Time for responsible forest management
For New Mexico and other Western states, the cost of fires is too high
Fires of unprecedented size and severity continue to plague the west. For residents of New Mexico, this has already been a difficult and expensive summer, marked by evacuations, forest closures, and even loss of property and homes. This year, 876 individual fires have burnt a total of 652,800 acres in New Mexico alone.
On the state’s western border, the largest fire in Arizona history has now crossed into New Mexico, forcing evacuations and costing millions. Fires have burned in the Organ Mountains at the southern end of the state, temporarily forced the closure of the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns in eastern New Mexico, and have led to evacuations of Los Alamos National Labs to the north. Even where fires aren’t burning, forest use is restricted or completely closed.
The impacts on local communities are immense, as tourism and recreation are primary sources of income for the area. Tourism is likely to drop significantly in Lincoln County this summer if the forest remains closed, dramatically affecting local jobs and paychecks.
But unfortunately, the fires impact far more than tourism. New Mexico, already facing a drought, relies on watersheds to feed our rivers and streams, and aquifers. Many of the fires ravaging New Mexico are burning through mountains and watersheds that supply our drinking water and irrigation. Our state’s agricultural sector — vital to our local economy — relies on the health of these watersheds, as do our people. It seems that no one in New Mexico is left untouched by these fires.
Healthy management prevented by lawsuits
Last weekend, I spent time with constituents, local officials, and firefighters in Luna, which was recently evacuated due to fire. With lives and livelihoods on the line, it is important to ask the tough questions about how we got here. Healthy forest management has been prevented by a barrage of environmental lawsuits that advocate reckless policies and hamstring responsible and effective use of taxpayer dollars.
As a result, logging is banned, we lose thousands of jobs, and forests become heavily overgrown, creating ideal conditions for a quickly-spreading, uncontrollable fire. Thousands are left without work, and the forest becomes even more imperiled.
A recent article by Ted Williams, a self-proclaimed “environmental extremist,” said that groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and the WildEarth Guardians give “every environmentalist a bad name,” with their lawsuits and agendas that cripple forest management. He said that these have turned suing the government into an industry, and do so completely at the expense of wildlife.
I recently spoke with representatives of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, whose land borders the Lincoln National Forest. They tell me that the spotted owl is flourishing on the reservation because they have been responsible in cutting and thinning their forest over the years. The Mescalero Tribe’s success story should be implemented in the Lincoln National Forest.
Time for the government to change course
The failure of the Forest Service to manage one of our nation’s greatest resources is a disgrace. I have submitted a bill in Congress calling for the immediate return of logging to the area while protecting the spotted owl in sanctuaries. If action is not taken soon to change the course of our unhealthy forests around these local communities, our fate will almost certainly be the same as that of our friends west of here, where the Wallow Fire is devastating hundreds of thousands of acres.
Otero County in New Mexico has shown initiative and leadership in this matter. Otero County officials recently approved the creation of an “Emergency Forest Plan” to protect the safety and welfare of citizens in the county. The plan calls for the commencement of logging 10,000 to 20,000 acres of forest around Cloudcroft. This commonsense decision will lead to responsible forest management, reducing the threat of fire and bringing much-needed jobs to the area.
The Otero County Commission should be commended for its efforts, and other local governments should follow suit by refusing to tolerate reckless mismanagement of their lands.
Instead of fighting fires and watching our homes and resources go up in flames, imagine where we could be if the Forest Service would harvest our valuable timber, create jobs, and save our forests. Instead of policies that make economic sense and protect our forests, we continue to spend Forest Service revenues fighting fires created by decades of failed policies.
It is time for the government to change course — or we will continue to watch our forests burn and our jobs go overseas.
Pearce, a Republican, represents New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District in Congress.
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