Opinion: Get involved, make your voice heard regarding Carson National Forest plan

Whether you're passionate about pursuing Río Grande cutthroat trout, an annual deer or elk hunt with family and friends, or you just care about the health of our forests and watersheds, you have a lot at stake in the rewriting of the Carson National Forest's management plan. Until Nov. 7 the Carson is taking public comments on the plan, so it's a great time to tell the Forest Service what you care about and how the draft plan can be improved.

The national forests in Northern New Mexico are critical to our traditions, quality of life and livelihoods. These public lands belong to all of us, managed by the United States Forest Service on our behalf, and it is our responsibility to participate in their management.

As an avid fly fisherman, I hold the health of our watersheds, the assurance of clean water in our rivers and streams and maintaining outstanding fishing opportunities as top priorities. I also care about our region's diverse wildlife and pristine wilderness areas and want to see them protected. I believe this can all be achieved under a multiple use mandate.

The management options laid out in the Carson's draft plan are a great start, and with work and encouragement from the public the final forest plan can achieve these things many of us care about.

The protection and restoration of watersheds, wetlands and riparian areas will ensure that our forests continue to provide cold, clean water. It will benefit our fish and wildlife and maintain habitat connections across the landscape. This is one place where the draft forest plan falls short - protections for wetlands and riparian areas are too few and fail to fully recognize the benefits of intermittent and ephemeral waters and their intimate connection to water that flows on the surface. Research shows that if water-quality protection is a primary objective, priority should be given to protecting and restoring riparian areas along ephemeral and intermittent streams.

In forest plans, standards and guidelines are the mechanism to ensure that future projects meet desired conditions for things like water quality and the health of native species. They are where the rubber meets the road in the management of our national forests. The Carson's final plan should include more standards and guidelines to protect our water resources, especially for riparian areas. Including a management area for special "wetland jewels" in the final plan is another way the plan will protect clean water.

Likewise, these areas must be off-limits to oil and gas leasing and commercial mining. Energy and mineral development have their place, but that place is not adjacent to our rivers, streams and wetlands. Quarter-mile, no-energy development buffers around all perennial waters seem like a reasonable protection for our clean water resources.

The Carson is home to some of our state's most iconic and spectacular landscapes. Two such landscapes, the Valle Vidal and the region stretching from San Antonio Mountain west to the Cruces Basin, are prized for their abundant wildlife, pure strains of native trout and outstanding recreation. They are also home to prized waterways like Comanche Creek and the Río de Los Pinos. Establishment of the San Antonio Mountain and Valle Vidal special management areas in the draft plan recognizes the importance of these places to those of us who live in Northern New Mexico.

But to better protect these areas for future generations, the Carson plan should include standards that minimize impacts from energy and road development in these areas and include specific objectives to ensure important restoration takes place here.

Restoring the health of our forests and streams as well as managing habitat to benefit our diverse fish and wildlife species should be the management focus of these special areas. This will help ensure these landscapes maintain abundant fish wildlife, clean water and outstanding recreation opportunities, while also reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire and creating jobs in the emerging restoration economy.

Garrett VeneKlasen is the northern conservation director at New Mexico Wild.

Find out more about the planning process and read the draft plan online by searching "Carson National Forest - planning."

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