With global warming, wildfire season becoming year-round, and older trees as potential fuel, we have ideal conditions for catastrophic wildfires in New Mexico.
The state, home to five national forests, badly needs a long-term solution to avoid another massive fire like the Las Conchas fire in 2011, which left thousands of acres scorched in the Jemez Mountains and caused landslides and flash floods.
New Mexico State University, New Mexico Highland University, the University of New Mexico, and the State Forestry Division have signed an agreement to establish a state reforestation center for research, seed collection, a new nursery and planting. The state needs to reforest about 1 million acres, requiring 150 to 200 million seedlings, but the production capacity is 300,000 seedlings per year. The state’s new reforestation center hopes to produce 5 million seedlings each year.
A $4.6 million bill to kick off operations of the reforestation center and fund the design of the nursery failed to pass in the recent legislative session. However, the state’s $8.5 billion budget includes $53,400 for a reforestation seed collector position in the Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources and $205,900 for six other plant bosses. part-time firefighters, or three full-time equivalents, says Caitlyn R. Wan, senior tax analyst for the Legislative Finance Committee. New Mexico is also expected to receive $5-8 million through the Forest Service for wildfire management.
Highland forestry professor Joshua Sloan says now is the time for New Mexico to create a year-round forestry workforce, rather than relying on positions in state and federal agencies which are seasonal and focus on firefighting in the summer, not prescribed burns in the winter.
Lawmakers should revisit next year’s request for funding for a state reforestation center so that New Mexico has the year-round expertise it needs to properly manage our forests and avoid another searing disaster.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.
• Do you have a question that you would like someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
We want to hear from you. Please email [email protected]