Preparing for wildfire season

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As we enter the 2012 New Mexico wildfire season — one that could be as devastating as last year’s, the most severe on record — it’s important for landowners in the Gallinas and neighboring watersheds to understand that, while the state has jurisdiction over fire suppression on private lands, no public agency has jurisdiction over or responsibility for post-wildfire rehabilitation work on private lands.

It’s the responsibility of private landowners to be prepared for the potential for post-wildfire flooding and related impacts, such as soil erosion.  

To get a sense of the damage that can be caused by monsoon rains that often arrive right after a wildfire, landowners, really all citizens, should take a look at images of post-Las Conchas fire flooding last summer, posted on YouTube (titled “Las Conchas Flash flood 7-23-11). You’ll notice that it’s not just water that’s moving “downstream,” but also thousands of tons of soil, exposed by severe wildfire, then eroded by subsequent monsoon rains.

Realistically, these soils will never be recovered, and the damage done by this type of flooding to water quality and water delivery systems can devastate a community.  Anyone who thinks that something like this can’t or won’t happen in our watershed isn’t paying attention.

There are a number of efforts under way to educate everyone about wildfire, flooding, and the watershed. For example, on his local radio program on KLVF, Richard Trujillo from the Office of the State Engineer will be discussing emergency preparedness for wildfire and post-wildfire flooding with county officials, as well as what landowners can do to mitigate damage from post-wildfire flooding.  The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance will host The Gallinas Watershed Olympics on May 12 on the campus of the United World College.

Soon, the Gallinas Partnership, an alliance of city, county, state and federal governments, public agencies, non-governmental organizations and local citizens and business owners, will be conducting outreach to landowners in the Gallinas and neighboring watersheds, providing information on wildfire mitigation and erosion and flood control measures.

Finally, the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute is developing a program, including a DVD, to reach out to school children, educating them about the connection between their water and their watershed.  Another NMFWRI DVD will illustrate the relationship between watershed health, hazardous fuels reduction, and local economic development.

Stayed tuned, be safe — and remember where your water comes from.

Andrew Egan
New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute
Highlands University