When New Mexico Rep. Rebecca Dow (R-38) toured the Sangre de Cristo Range in northern New Mexico to learn about the Taos Valley Watershed Coalition’s work there, she had the opportunity to see firsthand how a collaborative effort between the Nature Conservancy, federal and state agencies, industry and private entities is addressing threats to the Rio Grande watershed; creating jobs and battling serious wildfire threats in the process. “As I tour the district listening to constituents, I find that all are concerned about water, protecting/maximizing our natural resources, education, and jobs,” said Dow. “I’ve seen first-hand that a large scale effort to address the watershed – while reducing the risk of catastrophic fire – can address all of the above.” Dow said, as she thought on her tour of the Taos efforts, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have this here in the Gila, and we can, with enough support.” Last week, Grant and Sierra County officials met with various federal and state entities, officially launching a Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) for the Gila, bringing local governments, nonprofits, businesses and agencies together to prioritize forest treatments on a massive scale and create local forest industry jobs and other benefits.
LENDING AN EAR – New Mexico Representative Rebecca Dow (left) listens during a tour
of the watershed coalition, who were meeting to discuss efforts in Northern New Mexico.
She and other officials have been instrumental in bringing the watershed project here
which will create jobs, address wildfires and protect the Gila Watershed.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) this year is investing nearly $32 million to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality, and restore healthy forest ecosystems in 24 states and Puerto Rico. Since 2014 USDA has invested $176 million in 56 Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Projects, focusing on areas where public forests and grasslands intersect with privately owned lands. "Through Joint Chiefs, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with agricultural producers and forest landowners to improve forest health using available Farm Bill conservation programs, and the Forest Service enhances forest health on public lands – stitching together a larger footprint of healthy ecosystems in priority areas," said Leonard Jordan, acting NRCS chief. This year the USDA agencies are providing $2.9 million to fund seven new projects, and $29 million to support 21 ongoing partnership projects. Federal, state and local partners will bring an additional $12 million through financial and in-kind contributions over three years to implement the newly added projects. These contribute to jobs and economic benefits that sustain rural communities, said Jordan. “Wildfires are a serious and on-going threat to forests and communities alike, as we’ve seen in California and throughout the nation this past year,” said Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke. “Through these Joint Chief’s projects, USDA will be working with local partners in high-risk project areas to control invasive species, install fire breaks and implement other targeted forest management practices to help mitigate the risk of wide-spread wildfires.” The Nature Conservancy-led Río Grande Water Fund (RGWF) is a nonprofit public/private partnership founded in 2014, with the mission of treating the forests and headwaters in the entire Rio Grande Basin, ensuring a reliable source of water for the people who depend on the river and its tributaries. It serves as a fundraising arm for the CFRPs. The coalitions prioritize forest treatments on a massive scale and pool their limited resources to use as efficiently as possible. Dow first heard about the coalitions in a legislative committee, and later toured an area in the Sangre de Christos, hosted by the Association of Commerce and Industry and the Taos Valley Watershed Coalition. The USDA provides grants of up to $360,000 to stakeholders for forest restoration projects in New Mexico that are designed through a collaborative process. The projects can last up to four years and can be located on any combination of federal, tribal, state, county or municipal forest land.
The CFRP has funded more than 200 projects in 20 New Mexico counties since 2001. To date, these projects have restored 33,000 acres and created more than 750 jobs. The fund seeks to fast track the existing pace of thinning work, eventually treating 600,000 acres of overgrown forest in the next 20 years. To learn more about the program, inquire about the CFRP , apply for a grant, or get help with a grant application, go to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r3/workingtogether/grants/?cid=FSBDEV3_022022.
By Etta Pettijohn
For The SENTINEL ©Copyright 2018 Sierra County Sentinel