheds in national forests.
The proposal would prioritize fire-impacted watersheds and encourage partnerships with non-federal stakeholders to invest in forests that provide important water resources.
Last year, Heinrich and Flake toured the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests along the Arizona-New Mexico state border. The tour focused on the senators’ bipartisan efforts to address catastrophic wildfire prevention and recovery needs along the states’ neighboring border and across the country.
“Watersheds are integral to life in New Mexico. The resources they provide ensure our communities have clean drinking water and bolster our agriculture. These forested watersheds also provide critical habitat for New Mexico’s wildlife and are vital to our growing outdoor recreation economy,” Heinrich said. “I’m pleased to partner with Flake on this common sense proposal to improve the management of watersheds in our national forests and reduce the risks of costly catastrophic wildfire.”
“Heinrich and I have toured the forests of Eastern Arizona and have seen the success of forest restoration efforts in reducing fire risks, protecting communities and safeguarding our water quality,” Flake said. “I am pleased to introduce this legislation to allow similar collaborative projects throughout other watersheds.”
The Restoring America’s Watersheds Act would encourage collaboration in restoring our forests’ health.
The proposal would also establish the Water Source Protection Program within the U.S. Forest Service. The program would build on partnerships between cities, businesses, water utilities, farmers and ranchers, and the Forest Service to provide matching funds for forest health projects on lands that provide water resources for downstream users.
In addition to reducing the risk of catastrophic fire to our water supplies, projects under the program would provide much-needed jobs in the forest products industry in rural communities. In New Mexico, the Santa Fe Water Fund and Rio Grande Water Fund are successful examples of these partnerships.
The bill would clarify and enhance the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to partner with communities to protect forest watersheds and provide reliable jobs for forest workers.

RGWF Invests $410,000 in San Juan – Chama Landscape

Fire Ecology: Resiliency


In 2015, CPLA was awarded $410,000 from The Nature Conservancy’s Rio Grande Water Fund for the treatment of 800 acres, through prescribed fire and thinning, over the next three years to improve forest health and restore wildlife habitat on six to ten properties. Through this program, CPLA will be working with landowners and partners to: 1) Create fire plans for private lands, and coordinate fire management activities across jurisdictional boundaries, including private lands and local, state, federal agencies tribal and other jurisdictions in the project area responsible for fire management, including the U.S. Forest Service, 2) Share lessons learned from cross-boundary management in this forested landscape with others restoring forests in the Rio Grande Water Fund area, and with other members of the national Fire Learning Network, and 3) Increase the ability of local ranches, community members, and local, tribal, state and federal government partners to conduct prescribed burns through trainings and workshops in the region.


The New Approach to Fighting Wildfires

By Stephen J. Pyne | Slate

Fire season has so far mostly meant Alaska, which has racked up 1.8 million burned acres and counting. But fires are also moving down the West Coast, with a record burn on the Olympic Peninsula and houses again burning in central Washington. Flames are moving into drought-blasted California a couple of months early. The Forest Service estimates it will need an additional $800 million to $1.7 billion to pay for the season’s expected costs.

But wildfire statistics are a poor proxy for what is happening. Last year Florida prescribe-burned 2.5 million acres—two-thirds as much acreage as burned by wildfire throughout the country. And this year’s largest fire to date in the Lower 48 is actually a managed wildfire. The Whitetail and Sawmill fires on the San Carlos Apache Reservation are being controlled through a confine-and-contain (or box-and-burn) strategy. The complex is 35,000 acres and growing, and doing what neither prescribed fire nor suppressed wildfire could. Last year San Carlos similarly managed two fires that together topped out at 84,000 acres. America’s fire scene is more complex than the usual media and political obsession with burned houses, dead people, and celebrity landscapes like Yosemite suggests. So are the strategies to cope with it.

Three strategies are now in play, each the product of a particular era and its peculiar challenges.


June Miracle: Let It Burn

By Pete Aleshire | Payson Roundup

Now, here’s how weird things are this year. When lightning started a fire north of Strawberry this week — the Forest Service decided to let it burn.

For the past few years, firefighters, air tankers and water-dropping helicopters starting in May have raced to snuff any hint of a fire, for fear tinder-dry brush and sweltering temperatures will quickly produce another fire like the Wallow or the Rodeo-Chediski.

But Rim Country received four times its normal rainfall in May, with El Niño driven storms and cool temperatures continuing on into June. Although the Forest Service, Payson and Gila County have all banned outdoor fires, smoking and target shooting outside of established campgrounds, the fire danger remains moderate.

As a result, Coconino National Forest fire managers since Saturday have let the Horse Tank Fire atop the Rim six miles north of Strawberry burn through dead and down forest litter, small underbrush and pine needles. The fire has grown to just 35 acres. Fire managers plan to let it burn within a 2,000-acre area, unless the weather changes.


ABQ water ties for third in the nation

PUBLISHED: Thursday, June 11, 2015 at 12:05 am

Next time you take a drink of Albuquerque water, you might want to swirl it around in your mouth a bit, roll its texture over your tongue, savor its bouquet, appreciate it.

Albuquerque’s drinking water tied for third with Boston’s water in the American Water Works Association’s 11th annual taste test Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif.

“It’s a testament to the hard work of water utility employees to make sure we have safe, reliable and good-tasting water every day,” said David Morris, public affairs officer for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. “If you have had the misfortune to live in a place where they have bad-tasting water, you will know there’s a difference. I have lived in places where the water is foul.”

Morris commented by phone Wednesday from Anaheim, where he was attending the American Water Works Association Annual Conference and Exposition, the site of the taste test.

The Big Sky water system in Billings, Mont., won first place, and Universal City, Texas, took second in the competition, which featured entries by 29 municipalities from around the country.

Morris said water was judged according to standards of taste and smell.

Albuquerque’s drinking water is a blend of groundwater from the local aquifer and surface water from the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project.


4FRI green light signals truce in timber wars

April 23, 2015 5:45 am  •  EMERY COWAN Sun Staff Reporter

Final changes to a plan for forest restoration activities across almost 600,000 acres in the Coconino and Kaibab national forests have made the document one that even several of its initial critics say they can support.

“Hopefully this is the resolution of the timber wars here,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the parties that filed objections to the Forest Service’s plan late last year.

But after months of negotiations with multiple objectors, Forest Service officials on Friday signed the first of at least two Environmental Impact Statements covering the 3.2 million-acre Four Forest Restoration Initiative. This initial EIS, five years in the making, gives the go-ahead for prescribed fire, mechanical thinning, stream restoration and other activities across the two northern Arizona forests.

The final negotiations between the Forest Service and objectors also produced several additions to the 4FRI plan that bolster Mexican spotted owl monitoring, increase protection of big trees and clarify how the project will interact with grazing on the forest.

The final hurdle in the process was a two-and-half-month objection resolution period during which Forest Service officials met with eight parties that filed objections to its draft final EIS, released in November. The goal was to resolve objections early in order to avoid litigation after the final 4FRI plan was approved.


Future bright for innovative ideas

$250,000 given for soil enhancement, energy projects in Mancos, Pagosa

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded businesses in Pagosa Springs and Mancos innovation grants worth $250,000 each to advance projects involving turning trees and brush into electrical energy and using charred wood as a soil additive.

The plan of J.R. Ford of Renewable Forest Energy to turn trees and undergrowth into chips that would be gasified to generate electricity has taken years of development.

“It’s been a long time,” Ford said this week by telephone. “I think I did my first feasibility study in 2007.”

The energy-generating phase lies in the future, but Ford is thinning overgrown stands of timber on private holdings and in the San Juan National Forest. He produces lumber to sell from trees 10 inches in diameter and larger, and turns trees smaller than 10 inches into chips.

He is selling some chips and stockpiling the remainder in anticipation of opening a generating plant.

Ford uses two pieces of Swedish manufactured equipment in his logging operation, which is centered in Archuleta County but also goes into La Plata, Hinsdale and Mineral counties.

One piece of equipment is a tracked eight-arm machine called a feller buncher that reaches into a stand of timber, cuts trees and snakes them out. Another machine chips them into rounds 1.5 inches in diameter, weighs them and feeds them into a trailer to be transported to be burned.

At a generating plant, the chips, under heavy pressure, will be converted to gas to turn a generator. The plan will produce 3½ to 5 megawatts of power, Ford said.

The USDA grant will cover one-third of the cost of the engineering involved in designing the power plant, he said. Ford has been negotiating with La Plata Electric Association about buying the power.


Studies question wisdom of thinning forests to stop fires

By Staci Matlock
The New Mexican | 20 comments

In 2011, a downed power line sparked the massive Las Conchas wildfire that roared through homes and scorched 156,000 acres of forest in the Jemez Mountains. And that was just the beginning of the damage. In the weeks that followed, rains washed tons of ash and sediment off the blistered slopes into the Rio Grande, forcing the city of Santa Fe to shut down a river diversion system for six weeks.

The fire’s impact on a major Santa Fe drinking water source is a big reason city officials are now considering joining a collaborative brought together by The Nature Conservancy to thin and burn thousands of acres over the next 20 years in mountain ranges that drain water into the Rio Grande. The partnership hopes the plan will reduce the kind of catastrophic wildfires that wreaked havoc in the West over the last several years.

“Our interest is managing the watershed for water quality,” said Rick Carpenter, the city’s source of supply manager.

But as city officials consider joining the group, known as the Rio Grande Fire and Water Source Protection Collaborative, the science is still changing. New studies question how, and where, fire and tree thinning in Western forests should be used to restore forest health and protect watersheds. The studies, and the move toward treating forests across large landscapes, are fueling some old debates over the best way for people to manage forests that have been dramatically altered during decades of fire suppression, logging and overgrazing.


A rural utility bucks against its power supplier

In a coal-producing region, this western Colorado co-op fights for renewables.

Kate Schimel April 2, 2015Web Exclusive | High Country News

The relationships between rural energy co-operatives and the utilities that provide their power are usually pretty subdued. Like partners in a long and stable marriage, they mostly understand each other and few disputes make it out of the boardroom.

But earlier this year, it became clear that things have deteriorated between Delta-Montrose Electric Association and its provider, Tri-State. The two have quietly—and not so quietly—been at odds for years over whether Delta-Montrose, a rural electricity cooperative based in Montrose, Colorado, could go outside their relationship to generate some of its own power. Finally, in February, Delta-Montrose called on federal regulators to resolve the dispute.

On Feb. 9, Delta-Montrose filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates much of the nation’s energy transmission. In it, Delta-Montrose asked for the commission to clarify federal law, which could require Tri-State to loosen the ties that bind. Delta-Montrose is allowed to get a small fraction of its power—five percent—from a provider besides Tri-State. But it would like to sign up with a company hoping to construct a small hydro project. The company’s plan is to essentially place a small hydropower turbine in one of the area’s many agricultural canals.

That kind of project would create local jobs and make energy cheaper in the long run for the 27,000 Western Colorado residents who are a part of the rural electric co-op, which powers three counties and the town of Paonia, where High Country News is headquartered. The filing could open the door for many more such projects for Delta-Montrose. But it could also encourage a wandering eye for other Tri-State co-ops, setting the stage for a drop in the amount of demand for Tri-State’s power.


Aztec lawmaker’s fire bill headed to Senate

By Dan Schwartz, The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M.
Tribune Content Agency

March 20–FARMINGTON — A local legislator’s bill designed to fight wildfires that has passed five committees and the House with little opposition is scheduled for a hearing on the Senate floor this afternoon.

Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, drafted House Bill 38 to shift $15 million a year from the New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance to a fund for long-term forest and watershed restoration projects. Normally, that money would go to the state general fund.

But revisions in various committees have led to the allocation being cut sharply. Now, as the bill is written, the restoration fund would receive $2.25 million in fiscal year 2016 only and $250,000 each subsequent year, according to a fiscal impact report published Wednesday.