Anyone who has a stake in the health of our forests – and that includes just about all of us – is invited to be part of an ongoing process to update the Taos County strategy for wildfire risk reduction, forest health and watershed protection.

Earlier this year, the Taos County government was awarded a $15,000 grant from the New Mexico Association of Counties to update its Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The current plan was last updated in 2016, and many of the good ideas that came out of that document have been put into action.

For instance, partners working on these issues have created new programs to improve access to firewood and other forest products, while simultaneously reducing the risk that high-severity wildfire poses to communities (visit cerronegroforestcouncil.org to learn more about that program).

Similarly, new mechanisms to give local thinning contractors opportunities to bid on large-scale projects on Forest Service lands have treated hundreds of acres and employed dozens of locals in the last year alone.

Also, the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District is supporting a program that provides high school and college students with hands-on training opportunities that involve collecting useful data before and after forest treatments to assess the effectiveness of that work at improving the ecological health of the forests. This data is being used by land managers to fine-tune management techniques. And at least four students who were part of this program intend to pursue degrees in natural resources-related fields so they can come back to Taos County as professionals to help in future restoration efforts.

Given all this momentum, the timing of the current update to the Taos County Community Wildfire Protection Plan is serendipitous.

More than ever, the growing understanding around the causes of destructive wildfires has prompted the state and federal government to make more funding available for this kind of work. To access that funding, and apply it in the places where it is needed most, an up-to-date Community Wildfire Protection Plan is evidence of smart, collaborative planning, which can be very attractive to those entities that fund this kind of work.

At the moment, Taos County has scheduled several field trips, planning meetings and targeted outreach efforts meant to really put the “Community” in “Community Wildfire Protection Plan.” Previous versions of the county’s wildfire protection plan have done a great job of describing the complex environmental, social, cultural and economic issues that relate to forest and wildfire resilience. Perhaps most important is the intrinsic connection between healthy, functioning forest ecosystems and the water that comes from those places that we all love and rely on for survival in the arid high desert.

To date, partners involved in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan's development and implementation have included local, state, tribal and federal governments and agencies, like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Community organizations such as neighborhood groups, Firewise communities, conservation and environmental nonprofits as well as forest industry representatives have also been at the table.

By next June, these partners will have completed an update of the plan, including a roadmap for outreach and education efforts, priority thinning and prescribed burn locations, and more stakeholders representing the diverse folks who care about the condition of the forest and our watersheds – now and for generations into the future.

J.R. Logan is the Taos County Wildland-Urban Interface Coordinator and manager of several forest restoration projects that promote ecosystem health, traditional uses and economic development in northern New Mexico. To learn more about the forest restoration and wildfire risk reduction in Taos County, including information on the Taos Valley Watershed Coalition and how to get involved, visit www.taoscountywildfire.org.

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