Camino Real Mayordomo Stewardship Pilot: Firewood Access through Community Forest Restoration

By KAY MATTHEWS

The proposed project to reinstate the former Contract Stewardship program that I wrote about in the previous La Jicarita article has an official name: Camino Real Mayordomo Stewardship Pilot: Firewood Access through Community Forest Restoration. The first meeting to discuss what exactly this means and to make sure the community is guiding the project was held on December 15 at the Peñasco Community Center.

The meeting was facilitated by Matt Piccarello of Forest Stewards Guild and Collin Haffey of the Nature Conservancy as a proposed Rio Grande Water Fund Project to get it underway. The Forest Service, a partner in the project, was not in attendance at the meeting, although Henry Lopez, the former Camino Real Ranger District timber specialist who administered the Contract Stewardship program for many years, was there to lend his expertise. Community attendees included representatives of the Las Trampas and Santa Barbara Land Grants, PACA, (Peñasco Area Community Association), Mas Comunidad, acequia commissioners, residents of many of the Peñasco area communities, our county commissioner Candyce O’Donnell, and others.

For readers who aren’t familiar with the Contract Stewardship program that Lopez administered, for about 15 years the Camino Real District contracted (for a minimal fee) blocks of forest to an individual or family for fuelwood for personal use or to sell. The approximately one-acre sections were in areas adjacent to villages that particularly needed treatment: the “leave” trees were the ones marked, while the contractor was responsible for cutting everything else, the dog hair thickets as well as firewood size trees. Prescriptions for the blocks were designed to favor the dominant tree—ponderosa, piñon, or juniper—with a scattered diversity of other types that were present. After the individual blocks had been thinned, the Forest Service came in and burned the detritus. Due to lack of support and funding at the district and supervisor levels the program was eventually terminated, despite efforts by community members to get individuals trained to keep the program going.

However, with funding from a CFRP grant (Collaborative Forest Restoration Program) from the United States Forest Service, the Questa Ranger District has established the Cerro Negro Forest Council, a non-profit corporation that will essentially do the work that Henry Lopez once did, this time under the direction of a citizen mayordomo: lay out blocks, mark leave tress, and monitor the thinning and harvesting of the wood products. Leñeros, or woodcutters, will be recruited from the communities immediately adjacent to the project area who will perform the bulk of the thinning work. They will cut and haul away all the “take trees” for sale or personal use under the supervision of the mayordomo. They will be reimbursed $300 per acre. The initial project will address only 300 acres of forest land adjacent to the communities of San Cristobal, Valdez and Gallina Canyon, but there are 9,000 additional acres that are NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) ready for restoration work. The project hopes to become self-sustaining through other programs or the marketing of small diameter timber.

If the Peñasco area folks want to set up a citizen council and mayordomo administration similar to that of the Cerro Negro project the duties would include:

Forest Council:

  • Awarding contracts
  • Administering contracts
  • Liaison with Forest Service
  • Overseeing mayordomo
  • Working with community

Mayordomo:

  • Painting, flagging, inspecting sites
  • Reporting on Leñeros
  • Approving or denying contracts based upon quality of work

Matt Piccarello explained that the Camino Real District has 246 acres of NEPA ready forest acres near Las Trampas ready to go if citizens decide to set up a non-profit under the Rio Grande Water Fund. These acres are part of the Rio Las Trampas Forest Restoration Project that Forest Stewards Guild (formerly Forest Guild) has already completed the NEPA work on. An additional 690 acres in the Chamisal area are also NEPA ready and could be included in the project in a second phase. Bonafacio Vasquez, president of the Santa Barbara Land Grant, told the group that additional acres could be available under the CFRP grant awarded to the land grant to treat 3,000 acres in the Bear Mountain area.

While the group was largely in support of the reinstatement of some kind of stewardship program—details to be worked out at subsequent meetings—there were, as always, questions raised about the role the Forest Service would play as a partner in the program and its relationship to the community based on a long history laced with mistrust and contention. The land grants come with their history of stolen lands and government paternalism; acequias with fights over access rights to their presas; ranchers over grazing reductions; community-based foresters over FS capitulation to corporate logging. But in actuality, what is on the table is such a small scale of what is actually needed to address the unhealthy and extremely dangerous state of our forests that most of the folks at the meeting were ready to make a difference any way they could.

In response to that, Piccarello assigned the group the task of coming up with what he called an “Elevator pitch:” What each person would tell someone who was not at the meeting what was so important about this potential project to get them to come to the next meeting. Everyone then shared these objectives and the Forest Stewards Guild and Nature Conservancy team would come up with a mission statement for the group for the next meeting; Camino Real District Ranger Sean Ferrell will be invited to attend, along with members of the Cerro Negro Forest Council.

The “Elevator Pitches” were what you would expect: We need this Camino Real Mayordomo Stewardship Program to:

  • Involve the community in setting best management practices with the Forest Service.
  • Mitigate the danger of catastrophic fire.
  • Provide adequate firewood and other wood products to the communities.
  • Restore our degraded watersheds.
  • Maintain our traditional uses.

An extensive list of stakeholders was identified and everyone was encouraged to make sure these folks are invited to the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, January 24 at 1:00 pm at the Peñasco Community Center.

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2 comments

    • David, I’ve written extensively in LJ about the Abeyta Settlement and just published my book, ¡No Se Vende! Water as a Right of the Commons, which includes much about the settlement as well as other water issues affecting the management of water in the Taos area. I’m not sure what else you’re asking me to do here, but I do know from speaking with John Painter of El Prado Water and Sanitation District that the Rio Grande test well out by the Gorge has come up dry and they will relocate the next test well next to the Midway test well that looks like it will be functional, although they are still doing water quality tests on it.

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