Tres Rios Watershed Coalition Sets Schedule for Forest Restoration Projects

By KAY MATTHEWS

The Tres Rios Watershed Coalition—the Embudo drainage from the Rio Pueblo to the Rio de Las Trampas—was the first of the individual group meetings scheduled by the Enchanted Circle Priority Landscape. As La Jicarita recently reported, the Enchanted Circle, which covers the Sangre de Cristo range between Taos and Colfax counties, was designated one of the highest priority landscapes to receive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021funding for watershed restoration, fire management, utility corridor safety, reforestation, urban forest restoration, and economic development.

J.R. Logan of Taos County Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) and Collin Haffey, Forest and Watershed Health Coordinator for New Mexico State Forestry Division, convened the meeting in Peñasco with U.S.F.S. staff from the Supervisor’s Office, the Camino Real Ranger District, local contractors, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Picuris Pueblo, the Santa Barbara Land Grant, the Rio de Las Trampas Forest Council, and other watershed constituents. The State Forestry Action Plan had previously ranked the Tres Rios watershed the 11th most important of 500 watersheds across the state. The purpose of the meeting was to have land managers and constituents identify what forest areas have the highest priority for restoration work over the next five to ten year period. Work already completed since 2012 includes the Copper Hill area, Picuris tribal lands, Las Trampas, Borrego Mesa, and state forestry projects on private land.

Unfortunately, much of the necessary National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) clearance has yet to be completed, except for the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) of the Rio de Las Trampas Forest Council and on Picuris Pueblo lands. Forest Steward’s Guild’s CFRP funding supported the NEPA analysis in the Trampas watershed more than 10 years ago in partnership with state forestry, the BLM, and Picuris Pueblo. Today, the stewardship projects in the area are only on Forest Service WUI lands between the villages of El Valle and Las Trampas. Much of the higher elevation mixed conifer forest in the upper Trampas watershed is steeply sloped and very difficult to access.

The Santa Barbara Land Grant has been advocating for years for treatment on Bear Mountain. Gabe Romero of the Camino Real RD stated that there have been some past treatments in the area and the district is looking at prescribed burns there. Collin Haffey made it clear that the purpose of the meeting was to commit to projects that would not be piecemeal and would be implemented regardless of Forest Service staff changes.

So where do we need to focus our attention and monies now? The group agreed that forest transition areas of piñon/juniper to ponderosa pine that provide forest products, and areas on steep slopes that threaten watersheds, are the highest priority. The conversation quickly turned to both the Rio Pueblo watershed, along SH 518, and the Rio Santa Barbara watershed that includes Peñasco and surrounding communities. Instead of designating one watershed over the other, the FS agreed that doing the NEPA analysis in both areas simultaneously makes the most sense. The other watershed identified is the Rio Chiquito, specifically Osito, close to previous timber sales, where a CE (Categorical Exclusion) analysis would be sufficient for thinning and burning to occur. Within these three watersheds Haffey pointed out it’s important to identify the most critical areas based on criteria of fire danger, access to firewood, watershed restoration, etc.

Who is going to get this work done? Local thinning contractors, already working in the Entrañas and Trampas areas can get the work done quickly, deal with the slash, and mitigate fire danger. Leñero programs can provide opportunity for fuelwood and economic stimulus. It’s the Forest Service, however, that is responsible for NEPA compliance. While this work can also be contracted out, the Carson is already recruiting additional staff, although competing nation wide for the new labor.

The priorities were summed up before the meeting concluded:

  1. Bear Mountain NEPA review (some areas have previously been analyzed);
  2. Mouth of Santa Barbara Canyon: thinning and burning;
  3. Osito: issue a CE under NEPA regulations;
  4. Fill in the gaps in the already NEPA ready Las Trampas area.

J.R. Logan will develop a map of these targeted areas and get it out to the Tres Rios members who can help distribute it to people in the watershed. The other focal areas that have been identified also held group meetings in April.

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