By Glenn Griffin
During the fourth meeting of the new Grant County Eco-Watershed Planning Committee, there was the remote possibility of some good news and a lot of very dire wildland fire predictions. “There is a slight chance of rain, a wet April and May,” was reported in one of the several presentations to the 12 county residents and committee members by Gabe Holguin of the Gila National Forest’s Fire and Aviation staff. The rest of his fire season review stressed that we are deep into a three-year long-term drought with a heavy fine fuel loading of grass to carry fire. From unusual torching of juniper trees in a weekend fire east of Bear Mountain to the missing snowpack on top of Mogollon Baldy, the outlook is grim.
Another person reporting to the committee was Fuels Specialist Ricky Cox of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), calling in from Las Cruces. He told the group about the first possible funding in over four years for tree-thinning fire-prevention in Pinos Altos. This small project might be ready to proceed in late spring, tying in with both previous public land thins and private land fire adaption work.
Currently the only thinning work taking place in Grant County is being spurred on by homeowners’ insurance policies, which require privately funded thinning or else the homeowner is dropped by their insurance company. Congressional budget cuts in 2011 slashed federal tree-thinning budgets, so there is no longer funding to assist homeowners. For eleven years, the New Mexico State Forestry and Grant Soil and Water funded needed tree-thinning at 70 percent, with 30 percent paid by the homeowner. Less and less federal funding means homeowners will fund their fire-adaption work to protect their property and must not wait or count on the federal government to pay for their thinning. State Farm Insurance is looking for a minimum of 100 feet of defensible space, trees ladder-limbed, and grass and weeds mowed.
The mission and goal of the Grant County Ecological Watershed Committee is to lay out a process for Grant County to rehabilitate impaired watershed ecosystems to protect citizens, dwellings, livestock, and property from damage due to catastrophic wildfires and floods. The process will use thinning, grazing or fire to improve the surface and ground water; seek funding and support to carry out rehabilitation projects, while creating employment and keeping the public informed; and work with the Forest Service, BLM, State Forestry, and fire departments in a collaborative and inclusive effort.
Open to the public, the next meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at 1:00 pm at the Grant County Administration Building. The committee is working hard to coordinate between all agencies on a G.I.S. location map of all the past thinning activity in Grant County. This could add up to several thousand acres being treated. A lowering of ISO fire insurance ratings was brought up by two past volunteer firefighters who attended the meeting. A G.I.S area map with a 1, 2 or 3 ISO rating through the Pinos Altos Volunteer Fire Department may help the committee find areas that are in critical need of fire-adaption treatment.
Both Vowles and Griffin are speaking at the upcoming Symposium of Preparedness at the WNMU Bessie-Forward Global Resource Center on March 7 to 8, where much more on fire-adapting of backyards will be discussed. For more information, visit www.scneighborsalliance.com.