Into the Wildfire

NY Times Magazine | BY PAUL TULLIS

September 19, 2013

Lassen Volcanic National Park, in Northern California, consists of more than 100,000 acres of wilderness and woodlands surrounding Lassen Peak, a volcano named for a pioneer and huckster who guided migrants through the area, that last blew its top in 1915, before anybody knew it was an active volcano. Last summer the park, like much of the West, was in the midst of a yearlong drought — which could be more accurately described as the continuation of a decade-long drought that had merely been less severe for a couple of years.


Chama Wastewater Treatment Plant Funded: $8M

chama river_schallauThe NM Legislature approved House Bill 55 this week. The bill included the Chama Wastewater Treatment Plant as an $8 million line item! Thank you to each and every person that contacted the Governor, NM Environment Department, and their legislature to show support.

We would also like to thank the state of New Mexico and the Village of Chama for their leadership on this issue.

Now the work begins to support the Village of Chama in building the plant and capitalizing on this tremendous opportunity. 
The Village just posted an ad for a Level III wastewater operator. Please send the ad far and wide so that we can find a qualified and committed operator for the plant.

For more information on the overwhelming community support for this project read the recent news articles, editorial, and letters to the right.

We are pleased to be celebrating this accomplishment with all of you for the benefit of our watershed, wildlife, community agriculture, fisheries, local economy, and the people of northern New Mexico.

2014 Farm Bill expands aid for forest health

Durango Herald | February 8, 2014

WASHINGTON – The new Farm Bill includes three provisions introduced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to improve forest health.

The Agricultural Act of 2014, or Farm Bill, that President Barack Obama signed into law Friday at Michigan State University is a five-year plan that provides more than $100 billion a year in federal funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture projects, including those done by the Forest Service.

Two of the measures introduced by Bennet, D-Colo., permanently reauthorize and expand programs previously in place in Colorado: state and private partnerships with the Forest Service.

“Anybody who is downstream from Colorado – and that’s basically the entire country – ought to care about forest health in Colorado and ought to care about water quality in Colorado,” Bennet said Jan. 30 in a speech on the Senate floor. “I think we were heard in this bill, and I deeply appreciate that.”


Managing the Rio Grande National Forest for the future

Posted: Wednesday, Feb 5th, 2014

Dan Dallas is the Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor and the Incident Commander of Rocky Mountain Team B, a Type 2 Incident Management Team. 
The recent release of the 2013 forest health aerial survey data reinforced what we already knew: the spruce beetle epidemic continued to spread on the Rio Grande National Forest. The beetles have now infested more than 85 percent of the high elevation spruce-fir forests in the Upper Rio Grande Watershed.

We have now passed the peak of the spread of the beetles on the RGNF as most of our spruce-fir forests have been infested. The beetles will continue to be active for several years as they infest the remaining mature spruce trees, but the subalpine fir and most of the younger spruce will survive and form the base that will create the next forest.

Our local forests have gone through some big changes recently and I know there is a lot of concern about their future. I want the residents of the San Luis Valley to know that I take your concerns seriously and that we are constantly assessing, planning and actively managing your national forest. Humility requires we recognize that we can’t always control Mother Nature. Our best approach now is to focus on protecting human life and development in and around the forest; gain benefits and value from the forest for current users; and work with nature, where appropriate, to direct the course of the forest in ways that will benefit future generations. When you consider that it will take more than 100 years for most of our spruce-fir forests to grow back and reach maturity, what we do today needs to benefit the grandchildren of our grandchildren.

We continue to offer timber sales to local and regional mills in order to salvage dead and dying trees for human use. Several active timber sales burned or partially burned in the West Fork and Papoose Fires. We are working with the purchasers of these sales to amend or terminate their contracts while also offering new timber sales for bid. I do not expect to see any break in the supply of sawtimber offered to the mills as a result of the fires.

We are also now focusing a lot of our planning efforts on landscape level analyses. These large study areas cover a diversity of forest types and rangelands from the foothills up to the alpine tundra. A wide variety of projects will come out of these studies including commercial timber sales; thinning projects and prescribed burns to reduce fire risk and improve wildlife habitat; and forest and soil restoration projects that will reduce erosion, improve water quality and help jumpstart the next forests. Most of our beetle-killed and burned forests will recover naturally, but some areas will need our help. Our foresters recently sent seeds collected from our local trees to the U.S. Forest Service’s Lucky Peak Nursery in Boise, Idaho to grow seedlings that we will begin planting in 2015. One year-old seedlings will be planted in beetle-killed and burned timber management areas that do not have adequate regeneration. Most of this work will be done by contractors, but we will be sure to save some to be planted by volunteers who want to lend a hand with restoring their forest.

I think most people understand that forests are dynamic systems, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted the huge changes we have witnessed over the last decade. Nor could anyone have prevented them. I want to assure you that we will continue to actively manage the Rio Grande National Forest no matter what nature throws at us. I also hope that you will assist us by volunteering to help on projects as they arise and by providing your input on how we can best manage your forest. Together we can create the forest that will benefit future generations.

SJC Watershed Partnership Launch a Success!


The Chama Peak Land Alliance, New Mexico State Forestry, and the Western Landowners Alliance would like to thank all of you who attended the launch of the San Juan – Chama Watershed Partnership! It was a great success with about 100 people in attendance.

For a list of participants to help with networking and connections, please click here.

To view the presentations that were made at the event, click the Setting the State links to the right.

Wood Utilization Study Released

log-deck-whole-viewA community-based partnership of stakeholders, led by private landowners in the Chama Peak Land Alliance, recently completed a USDA-funded wood utilization study for the Chama, NM area.  The study was released in 2013 and is available by clicking here.

Findings from the study indicate the Chama region holds considerable potential for sustainable, commercial scale biomass utilization.

The development of a biomass plant in this region will help:

  1. Protect vital watersheds by reducing forest fire risk
  2. Reduce sediment loading after fire
  3. Restore forest health by thinning overstocked stands
  4. Create jobs & support state and local economies
  5. Improve fish and wildlife habitat
  6. Sustain endangered silvery minnow and southwest willow flycatcher populations
  7. Support public recreation
  8. Produce sustainable, alternative forms of energy
  9. Demonstrate effective partnership between the USFS, tribes, and private landowners

However, while private and tribal lands can provide a substantial supply of biomass, a committed federal timber supply is necessary to attract investors and support a biomass facility long-term. Faced with budget constraints, federal land managers are limited in their ability to conduct the necessary planning and environmental analysis and cannot guarantee a federal wood supply. This paralysis, combined with changing climate conditions, has set the stage for fires, forest health declines and water impacts of historic proportion.

Working Together for Solutions

The Chama Peak Land Alliance, New Mexico State Forestry and Western Landowners Alliance are collaborating to find a path forward.  The San Juan – Chama Watershed Partnership is being created to support collaborative planning and decision-making. At the same time, the partners are working to develop a public-private investment framework necessary to secure biomass supplies and funding.

By working together, we can avoid the enormous costs and losses that will result from continued inaction and instead restore health to our lands, protect our water, create jobs and provide alternative sources of renewable energy.

San Juan – Chama Biomass Opportunity

  •  Diverse land ownership supports range of market opportunities
  • Available annual saw timber supply (> 14” dbh): 88,080 GT
  • Available annual non-saw timber supply (<14”): 145,470 GT
  • Year-round supply and operations possible
  • Land values and labor costs not inflated by urbanization or resort economies