Apr 28, 2015
Building Prescribed Fire Capacity in New Mexico
Authors: Mike Caggiano
In 2011 and 2012, two local efforts, one in northern New Mexico, and one in southern New Mexico leveraged the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) to help spark a statewide controlled burning movement in at-risk communities. Both collaborative efforts saw cooperative burning as critical for ecological restoration, community protection and improved local capacity.
In northern New Mexico, the Forest Guild, a FAC Learning Network regional hub organization, worked with The Nature Conservancy and State Land Office to host two prescribed fire training exchanges (TREX). They brought in students from academic institutions and firefighters from local communities and conducted a collaborative burn in the Angel Fire wildland-urban interface.
In southern New Mexico, the Resource Conservation and Development Council worked with a local wildfire working group to facilitate a local cooperative burn model where volunteer fire departments assisted federal agencies with controlled burns around the community, at a time when seasonal federal employees were unavailable (read my post about this). Like the TREX model, burns were used as training opportunities for local firefighters to gain experience and work on task books.
Both projects were very successful locally, but perhaps more importantly, they led to additional cooperative burning outside of those funded by the CFRP. Burns are now being conducted on private land in the Santa Fe watershed, and firefighters are continuing to work on qualifications. Cumulatively, projects have accomplished 14 burns, treated 1,500 acres, and trained 120 local firefighters. Increased acceptance of prescribed fire in some communities is evidence that residents are aware of the wildfire risk, and taking proactive steps toward becoming fire adapted.
When good things happen, people take notice. Both projects attracted attention from multiple state and federal land management agencies across New Mexico, who recognized how these cooperative burning models could benefit the lands they manage and the communities they serve. For example, New Mexico State Forestry has steadily increased their support for prescribed fire since these efforts began and is now an important partner on many efforts, including a planned 3,400-acre prescribed burn in southern New Mexico.
Scaling up With New Funding
Now, three years later, project partners are poised to receive new CFRP funding to take our experiences and lessons learned from those two projects to implement a more ambitious cooperative burning plan and TREX events statewide on six additional land jurisdictions. This new effort builds upon these two successful projects, and relies on strong partnerships.
When I read the FAC blog post a few months ago about a prescribed burn in southwest Colorado conducted next to a community, I was reminded of those feelings of success and accomplishment from implementing our first cooperative burn. Our stakeholders would not have been able to implement the current statewide effort if smaller successes had not been achieved along the way. We started with one burn, and are continuing with projects that are incrementally building capacity, changing fire culture, and accomplishing restoration. With the sheer scale of the problem ahead of us, becoming fire adapted is more important than ever, and we have the responsibility to build on our accomplishments.