Managing Forests for the Broadest Community of Nature and People: Toner Mitchell op-ed on the Santa Fe

Toner Mitchell of Trout Unlimited wrote this op-ed about the Santa Fe issues…he posted it as a comment but I thought it deserved its own thread because it represents the fish perspective (we don’t seem to hear from those folks as often as vegetation and wildlife folks) as well as a broader vision.

It also troubles me that the cutthroat’s life cycle overlaps significantly with the owl’s, their young being born and reared in the late spring and early summer. Historically, that’s when fires spawn as well, only these once-normal fires are now turbocharged by the combination of climate change and past mistakes.

Anyone who’s observed the aftermath of Las Conchas and Whitewater Baldy knows how high-severity fire cripples trout streams. Even without fire, streams are warming quickly. With fire, we see denuded riparian zones, springs gouged out by floods, aquatic insects buried by silt and ash. In many cases, these impacts are for keeps, rendering streams incapable of supporting the organisms that once lived there.


These problems on our landscape are becoming too profound to be laid solely at the feet of our scapegoats, be they “vindictive,” “cynical” or otherwise. We all bear responsibility for how these problems came to be. We are equally on task for how they should be fixed. Our forests aren’t as resilient as they once were. We must manage our forests for the broadest community of nature and people, for owls and trout, for grass to be grazed and firewood to heat our homes.

Precision and proper scaling must govern all of our forest management practices, not only our actions toward the land but toward each other. And no, we shouldn’t let high-severity fire just happen. It may have its ecological place, but so does the judicious application of thinning and prescribed fire.

He also said in a comment:

Left out of this discussion is the active forest treatment being conducted by New Mexico tribes. The Pueblo of Tesuque is a participating stakeholder in the Santa Fe project. Indeed they collaborated with USFS on the Pacheco Canyon treatment that contributed positively to bringing last summer’s Rio En Medio fire to the ground. It was a beautiful treatment, leaving plenty of logs on the ground, standing snags, lots of horizontal and vertical heterogeneity. Just this past weekend, I saw smoke from a burn on Picuris Pueblo land. Taos Pueblo is doing it too, and all of the pueblos are working in partnership with land management agencies. The Santa Clara Pueblo is still cleaning up after the Las Conchas fire devastated their watershed, previously a significant source of tribal revenue from recreational fishing. It’s notable that cooperation from tribes never enters the conversation. Acknowledging tribal support could raise the issue that in spite of our very public claims that we respect tribal sovereignty (and historic use of fire as a tool to promote land health), we might actually dishonor it if we choose the wrong path.


It would be interesting to have the conversation directly about what are the characteristics of judiciousness that different folks in Santa Fe support?  We did try that a while back and you can see a good discussion among many of us with Sarah Hayden here.


2 thoughts on “Managing Forests for the Broadest Community of Nature and People: Toner Mitchell op-ed on the Santa Fe”

  1. Ponderosa pine robs billions of gallons from aquifer recharges leaving piñon little defense against bark beetles.

    There is an aspen community above Santa Fe that gets bigger and healthier every year because of the cooperative efforts with the Pueblos mentioned above and Tesuque Creek is still running. It’s spectacular right now.

  2. I just got around to looking at the whole op-ed, and you left out the most important (planning!) piece – the 2013 Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Strategy:

    One of the recommendations is: “4.5 During plan revision, update resource management plans as necessary to address threats to Rio Grande cutthroat trout habitat and enhance watershed conditions.” Specifically: “With this consideration, land management activities will be conducted in such a manner as to protect all stream habitats, including occupied and potential Rio Grande cutthroat trout habitat, and minimize fire risk. Land management activities are currently practiced according to the Carson, Santa Fe, and Rio Grande National Forest Land and Resource Management Plans, and BLM Resource Management Plans. During scheduled revisions, the forests and BLM field offices will evaluate the current Land and Resource Management Plans and update as necessary to provide adequate protection for Rio Grande cutthroat trout with current best management practices. Land management activities that would result in the loss of habitat or cause a reduction in long-term habitat quality will be avoided.”

    I assume those updates should be based on this Conservation Strategy, and I wonder how that is playing out in the relevant forest plan revisions. Also, how the national forests are using their forest plans to achieve the population restoration goals in Table 3.

    With regard to fire risk, “The Nature Conservancy was contracted by NMDGF to perform a wildfire risk analysis in 2013. Models using landscape scale variables (e.g., forest type, years since last burn) were developed to determine the likelihood of a catastrophic flow event as well as the intensity or severity of such an event. Wildfire risk was determined for each Rio Grande
    cutthroat trout population, but also at watershed, sub-watershed, and GMU scales. Final
    products of this contract include a report, map book, and GIS shape files (Miller and Basset
    2013). These products improve our understanding of the wildfire risks to specific populations
    and help to guide restoration and recovery efforts.” This should be the basis of any proposal for vegetation management in the name of protecting trout.


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