By KAY MATTHEWS
The Taos County Commission had a very productive meeting on May 5. As I previously reported in La Jicarita, the commission voted to withdraw from the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, which resulted in the dissolution of this overhyped, but failed coalition two weeks later, on May 21 (Santa Fe County previously withdrew).
Also on the May 5th docket was an invitation by Taos County Wildland/Urban Interface coordinator J.R. Logan for the county to join what will hopefully be a much more productive partnership, the Master Good Neighbor Agreement Between the County of Taos and the USDA Forest Service, Carson National Forest. The commission voted unanimously to join.
So what is this Good Neighbor Agreement? As it states in the official agreement it is “a cooperative effort between the parties for authorized forest, rangeland, and watershed restoration services.” As Logan explained in his presentation, the agreement makes it possible for the Forest Service to transfer funds to Taos County to perform specific project work, including forest restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, stream restoration and road/trail maintenance on Forest Service lands. The need for this kind of cooperation is obvious: Carson National Forest manages 37 percent of the land within Taos County.
Over the past few decades, the Carson has been struggling to keep up with community needs for forest products, especially fuelwood, and to keep pace with needed thinning and restoration work to reduce the risk of wildfire. The Forest has already been partnering with other organizations and relying on additional funding, such as the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP): the Taos Valley Watershed Coalition has been working on restoration projects from San Cristobal to Pot Creek; the Tres Rios Watershed Coalition partnered in 2019 to begin projects in the Peñasco Valley; the Cerro Negro Forest Council, with CFRP funding, is paying 100 leñeros to thin 275 acres north of Valdez ; the Rio de Las Trampas Forest Council, under the auspices of Forest Stewards Guild, is paying leñeros to thin 250 acres in the El Valle/Las Trampas area; The New Mexico Forest Industry Association has worked with four local contractors to thin 140 acres, with contracts for 1,000 more acres.
A collaboration with the county could bring all these projects under one umbrella and make for a more streamlined effort to accomplish the needed work. There are currently 22,600 acres of NEPA-cleared forest ready for treatment on the west slope of the Sangre de Cristos in Taos County. In the next two years, there is an expected additional 30,750 acres of NEPA-cleared acres ready for project work.
After signing the Master Good Neighbor Agreement, the next step is for the County and Forest Service to consult with existing partners and coalitions to develop the technical details and budgets for priority project work. When money is available, the Forest Service puts funding into a “Supplemental Project Agreement” (SPA) that details the scope of work and timeline for specific projects to be completed by Taos County and its partners using those funds.
If a Project Agreement is funded, the county would be committing staff time — especially the finance/purchasing department — to manage funds, set up subcontracts and pay contractor invoices, and complete the necessary reporting paperwork for the Forest Service. Under the Good Neighbor Authority, the County is not required to provide any matching funds or in-kind services. However, there’s nothing preventing the county or other partners from committing more money to on-the-ground projects.
Hopefully, as Logan pointed out in his invitation, the Master Good Neighbor agreement will “provide local entities a seat at the table when it comes to planning and implementing projects that improve ecological resilience, promote rural economic development, and improve community health and safety.”