When Otero County commissioners earlier this month approved the creation of a plan to increase logging operations in the Lincoln National Forest, it used the threat of growing wildfires to justify its decision.
The move quickly drew praise from Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and criticism from environmentalists.
"You can't just create a logging industry," Bryan Bird, a forest ecologist with WildEarth Guardians, told SFR at the time. "There's no market for lumber right now."
The Lincoln Forest has seen its share of wildfires this year, the most recent of which was the White Fire in April.
But now that the Las Conches fire and the Pacheco fire have burned more than 70,000 acres, finding the right way to quell out-of-control wildfires is more relevant than ever. Some say added logging would remove the wood fuel that keeps so many wildfires persisting.
Garth Smelser, a deputy forest supervisor at the Lincoln, says logging is "certainly a piece of the puzzle" in restoring forests, but he doesn't see a need to expand it.
"There's no timber in the Lincoln anymore," Smelser tells SFR. "Most of these forests have been logged in at one time."
Logging takes in roughly 1,200 acres of timber a year from Lincoln, which Smelser says is enough for the industry to meet its needs.
Smelzer speaks of the necessity of an all-encompassing approach that includes local timber industry, prescribed burnings and educating people about when wildfires are natural. "It's appropriate to understand that fire is a natural component of the ecosystem," he says.
He also says Lincoln has upped its own efforts to prevent uncontrollable fires by doubling the amount of land it's treated over the past decade, which adds up to around 340,000 acres.
As for what's causing the ever-increasing amount of wildfires in the area, Smelser points to an uncharacteristically dry climate coupled with speeding winds.
"This persistent dry moisture is at levels we've never seen before," he says. "It's one of the driest seasons we've seen."
More fire news and analysis will be available in this week's issue, which hits newsstands tomorrow.
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