Friday, March 8, 2013

State asks Forest Service to collaborate on land management

While a bill that would call on the state to take over much U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands in New Mexico appears to be floundering in the state Legislature, another measure that would request the Forest Service work collaboratively in land management has been approved without a dissenting vote.
A House Memorial will ask the federal Forest Service to engage with state agencies and local governments in "meaningful" watershed health planning and management.
The House of Representatives message contends the Forest Service has done a poor job, "in light of the history of wildfires on public land in New Mexico and it light of the United States Forest Service's breach of regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities to New Mexico."
The memorial calls on the state engineer, attorney general and state forester to take steps to enforce the obligations of the Forest Service under an 1897 federal act to protect watershed health in New Mexico's forests.
The state agencies will be requested to integrate local, state and tribal watershed plans and management with the efforts of the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation.
The memorial was introduced by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, who also offered the measure for New Mexico to take over much of the Forest Service and BLM property in the state.
The Organic Act of 1987, Herrell said, established much of the national forests. She noted the act states that, "No national forest shall be established except to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of citizens of the United States."
The memorial contends there have been two decades of catastrophic wildfires in New Mexico that have adversely affected private property, commerce and the environment of the public lands in the state.
The New Mexico Environment Department, in commenting on House Memorial 65, attested to the damage that wildfires have caused to New Mexico watersheds.
"Given the experiences seen with the 2012 Little Bear Fire, which affected watersheds for Ruidoso and Alamogordo, and the 2011 Track Fire in Raton, small communities can lose drinking water supplies due to sediment and other water quality impacts after a fire," the department wrote. "The NMED has seen first-hand the consequences of forest fires on drinking water supplies for small communities and support efforts for watershed planning across the state. The watershed planning and associated prescribed burns and thinning that have occurred in the Santa Fe municipal watershed provide an example of the type of activities that can help to avoid the disastrous impacts of these types of fire."
A memorial carries no legal weight and simply asks that its wishes be considered.