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At Mount Taylor, New Mexico

I admit to being a habitat geek.  Ever since my college days, I have envisioned what habitats can and should look like to support production, conservation, water savings, soil retention and the many other elements that are important to our human health and economic viability.  Last week, I had the opportunity to go in the field with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forestry and Associates to view the amazing work on the north side of Mount Taylor in west central New Mexico.  Efforts to improve ponderosa pine, pinon pine, meadow and browse habitat throughout public lands in the Mesa Chivato area have been ongoing for over 15 years.  Initially progress was tied to discussions, planning, NEPA, clearances and a series of projects and review of successes and failures.

BLM and its partners have done a tremendous job restoring land health to these systems.  As we were driving to different broadcast burns, fire use areas, lop and scatter, and patch cuts it became evident that all of these were derived through a variety of partnerships.

Group meeting at Mesa Chivato.

BLM has worked with the ranchers, wilderness land alliance, U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts and many others to accomplish this work.  Most recently, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been a huge partner in planned objectives and funding efforts on the ground to re-establish healthy stands of ponderosa pine, opening the choked pinon/juniper stands and re-invigorating a variety of shrub, forbs and native grasses for game and non-game wildlife throughout the area.  The question was asked of the BLM fuels lead “how much work would you all have accomplished on the ground without your partners?”  The answer: “In the last 5 years we would not have been able to do any projects on the ground.”

Dense canopy of pinion/juniper.
Open ponderosa community after thinning and prior to burning.

BLM and its partners have several thousand acres treated in the area which border USFS lands to the south.  Through discussions, field tours and joint efforts the USFS is now joining the effort across the fence lines. New Mexico Game and Fish has provided key resources to helping the USFS accomplish the necessary NEPA and clearances on these public lands.  This managed landscape will nearly double in size to about 30,000 acres when the NEPA studies are completed.  These efforts have and continue to build great infrastructure projects that grow local economies from the use of crews, like Forester and Associates, that have been contracted to do thinning, to the sportsmen that hunt the area, to recreationist that enjoy the use of a variety of trails, and to the locals who seasonally come and harvest pinon nuts.

A really neat testimony one of the BLM folks heard about their ongoing management efforts was from a gentleman from back east that has been hunting game in the area over the last 15 years.  He told BLM he has seen more wild turkey than ever in these managed areas and really appreciates the work that BLM and all the partners are doing to improve the health of Mount Taylor.

Congratulations BLM for your patience, passion, and commitment and to all the partners now and in the future who understand the importance of our working landscapes to our rural communities, the public and the critical nature of sustaining land health long term.

Jesse Juen

President, Public Lands Foundation

May 4, 2017