Local Resource Management Increases Public Safety, Creates Jobs

Sep 21, 2011 Issues: Economy and Jobs

New Mexico State Forestry has reported 1,263 fires, burning more than 1 million acres since July 2010. This report shows the danger in which our homes, our communities, and our families have been placed. Mismanaged, overgrown forests contribute to the spread of wildfires that have devastated our state over the past year. The threat of fires in New Mexico could be decreased, giving us safer homes and healthier forests.

I have never been a proponent of clear cutting our forests; however, I am strongly in favor of healthy conservation through targeted forest management. Regular thinning of trees helps protect local watershed, decreases the risk of fires, and provides a better forest for wildlife and for the people of New Mexico.

This is exactly what the Otero County Commission was trying to accomplish with their Emergency Tree Cutting that began on Saturday, September 17th. The Commissioners in Otero County have been dedicated to ensuring local resource management of our forests and increasing public safety.

In June, the Commission voted to create an emergency plan, allowing the county to forego U.S. Forest Service policy and cut trees in the event of an emergency. They created an 80,000-acre plan that calls for responsible management to protect local watershed and prevent fires that have threatened Cloudcroft for many years.

Cutting took place in Lincoln National Forest near Cloudcroft.

It was a historic day, marking the return of common-sense local resource management, and I commend their efforts as well as their determination. In the days leading up to the event, an agreement was reached between the United States Forest Service and the Otero County Commissioners, stating that USFS would not interfere with the emergency plan. This was a breakthrough, demonstrating that cooperation between local and federal governments is possible.

I have continually said that forest management can only be done successfully if local government is an equal with the federal government. For the first time in a long while, local people with local interests have demonstrated that there is a voice, other than Washington's, in forest management. Saturday’s event was a step toward public safety in our communities, and our local officials have delivered.

The reemergence of local involvement in forest management is a positive step. Regulations by the federal government have limited public access of forests and created logging bans.

In reality, forest management cannot be handled in Washington alone; instead, local people with local interests should have a voice in how to properly manage local resources. It is the Constitutional right of local governments to have a voice in these matters.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution specifies which powers are given to the federal government. The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution states that all powers not given to the federal government belong to the states and to the people. The right to determine how the forest should be managed belongs to states, counties, or the people. It is a local issue that directly affects our homes, communities, and our safety.

Saturday’s events in Otero County proved that local governments are more than capable of managing their lands. Their plan was legal and did not call for clear cutting of the forests. Instead, it worked to cut unnecessary or dead and dry trees that would only act as kindling when wildfires start.

Otero County’s plan also initiated what will hopefully be the renewal of the timber industry in New Mexico. If we can get local governments to take the initiative and tell the federal government that enough is enough, we can reclaim the industry that once flourished in New Mexico.

According to “The Economics of Sawmill Operations in New Mexico,” a study by New Mexico State University from the early 1960s lumber and wood products manufacturing was second in importance “only to the food and food handling industry of New Mexico.”

Additionally, our nation lost 20,000 logging jobs with the listing of the spotted owl on the endangered species list. This loss is devastating, but could be overcome with the renewal of logging in our state and other areas who follow Otero County’s lead.

It is time for the people to hold the government accountable and for government to listen to the people. The simple truth is that we need real, common-sense solutions and a government that will use good judgment. We have to stand up and say, “Enough is enough!”