October 2, 2008

Project Expands Plan For Wildfire Protection

By Laura Nesbitt Mountain View Telegraph

Plans for environmental consultants to draft a community wildfire protection document have expanded.

The Estancia Basin Watershed Health, Restoration and Monitoring Project uses plots in the Manzano Mountains that are maintained by SWCA Environmental Consultants.

"We installed fire monitoring plots in August this year. The thinning monitoring plots were installed last year. One of them was burned in the Trigo Fire," said Victoria Williams, natural resources planner from SWCA.

The fire monitoring plots resemble a large cross mapped on the ground by SWCA monitoring personnel. The crosspieces are 75 feet long with rebar at the ends and in the middle.

"All plots are on private land where we make measurements like plant cover, species type, plant height, tree cover, wildlife tracks and scat, soil type and soil erosion," Williams said.

The project has two parts.

First, SWCA personnel will assess how thinning of pion and ponderosa pine affects water yield and forest health. Thinning plots, for example, will monitor small mammals with traps over a five year period.

"The traps are big enough for mice and rats. It's a live trap. We measure and record species," Williams said.

There are a total of 10 plots in the thinning study on five sites that include two paired monitoring plots each. One plot of the pair will be thinned and the other will "stay as-is," Williams said.

The five-year thinning period will include two years of prethinning monitoring and three years of postthinning.

Second, as part of the fire monitoring project, SWCA personnel will assess the effect of the Trigo Fire on water yield and forest health. There are 21 fire monitoring plots in the Trigo Fire burn area distributed between heavily-, lightlyand unburned-areas in ponderosa pine on private land from Chilili to Mountainair.

Over a two-year period personnel will monitor "how vegetation responds, whether trees survive, how severe the fire was and what the impact of the fire was. We're also looking at animal tracks and scat, and doing bird counts," Williams said.

For both types of plot projects, hydrologists have installed piezometers in drainage areas on the banks of arroyos for assessment of water flow.

Since 2003 the project has received $3.2 million for thinning and monitoring through the state Water Trust Board, said Claunch-Pinto SWCD District Manager Dierdre Tarr.

"We have probably committed about $1.2 million to the monitoring stations," Tarr said.

The project is directed by a steering committee that includes all Edgewood, East Torrance and Claunch-Pinto Soil and Water Conservation districts, New Mexico State Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, Chilili Land Grant, Manzano Land Grant, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Isleta Pueblo, N.M. Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute and New Mexico Environment Department.

Ken Smith, director of N.M. Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute, is the project coordinator.

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