I’m curious as to why specifically this appears to be an issue in this area of NM and not so much elsewhere. We’ve discussed this project a bit before, but I think the dueling op-eds are a good place to start. Note: I’m trying to piece this together and some of those involved are readers of TSW, so I’m hoping that you all will correct me if I got something wrong. A special shout-out to the Santa Fe New Mexican for allowing us to see them all without a subscription (I did register).
Perhaps it started with a public listening session about local forest management issues sponsored by Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, Wildearth Guardians and the Forest Advocate. Sarah Hyden of WEG wrote an op-ed on Nov. 19th “Groups stand up to speak for forest.”
As far as I can tell from the op-ed, DellaSala described:
Collateral damages that have been caused in the Santa Fe National Forest by past thinning and too-frequent prescribed burning treatments, and the potential damage the proposed project may cause. He made a series of recommendations to improve the effects of the project on our forest and suggested the Forest Service should seriously consider the public health impacts of prescribed burn smoke.
I thought this was pretty interesting since concerns about PB smoke would be much broader than just New Mexico. And I think they do “seriously consider” it. But what exactly does that mean?
WildEarth Guardians’ Adam Rissien gave a short presentation focused on the lack of specificity and detail of the project proposal, and the need for a range of alternatives to be considered that truly restore forest processes. He recommended creating wetter and cooler areas, restoring compacted and dried-out soils, and reducing unneeded forest roads. I spoke for The Forest Advocate about the need to consider the potential for escaped prescribed burns, and that parameters for prescribed burns specific to the Santa Fe Mountains landscape should be considered within the project analysis.
Mr. Rissien is from Missoula apparently. I’d be interested in his recommendations if anyone has them available.
Which led to an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican by Craig Allen, Matthew Hurteau and Tom Swetnam, all forest scientists who work in the SW. Their Dec. 3 op-ed was called Southwestern Forests Need Active Management.
A couple of things are interesting about that to me.. first, why pick DellaSala to talk about Northern New Mexico? Possibly because he’s a scientist. And not to wax epistemological here, but what scientific research is “truer”, that done by people working in a specific geographic area, or scientists from elsewhere? And what specifically would be DellaSala’s claim to know more about Northern New Mexico?
Much of DellaSala’s narrative was shockingly ignorant of local forest conditions, histories and trends. From a scientific perspective, much of DellaSala’s presentation was inaccurate, unbalanced, incomplete or inconsistent, exhibiting classic examples of wildfire misinformation (e.g., described here: esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/fee.2553).
So the NM scientists did their own webinar.
We also know that restoring the right kinds of fire and forest densities, based on a scientific understanding of the local ecology, can help our forests adaptively persist in the face of ongoing climate change. If interested in continuing the conversation, we will participate in an interactive public webinar at 6 p.m. Dec. 15 to share and discuss the best available forest and fire science for our Santa Fe mountains landscape, livestreamed through the Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition Facebook page.
Then another op-ed by Dominick Dellasala “Forest Service must hear concerns” on December 11.
To represent legitimate public concerns is not misinformation; it’s truth telling, however inconvenient for some. Respectful communications are essential in avoiding my-way-or-the-highway attitudes — and for listening to an otherwise disenfranchised community that is anything but powerless.
So Dellasala has switched a bit to “representing legitimate public concerns” and people who don’t want thinning projects are “disenfranchised.” I thought that this was a little funny,,
The larger issue at stake is whether the U.S. Forest Service can listen to requests for a full environmental analysis of the impactful Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project and whether independent scientists without a stake in government funding are on equal footing. Strong-arming scientists and concerned citizens who speak truth to power never works.
He makes the common claim that people who disagree with him depend on government funding (same as the Sierra scientists).. I don’t know if that is respectful of them. I don’t see the NM scientists “strong-arming” nor the Santa Fe NF. And ah… speaking “truth to power”.. I would have to say that in terms of influencing forest policy DellaSala and WEG have much more power than the folks on the Santa Fe and their local collaborative groups.
But here’s my favorite statement from the op-ed:
Scientists often disagree over how we view the natural world. I see forests as a kind of super-organism, an interconnected marriage of form, function and process uniquely adapted to fit the environment and sometimes in need of legitimate restorative actions.
That’s actually a philosophical stance. Which is fine (I don’t happen to agree, but we all get to have our own philosophical/spiritual beliefs). But I think that having different philosophies about the natural world is different than claiming the authority of science for specific philosophical views. And maybe that should be the centerpoint of the discussion.
The latest op-ed as of today is by Robert Kirmse. It’s called “Forests in Danger; time to act is now.”
Moreover, DellaSala goes on to parrot more of the organizers’ twisted logic: that 98 percent of those who spoke at that one-sided event favored conducting an environment impact statement. Well, of course, they were; the meeting was organized and mainly attended by and promoted by well-meaning, but misguided, collaborators of those local nongovernmental organizations.
I don’t know about New Mexico, but the feeling I get is that these people want specific changes, but ask for more analysis, alternatives, etc. I don’t actually believe, as in the Montana lodge expansion case, that more analysis will solve the problem of people disagreeing. Certainly it will delay and provide more legal hooks for litigation, but the end result could be the same. Especially if you really believe that the NM scientists and the local Forest Service people are “strong-arming concerned citizens” and are ignoring “the truth”.. there would just be more citations of papers some people disagree with and more pages for the real public not to read. I hear much frustration among everyone here, but shouldn’t the conversation be specifically about what changes some would like to see? What are they afraid of the FS doing “wrong”? Maybe that’s there somewhere outside of the op-eds.
Also, in the areas I’ve worked there are local folks and groups with a variety of concerns about projects. Perhaps we can ask them what their views are on all this; and specifically what changes they would like to make to the project.