New Mexico Receives $2M to Protect People, Water & Quality of Life
Funding from The U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service will support the Isleta Project in the East Mountains near Albuquerque.
Albuquerque | January 13, 2014
A financial shot in the arm will help reduce the risk of destructive wildfires, protect homes and secure water on a scale and scope in New Mexico that is critically needed. The U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service have approved $2 million dollars for the Isleta Project in the East Mountains near Albuquerque. The funds will be used for cross-boundary tree thinning, hazardous fuel removal and controlled burns to restore 2,500 acres of the Cibola National Forest and 2,600 acres in Isleta Pueblo and Chilili Land Grant.
The ponderosa pine and pinon juniper forests of the East Mountains are dense, dry and overgrown. A wildfire in this area would be devastating to both people and nature. This year’s CoreLogic Wildfire Hazard Risk Report found nearly 11,000 high-risk homes in the East Mountains. A wildfire in this area also has the potential to burn west through the Manzano and Sandia Mountains where it could jeopardize Rio Grande water supplies.
“We know that thinned forests are healthier and safer, but we’ve been unable to keep up,” says Terry Sullivan, The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico’s state director. “This money allows us to cover more ground at a faster pace and truly have an impact on the well-being of New Mexico’s water supply and local communities.”
The Nature Conservancy and partners are addressing water security for Albuquerque and users of Rio Grande water through a “water fund” program. This effort will restore forested watersheds in areas with high potential for damaging wildfire and high probability of post-fire flooding that will flush debris and ash into water supplies.
The East Mountains are a high-risk area and this coordinated investment by two agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides an important opportunity to leverage state and local funding. In addition, the Conservancy is actively raising revenue for the Rio Grande Water Fund that will offer private matching fund grants to leverage these federal dollars invested in the Isleta Project. To learn more, visit nature.org/riogrande.
The Isleta Pueblo and Chilili Land Grant were instrumental in getting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval for this project, which was a necessary step in obtaining clearance for the 10,420-acres authorized for treatment in the project. NEPA is focused on the environmental values and impact of the work.
The Isleta Pueblo and Chilili Land Grant, who are committed to landscape-scale thinning, both have forestry crews that provide jobs for residents trained to carry out restoration work.
The local Soil and Water Conservation Districts have been laying the groundwork with community members for years. “We’ve been educating homeowners about the important role forested mountains play as nature’s water storage and filtering facilities,” says Kim Kostelnik, technical advisor to the New Mexico Coalition of Conservation Districts. "The conservation districts have worked with local government and landowners to create Community Wildfire Protection Plans and are committed to removing hazardous fuels to protect water, livelihoods and communities.”
The New Mexico Forest Industry Association is developing markets for the small diameter wood that will be removed from the forest. “We need more projects like this one to stabilize the wood supply and attract forest industry that will remove overgrown brush and trees at lower costs that simply paying to remove the debris,” says Brent Racher, President of the New Mexico Forest Industry Association. “With only a patchwork of short-duration contracts, we will miss out on the jobs and economic benefits, and leave our forests vulnerable as well. The USDA announcement is a window to a brighter future of coordinated, multi-partner projects that leverage funding from the water fund and many other sources.”
This project is a win for everyone in New Mexico “By preserving and restoring our forests, we can sustain New Mexico’s water supply, increase social and economic benefits for local communities and contribute to an improved quality of life,” adds Sullivan.
The Isleta Project is expected to begin in April 2014.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.