US Forest Service increases prescribed burns in New Mexico amid skepticism

December 8, 2023

Increased prescribed burns in New Mexico

The US Forest Service has significantly increased the use of prescribed burns in New Mexico, aiming to create fire-resilient communities and combat the growing wildfire crisis.

In the 2022-2023 fiscal year, nearly 2 million acres were treated with these controlled burns, marking a record in the US This proactive approach is part of a broader strategy to address the heightened risk of wildfires due to climate change, overgrown forests, and historical fire suppression policies​​.

Balancing community concerns with fire management

District Ranger Angie Krall and her team conduct careful planning and execution of these burns, including community outreach efforts.

Despite these measures, there remains a strong skepticism among local residents, partly due to past incidents where controlled burns led to significant wildfires, such as the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire.

This event resulted in extensive damage and loss of trust in forest management practices.

The US Forest Service continues to navigate these challenges, emphasizing the importance of prescribed burns while also trying to rebuild community trust​​.

Policy changes and future outlook

Following the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire, the Forest Service introduced new guidelines for prescribed burns, including increased oversight, contingency planning, and public engagement.

Despite these changes and a national strategy to treat up to 50 million more acres through thinning and burning, skepticism persists among New Mexicans.

This tension reflects a broader challenge of managing forests in an era of increasing wildfire severity, as projected by recent climate assessments​​.

FSJA Comment

The US Forest Service’s increased reliance on prescribed burns in New Mexico is a critical step in proactive forest management, responding to the escalating wildfire crisis exacerbated by climate change and a century of fire suppression policies.

This shift highlights the delicate balance between reducing wildfire risks and addressing community concerns, especially in areas with a history of disastrous fires.

The Forest Service’s new guidelines and efforts to engage with local communities reflect an evolving approach to wildfire management, recognizing the need for both technical solutions and community trust.

This story underscores the complexity of addressing environmental challenges in the face of climate change, where the solutions themselves can be controversial.

As the Forest Service navigates this landscape, their actions serve as a case study for other regions facing similar challenges, illustrating the need for adaptable, community-informed strategies in environmental management.

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