Andrea Martinez, Gila National Forest Public Affairs Officer, continued her report on items of concern from Southwest County Commission Alliance members at a meeting in Deming on July 31.
Changing the topic to the Catwalk, Martinez said she had a briefing with the Glenwood District Ranger Pat Morrison, who said the open hours during the monsoon season would be 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., because of flooding potential during and after afternoon rainstorms. "We did successfully blast the overhang, where rock had fallen. We have 15,000 pounds of rocks. We have a certified blaster to make the large boulders smaller so we can haul the rock out. Pat wants to have volunteers haul the rock out with wheelbarrows. She understands the economic challenge, with it being open, closed, then open again. "Yes, it's frustrating, but we have been working diligently to reopen the Catwalk. In mid-August, a contractor will come in to assess the bolts. The priority is to get people on the actual Catwalk, but it is public safety. Every effort is being made to keep it open safely. We cannot ignore safety hazards. There is no attempt to close it down permanently. We understand the frustration."
Luna County Commissioner Javier Diaz questioned the closure because of potential flooding, when there are no clouds anywhere near the Catwalk.
"Sometimes there are no clouds around the Catwalk, but there are in the upper areas," Martinez said. "We do not close capriciously. Pat said she would prefer to close it than have a fatality."
Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon questioned whether the Forest Service had been diligent in trying to reopen it. "You got the Catwalk out quick, but now there seems to be a new danger every day."
"People are going broke," Catron County Commissioner Glyn Griffin said. "We want teams to put it back. Is there a date to reopen it?" Martinez said: "No."
"Forest service people get paychecks, but businesses don’t," Griffin said.
"I attended the Region 2 Tourism meeting in Deming," Martinez said. "I have been in contact with Polly Tipton, who has a business in Glenwood and is trying to promote the area. I suggested we attend the next meeting in Socorro. People can still go to the Catwalk picnic area and walk a quarter mile. We want to ultimately reopen to the Octagon. We are aware of the economic impact. The Catwalk is very important to the area. There is a lot of unhappiness and rightly so."
On the topic of the BAER team operations, Martinez said the seeding of 13,000 acres on the Silver Fire is complete. "To a previous question about only 10 percent of the area having been reseeded, she said: "We reseed only the high burn areas because other areas still have their seed source. Mulching gives protection to the seed and prevents erosion. On one slope we can already see germination three days after seeding, so the operation has been successful. Fire burns in a mosaic pattern. You can see where fire ran up the slope. We're mulching in the black areas. It is financially efficient not to seed and mulch everywhere. To determine the area, we have people walking to assess the areas."
"The drainages from Percha Creek were seeded," Martinez continued. "We had values at risk to protect—Kingston, Hillsboro and highway 152. We will go back after seeding to determine how much seed and mulching took and whether we need more. This year we reseeded areas of Whitewater-Baldy."
She asked Mary Alice Murphy, who had accompanied Martinez to the mulching operations at Emory Pass to discuss the process. Murphy said the mosaic pattern was evident, and the area just eastward of Emory Pass, where the trees had been killed by beetle infestation had burned badly, but seed and mulch had been applied. At Emory Pass, a team worked efficiently to spread out the empty nets dropped by the helicopters after dropping mulch on the northern sections of the fire. The empty net would be piled with three bales of straw and "fluffed" by a skid steer, before the net was attached to the gear below the helicopter, which pulled up the net full of straw and flew off to scatter its load. Several nets were in various stages of preparation, so that one would be ready to replace each empty one dropped.
Martinez said the drought conditions had opened up the mostly Douglas fir and Englemann spruce trees to beetle infestation and disease. "The area had high burn severity. We will finish mulching this weekend." She invited any commissioners who wished to see the operation to let her know and she would escort them to the area.
She said she wanted to correct a misconception about the 19 fatalities on the Yarnell Fire in Arizona. "The fire burned on state land, not Forest Service land. The men were not a Forest Service hotshot team, but a Prescott hotshot team. "
"In 1924, the Gila Wilderness was established as the first in the country," Martinez said. "Next year will be the 90th anniversary. The National Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, so it will be the 50th anniversary next year. We plan some activities."
She said a footbridge had recently been completed along Tularosa Creek, near where there are petroglyphs.
"We are not here to lie or be deceitful," Martinez stressed. "We want to leave the forest open to the public, while managing it for future generations."
Commissioners approved their priority list of supporting private property rights, opposing the travel management plan, the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan and endangered species, choosing to utilize AWSA water and funding for the human species, and supporting the reconstruction of the Catwalk.
Shannon said because of a recent $5 million settlement between Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service some were trying to decide what to do with the money. Some want to purchase private property near Redrock. "We need to send a letter asking that private property not be bought and turned over to the federal government."
In the Roundtable discussion, McGuire said a problem with mitigation of the wildland-urban interface is that there is a list of projects that are supposed to be complete. "The Forest Service has done very little on them. Willow Creek was on the list and should have been cleared before the fire. It might have saved the community. There are a lot of areas that need to be mitigated by the Forest Service, under the Forest Restoration Act, passed and signed under President Bush. The state and the Bureau of Land Management have done a pretty good job."
Shannon suggested writing a letter to Gila National Forest Supervisor Kelly Russell to get an answer to what has been done.
Griffin suggested coordinating with the Catron County Fire Chief on the letter.
"What has been done has saved areas," McGuire said. "It is a good thing to do."
Martinez said the information is available.
"Quemado has done a lot to protect their housing developments," McGuire continued. "The Gila has a high success rate with the goal to protect communities. Every forest has challenges, because they get less money."
Shannon said safety where people live is good, but a rock fall is not the same thing.
Martinez said it would be nice to have as many resources as needed to do everything.
"It just seems that when the Forest Service is doing things, it doesn't have a good impact on the public," McGuire said.
Diaz said the Mimbres River finally flowed through Deming, but it was black and it sealed the soil. "Somebody has to be accountable for the decisions made. They should be sensible decisions. Making our needs known should be part of the process."
McGuire said sediment has built up under the bridge through Glenwood to within three feet of the bridge. "This is something the Department of Transportation needs to take care of, not the Forest Service, for a change. If it is not cleared and debris builds up under the bridge, the whole town will be flooded."
The next SWCCA meeting will take place at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, in Reserve.