July 31, 2008

Forest in Sandias To Be Thinned ; Project Gets Public Involved in Process

By Laura Nesbitt Mountain View Telegraph

Protecting both children and the forest from fire are just two of the goals of a thinning project begun in the East Mountains on July 1.

The Sandia Mountain Natural History Center is a 128-acre environmental education center covered with pion and juniper, and located in the Sandia Mountains off N.M. 14.

T he t h i nn i ng project, administered by New Mexico State Forestry and using funds from the U.S. Forest Service, will treat approximately 90 to 100 acres of the center's forest, said Ciudad Soil & Water Conservation District Project Manager Sue Hansen.

The district has the largest stretch of wildland urban interface in the state "where people are living right up against wildness and forest or wildlands," Hansen said.

"We're thinning or lessening the average number of trees" to about 40 to 60 trees on average per acre by creating defensible space about 100 feet away from the center's buildings, Hansen said.

According to manager Paul Mauermann, the center is owned by Albuquerque Public Schools and run by New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. It was built in 1967 and regularly hosts classes of area fifth-graders for a 4-hour program. Children get a brief introduction from staff on ecology systems and then go on a 2- hour hike. Afterward, they return to the center for lunch and a short ecosystem activity. There are five indoor classrooms and six outdoor classrooms on the property. Last year about 14,000 children visited the center.

Creating the defensible space will "give kids and adults time to get out and will slow down a fire," Hansen said.

The byproduct of the thinning will be either spread out evenly as chips over the forest floor, or it will be hauled out, Hansen said.

Professional Tree Service and Forest Fitness are the two East Mountain based contractors which are performing the thinning work.

Mauermann invited the public to visit the center this Saturday and take a look at the thinning being done at the public education program which is held on the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from March through September.

This Saturday, the program from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. is called "orienteering."

"A lot of people have an idea that thinning projects go in and completely destroy the forest. The reality is that it's not that big of an impact, and within a year, it'll be hard to tell that it's been thinned," Mauermann said.

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