Wildfires earlier this spring burned thousands of acres in Lincoln National Forest, leaving burn scars that could bring risks of flooding in the rainy summer months.
The McBride Fire torched about 6,159 acres around the Ruidoso area from April 12 to May 27, destroying at least 200 structures – mostly homes and cabins in the popular tourism town – and killing two people.
The Nogal Fire burned another 412 acres around Ruidoso in April.
The blazes ignited in a record-breaking year for New Mexico wildfires, with the state’s two biggest fires in history reported: the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire that burned 341,735 acres in northern New Mexico, records show, while the Black Fire burned 325,136 acres so far to the southwest.
Wildfire recovery efforts ongoing in Lincoln National Forest
While both fires in Lincoln National Forest were considered 100 percent contained by the end of May, personnel with the U.S. Forest Service continued work to repair the damage left behind.
Aerial reseeding began this summer, attempting to replace trees and other vegetation lost in the fire while preventing burn scars from developing where soil hardens and is unable to absorb water, potentially bringing flooding as the summer monsoon sets in.
Colleen Urban, public affairs officer with Lincoln National Forest, said plans were in place to reseed 335 acres with barley and other native seeds in the most severely burned areas of the forest.
Forest soil scientists and hydrologists are also monitoring multiple areas recovering from the fires, and will continue for the next three years, she said, to determine the improved soil health and its ability to sustain vegetation.
“The Lincoln National Forest has a robust reforestation program and will continue long-term restoration work,” Urban said. “Visitors should be on the lookout for posted warning signs in areas that are prone to flooding after a fire.”
To prevent future fires, Urban said tree harvesting, thinning and prescribed fires controlled by the Forest Service are conducted to reduce fuel that could build up following heavy rains.
“These treatments reduce the probability of catastrophic fires and help to maintain and restore healthy and resilient ecosystems,” he said.
The increase in fires reported this year and nationwide prompted the Forest Service to establish a 10-year plan to address wildfire risks, pointing to climate change and more people building homes in forest areas.
The agency planned to treat up to 20 million acres of Forest Service lands over the next decade, along with 30 million acres of other federal, state, tribal and private lands.
“The Forest Service will work with partners to focus fuels and forest health treatments more strategically and at the scale of the problem, using the best available science as a guide,” Urban said.
Biden administration works recover from fires
Nationwide, the administration of President Joe Biden, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said it planned to invest $100 million in the Forest Service for reforestation, addressing a backlog of 4 million acres needing to be reforested in the next 10 years
The initiative used funds allocated in the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and will result in the planting of “billions” of trees after the legislation removed a $30 million spending cap on such activities.
“Forests are a powerful tool in the fight against climate change,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Nurturing their natural regeneration and planting in areas with the most need is critical to mitigating the worst effects of climate change while also making those forests more resilient to the threats they face from catastrophic wildfire, historic drought, disease outbreaks and pest infestation.”
What can you do to prevent wildfires?
Visitors to the park also have a role in preventing fires and minimizing the damage, Urban said.
She said campers should choose locations away from dry grass or logs that could at as fuel, and make sure a source of water, a bucket and a shovel is nearby to put out fires.
Campers should never leave a campfire unattended, Urban said, and keep them small.
Fires should be put out by adding dirt, water or sand until it is cool to the touch.
“When extinguishing your fire, make sure that no embers are exposed and still smoldering,” she said. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 575-628-5516. Follow him on Twitter at @AdrianHedden.