Agency works to stop erosion

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By David Giuliani

Much of your property taxes go to the city, the county, the schools and the state — and residents often see how that money is spent.

A much smaller portion goes to a less visible entity — Tierra y Montes Soil and Water Conservation District, which covers nearly all of San Miguel County.

For instance, the owner of an $80,000 house pays around $25 a year to Tierra y Montes.

So what does that organization do?

It works to prevent erosion, preserve river habitats and undertake efforts to lessen the chance of wildfires.

Frances Martinez, the district’s manager, said the tax brings her organization $200,000 a year. And that pays for the operating costs of the district, which is based in the Forest Service building on Seventh Street.

Besides Martinez, the district has three other employees — Carla Garduño, an administrative assistant; Manuel Sanchez, a technician; and Stephen Reichert, a project coordinator.

Tierra y Montes is one of 47 such districts in New Mexico. In addition to its $200,000 in tax revenue, it also gets a half million in grants on average each year, said Martinez, who has worked for the district for much of the last decade.

“We couldn’t do much with just the $200,000,” she said.

Martinez said the district didn’t work on getting grants before the last 10 years. But she said the agency couldn’t do much work without the state and federal money. She spends much of her time preparing proposals for such grants.

Meanwhile, Sanchez and Reichert are busy providing property owners with technical assistance on erosion control.

The agency also undertakes larger projects. For instance, the agency planted trees near the Gallinas River in town. Just a few years ago, the river was surrounded by grass but few trees -— a landscape that has changed.

The district also put in a fence to keep four-wheelers out of the area of the Gallinas River.

Tierra y Montes also put a fence and guard rail around the Montezuma Pond area to bar four-wheelers from entering — an attempt to curb erosion. The agency also removed three truckloads of trash.

North of town near Sapello, the agency installed a “living snow fence” on the west side of N.M. Highway 518. That prevents snow from flying across the road, Martinez said.

Additionally, the district has planted trees at a number of areas around the community as part of its erosion-control efforts, including at Los Niños Elementary School, West Las Vegas Head Start, the daycare at Luna Community College, West Las Vegas Middle School and the San Miguel Community Center in Villanueva.

For its wildfire prevention efforts, the agency has thinned 5,000 acres of forest in the last eight years. That has included areas of the Gallinas watershed, Mineral Hill, Sapello and Rociada.

In more recent times, the district has undertaken efforts to remove noxious weeds such as the Canadian thistle, which are not native to the area.

“We’ve got four employees. We stretch the (tax revenue) as much as we can. Steve and Manuel give assistance to landowners. If we get requests, we try to assist landowners or guide them where to go,” Martinez said.