Forest Service plans pile burns in northern New Mexico

Forest Service plans pile burns in northern New Mexico

For a lot of New Mexicans, prescribed burns may stir up negative feelings.

SANTA FE, N.M. – For a lot of New Mexicans, prescribed burns may stir up negative feelings. It’s no secret that a prescribed burn eventually led to the largest wildfire in New Mexico history. 

Now, the national Forest Service is planning some prescribed burns over the winter. 

A Santa Fe National Forest official says the goal with any prescribed burn is to help control the outcome of those fires. 

“So it really is – it’s fuel reduction. Via live trees are dead and down vegetation,” said Dennis Carroll, a SFNF Fuels Program manager. 

Carroll says that’s the simplest explanation for what pile burns are. He’s the fuels program manager for the forest and plans prescribed burns like the pile burns on the schedule this winter. 

Carroll says they look at several factors during planning, like weather patterns, and what’s nearby.

“It’s just not the vegetation or fire behavior that we expect when we implement a particular burn. But it’s also some of the socio-political concerns, locations of values of risk. Maybe it’s an endangered species, maybe it’s a historic Pueblo,” said Carroll. 

Right now, the Santa Fe National Forest is planning winter pile burns around the Española Ranger District and a few others. 

Carroll says he knows the public may be weary about the news after last year when two dormant pile burns started the Calf Canyon and the Cerro Pelado fires. 

“What got us to what happened last year was not looking at the back end of this because with both the Cerro Pelado burn escape and the Calf Canyon pile escape, these were things that we call holdovers that they didn’t cause us problems, or they didn’t show themselves until literally months after the actual pile burn took place,” Carroll said. 

Now, pile burns are planned around things like how much snow fall there is, and how long it’ll be there. 

Carroll says the Forest Service as a whole has learned a lot after last year. 

“One of the more critical things we’re looking at is utilizing technology to be able to help us to document and call it out through infrared uses, right? Whether it’s handheld devices, or whether it’s through drones,” said Carroll. 

He says the biggest lesson was not monitoring the pile burns as closely after the fact. But says despite the risks, prescribed burns are critical to keeping a balanced ecosystem. 

“Learn from our mistakes, incorporate them into our new planning process to move forward, and in to keep managing fire because we’re not going to get away from it in the west,” said Carroll. 

So these pile burns are meant to clear out possible fuel that could be hazardous during fire season in the spring. 

Right now, Carroll says crews are scouting conditions and if they don’t meet the strict requirements the Forest Service has now, the burn won’t happen.