Opinion: Judge, allow firewood cutting

By Staci Matlock
Posted 9/26/19

Shades of the 1990s. A recent U.S. District Court ruling over the Mexican spotted owl is halting all "timber management actions" in New …

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Opinion: Judge, allow firewood cutting


Shades of the 1990s.

A recent U.S. District Court ruling over the Mexican spotted owl is halting all "timber management actions" in New Mexico's five national forests, including the Carson.

That means no new permits will be issued for woodcutting for personal use firewood, vigas or latillas and until further notice. People with existing permits are urged to get their wood as soon as possible as the ruling may soon affect them as well, according to the Carson National Forest.

The judge says the Forest Service hasn't done enough to ensure the owl's habitat is protected and improved.

The owl should be protected.

But the timing of this order is terrible for people who rely on firewood to help heat their homes. It also impacts the efforts of the Forest Service and forest organizations to address the overgrowth in forests that fuels catastrophic wildfires. Autumn is a time when a lot of thinning and prescribed burns can safely be carried out.

It puts the Forest Service once again in the difficult position of following an otherwise good order to ensure protection of a threatened species while hurting a traditional activity of people who live in and near these forests. Back in the late 1990s, the Forest Service was caught between traditional Hispanic loggers, families who needed firewood and environmentalists committed to protecting old growth forests. It caused a painful rift between traditional communities and the Forest Service.

Surely, the judge can clarify his order and exempt personal use firewood and already approved Forest Service thinning projects until winter. WildEarth Guardians, whose case against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service over the owl's lack of protection led to the decision, should support such an amended decision.

There is a way to make this decision more just for those most affected while still ensuring protection of the owl.

Luckily, the Bureau of Land Management is still issuing wood permits.

See the Southwest Regional Forest Service statement of Sept. 24 at taosnews.com.

Climate disruptions need action 

"This is all wrong," said Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student speaking to world leaders Monday at the United Nations General Assembly (Sept. 23) in New York City about climate change.

The teen activist wasn't just talking about the fact that she and thousands of other students rallying for climate change action should have been in school.

She called out government leaders for not paying attention to the science that has clearly said for three decades the planet is headed for trouble and a primary cause of it is the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities such as generating electricity and driving our vehicles.

The consequences of this are dire: drying trends that have led to the largest wildfires in history, increased drought, disappearing wildlife species, rising sea levels that have wiped out islands and an increasing number of catastrophic storms hammering coastlines.

And this is only the beginning, according to climate scientists.

"How dare you," Thunberg told world leaders in a withering speech. "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."

A lot of young people, including some from Taos, have joined her in this call for action. They went to Santa Fe to rally at the Roundhouse Monday. They'll gather again at the Taos Plaza on Friday and are calling on adults to join them.

A rally by itself does little. But it does show whether something is important to people and it keeps an issue like climate change front and center in the public eye.

Taos County is lucky. It has some farsighted people who've been working on ways to make the region more resilient in the face of climate change.

An increasing number of younger farmers are taking up the challenge of growing local food and personal care products from local ingredients. Coffee shops like Apothecary and some cafés are beginning to ask people to bring their own cups and bowls to reduce waste.

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative began working on a plan to make the area more energy independent through solar a decade ago, despite a lot of pushback. It is well on its way to providing thousands of customers daytime electricity powered by the sun.

The nonprofit Renewable Taos is working with KCEC on a plan to create a network of solar powered charging stations to power electric vehicles in hopes that a lot more people will be driving EVs in the next few years.

Taos has talented local solar installers and green builders who know how to make homes energy efficient and even take them completely off-grid, for people who can afford to do so.

The town, little by little, is working to create bike paths, ban plastic bags and address housing needs.

All these efforts need support from the communities. And more needs to be done.

For one, a lot of older homes are in need of upgrades that would make them more energy efficient. But people living in them, often elderly or low income, can't afford to do so. Could UNM-Taos and area high schools launch a training program working with experienced builders to help upgrade homes and at the same time teach students practical skills? There might be federal and state grants to help make this happen.

Could the high schools create a mentorship program with local auto mechanics who can teach them how to work on electric vehicles along with gas-powered ones? Again, grants might be available to fund this.

Could some of the existing empty buildings that plague Taos be converted into apartments to address the lack of affordable housing? Other places have done so.

How about a sustained marketing effort to encourage people to take alternate transportation at least one day a week - carpool, bike to work, walk to work, take the Blue Bus.

Taos has had some great planning efforts that brought people together to consider its future. Now is the time to bring together the brightest minds into a coalition that could look strategically four decades into the future and craft a plan for how the region can survive the climate disruptions that are likely coming.

Young climate activist Thunberg has Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism. As such, she can't lie and she sees situations in black and white, as she told a TEDx audience in February. It means she is completely unafraid to speak her mind.

"People keep doing what they do because most people don't have a clue about the consequences of their everyday actions," Thunberg said. "No one acts as though we are in a crisis.

"What we do or don't do right now will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren," she said. "We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change."

So let's take action.


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