Rio Chama Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project


On February 8 the Taos County Commission Chambers was filled with a diverse group of government officials, NGOs, non-profits, and local stakeholders who were all there as members of what is called the 2-3-2 Cohesive Strategy Partnership. The 2-3-2 refers to Two Watersheds-Three Rivers-Two States: San Juan, Chama watersheds; the Rio Grande, San Juan River, Rio Chama; the states of New Mexico and Colorado. This partnership formed in 2016 to develop strategies for forest and watershed health in the 2-3-2 that works collaboratively across public and private lands.

In 2022 Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) funding was awarded to the 2-3-2 partnership in the amount of $30 million over a 10 year period. This landscape encompasses 3.77 million acres, half of which are managed by the US Forest Service (USFS)—Carson, Santa Fe, Rio Grande, and San Juan National Forests—and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The other half is managed by tribal nations, the States of Colorado and New Mexico, and private landowners. The funding is distributed through the USFS but the 2-3-2 Cohesive Strategy Partnership will oversee the planning and implementation of the Rio Chama CFLRP.

If this all sounds complicated, it is. But the need is enormous. The San Juan and Chama rivers provide 75 percent of Albuquerque’s drinking water and 50 percent of Santa Fe’s. As La Jicarita has documented numerous times, the overly dense forest understory is at risk for severe wildfire while the forest overstory inhibits aquifer recharge. Forest and watershed restoration are two components of the same story: collaborative thinning and prescribed burning to reduce fire danger along with riparian treatments to improve both water quality and quantity.

Since its inception in 2016 the 2-3-2 has already treated 20,000 acres with prescribed fire, worked on defensible space, initiated collaborative mapping, increased market opportunities between product supply and milling, developed monitoring programs and Firewise programs, and succeeded in being awarded the CFLRP. Partners include the Chama Peak Land Alliance, Wildfire Adapted Partnership, San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, San Juan-Chama Watershed Partnership, the Rio Grande Water Fund, and the All Hands All Lands burn program of Forest Stewards Guild. The Guild, based in Santa Fe, and the Mountain Studies Institute, based in Durango and Silverton, are specifically charged with support of monitoring and collaboration.

Listed below are the specific goals of the Rio Chama Collaborative Forest Restoration Project:

• reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire;

• restore natural fire regimes;

• increase forest diversity and old growth characteristics;

• improve fish and wildlife habitat and connectivity;

• conserve critical habitat to help recover threatened and endangered species;

• improve water quality and watershed function;

• mitigate climate change impacts;

• enhance economic sustainability;

• improve quality of life; and

• build on existing partnerships and collaboration.

The meeting in Taos on February 8 focused on the monitoring and management of the 2-3-2 partnership. In the afternoon the partners heard reports from panels of local people currently engaged in forest and watershed restoration who shared their successes, failures, and goals. Board members of the Cerro Negro Forest Council, the Rio de Las Trampas Forest Council, and the Santa Barbara Land Grant discussed their forest restoration projects in the Carson NF. Representatives of Trout Unlimited, Amigos Bravos, and Carson National Forest discussed their watershed work in el norte.

Years ago, in 2012, La Jicarita reported on the Southwest Jemez Mountains Restoration Project (SJMRP), also funded by a CRLRP grant (one of 10 nationwide projects in 2010). As I stated in my August 13, 2012 article, “Jemez Mountains Restoration Project: Can We Make a Healthy Forest?”, things got off to a rocky start with letters to the Santa Fe New Mexican from those opposing the project for all kinds of rationales: thinning harms the ecology of the forest; smoke generated by prescribed burning is too harmful; equating mechanical thinning with commercial logging; and fear of prescribed fire. This latter issue was understandable: the 2000 Cerro Grande fire that burned 43,000 acres was the result of a prescribed burn on Bandelier National Monument.

The Rio Chama CFLRP comes on the heels of the largest fire that ever burned in New Mexico, the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire, also the result of prescribed burns that got away. And there are those who still take issue or oppose forest restoration projects that utilize thinning of small diameter trees and prescribed burning of the generated slash. But we’ve come a long way from 2010, I would hope, demonstrated by the extent of the commitment and scale of this Rio Chama collaborative effort. 



  1. Hi Kay,

    David Bacon here. This us a bodacious coalition ! I’m very impressed, and a 2 Stater as well. When you have the time,could you email me directly ,, ? Again, great work. I would like to fill you in on what I’ve been up to and how all that can be of benefit. Thanks Kay,

    David 505 577 4128

  2. Thank you. I am wondering what science has been done around how much thinning is the best for both fire suppression and aquifer recharge. One of the concerns I hear is that the thinning is too sparse near Ojo Sarco prompting paranoia about “they are thinning to create more run off to get the water down to urban development”. I don’t have enough info to argue one way or the other. In your article you mention that the forest over story inhibits aquifer recharge so just curious about any science around this. I know Carl says that it seems to sparse now because crowded trees haven’t put out much horizontal branching and that over the next few years they will branch out so the canopies fill back in. That makes sense to me. I know Brad and others are asking for another meeting with FS about all this and it would be good to share science and info so people have better understanding of the efforts instead of just reacting… if you are too busy, no need to answer. I’m just thinking aloud. Glad to hear about all the new snow – I’m in T or C returning Friday. It’s cold and windy here but hardly any moisture – 1/10 of an inch yesterday. Thanks for what you do…. J

  3. Thanks for the post about the NM/Colorado effort. It’s good to see a comprehensive, large-scale undertaking. I would like to reprint the post in the upcoming issue of the Central NM Audubon newsletter–with a credit to La Jicarita, of course.
    I took your Sandia hiking class in the late 1970s and still remember lots of sites and views.

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