Forest Service not sued on timber project

I couldn’t find the project files for the Gatton’s Park fuels treatment project in the Upper Mimbres Valley on the Gila National Forest, but it seemed like it has a lot of features that make it a good example of how to not get sued –

The Nature Conservancy received an initial Collaborative Forest Restoration Program grant for planning the project from 2012 through 2014; when the National Environmental Policy Act process was finished, the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded an additional grant and took over implementation of the plan beginning in January 2018.

In addition to local residents and logging businesses, the county government, the Forest Service, firefighters, conservationists and wildlife habitat advocates are also seeing the benefit of working together.

So far, thinning has reduced fuels from 50 tons per acre down to 15 tons in treated parts of the 1,500-acre project area and reduced fuels by half in other treated parts of the project area — something that will give residents on the edge of the Gila Forest in the Gatton’s Park development, in particular, a better chance of surviving a wildfire without catastrophic damage. The border of forest land and developed land is known as a “wildland urban interface.”

Partido emphasized the difference between a regular timber contract and the current project. Both attain forest management goals, especially in the area of fire prevention, but the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program is more efficient. “There hasn’t been a timber sale in these parts since the 1950s,” Partido said.

Part of the silvicultural prescription provided by the Forest Service — the tree plan — also takes into account habitats for the threatened Mexican spotted owls in the Gila. Trees over certain diameters are left in place — as are trees with holes where owls might nest.

What happens to the trees that are cut? The two contractors are either bringing the logs to sawmills and making poles and other products out of them or turning them into wood chips — piles of which are regularly offered to anyone who wants to come pick them up, for free. “Some of the ponderosa logs will be brought to the Celebration campground and other campgrounds for people to use,” Carver said.

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