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Residents look at topography of the Sandia Mountain area and discuss ways to make it less vulnerable to fire.

Firewise workshop: wildfire possibilities and ways to protect your family and property

—Vicki Gottlieb

On December 14, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., Placitas residents are invited to learn more about the potential dangers of wildfire to the area and what can be done to reduce its impact at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in the Village of Placitas. Everyone is encouraged to become familiar with potential wildfire threats and the simple things to do to make homes and property less vulnerable to wildfire.

At 9:00 a.m., the U.S. Forest Service will use a vivid three-dimensional computer simulation to show how quickly fire could spread in Placitas given different starting points and wind variables. A similar demonstration in March almost anticipated the location of the Piedra Fire, which started May 2. Mike Matush, an expert on forestry and thinning from the NM Surface Water Quality Bureau, will provide commentary on the various scenarios and share his experience.

At 10:00 a.m., retired forester George Duda will give an informative and entertaining presentation on the hazards of wildfire and what homeowners can do—like thinning, pruning, brush removal, and grass cutting—to reduce dangerous conditions on their property. This will be followed by a Q&A. Mr. Duda worked for the U.S. Forest Service and NM State Forestry Division, is a member of many professional societies, and currently acts as the Forest Health Program Assessor for the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District.

There will also be photos, information, and testimonials from the five families in different areas of Placitas who now have an acre of defensible space—the Firewise term for reducing wildfire risk immediately around a home—thanks to their foresight and a grant. The pilot project, funded by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District, provided fifty percent of the cost for professional fuels reduction. Come find out more about what you can do to reduce the potential impact of wildfire in Placitas.

You can make a difference by helping us make Placitas fire wise. Check us out at our bimonthly gatherings between 10:00 a.m. and noon on December 5 and 19, in the Upper Room of the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. Contact Vicki Gottlieb at or call 404-8022 for more information.

Erosion control—Part two

—Michael Crofoot

On nicely sloped landscapes, one of the first things I have been known to do is get down on my hands and knees and look closely at the surface of the ground, searching especially for an erosion structure that is called a ‘soil pedestal.’ Such pedestals can be one- to five-inches tall or higher with the mounds of soil protected by the root mass of a plant growing on top of each pedestal. The surrounding levels of the ground have been washed away by sheet erosion. Continued sheet erosion results in higher and higher pedestals, which eventually collapse, and the fertile, living top soil and plants are washed away. Every time we see roots exposed above the ground, they are direct indicators of big erosion events that wash away the soil.

The Las Placitas Association’s way-cool publication Landowner’s Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Erosion and Stormwater Control is available on the Internet. From the booklet’s description: “This simple, illustrative manual is meant to serve the Placitas-area residential landowner with an array of practical techniques for controlling drainage in such a way as to retain water for use by vegetation, and minimize stormwater drainage and sediment off-property.” The publication goes on to detail how to make erosion controlling structures such as strawbale dams, brush dams and do rock mulching, among other easy and effective techniques made just from local materials like tree branches and local rocks.

Bill Zeedyk’s booklet Introduction to Erosion Control is an illustrated field guide and is a joint publication from Earth Works Institute, the Quivira Coalition, and Zeedyk Ecological Consulting, all of New Mexico. This important publication is also available for free off the Internet and was written for the general promotion of erosion control techniques in the semi-arid erosive lands of the world, including our high desert in the Placitas area. Zeedyk’s paper is chock-full of information and drawings of various proven erosion control techniques. For instance, Chapter IV is titled “Healing Techniques for Gullies and Headcuts.” It shows how water-harvesting structures can also be erosion-controlling structures, and details many other techniques, such as strawbale step falls and even rock bowls for the management of rampant erosion.

You can also ask the Firewise Placitas folks about trimming and thinning junipers and using the branches for making brush dams and spreading chips to help restore our damaged lands through smart erosion control.

Here in beautiful Placitas, a number of erosion controlling structures and earthworks have been tried with success on several fronts (and a few which were not successful). The LPA has done great work on the middle reaches of Las Huertas creek doing revegetion with native plants and creating sophisticated creek structures for managing the erosive water flow during heavy rains.

Northwest of Placitas, off Camino de las Huertas, near the Cedar Creek subdivision, there is a two-acre restoration project that has been in the works for a couple of years. About 125 mini-water catchments were made on moderate to slight slopes. These miniature ponds are five- to ten-feet long and two- to five-feet or so wide. Very small handmade water catchments can be created by dragging a hoe down slope to make the water dam and leaving a water catchment open above the dam. In this restoration project, the catchments are well-scattered in a checkerboard fashion across the hills. Just after a significant rain, when the sun is back out, the miniature ponds lay there with shimmering water until their many gallons of water soak into the soil, straight down for effective water capture. These tiny ponds can be seeded and mulched easily. About forty large juniper trees were also pruned up high for fire protection, while the cut branches were laid out end-to-end on contour, making around two hundred running yards of sheet erosion to control tree branch structures. Other branches are laid down the length of narrow erosion gullies, catching soil particles and native plant seeds, right where the healing process begins.

The rules of at least one Placitas area Home Owners Associations state that all water that falls on a given piece of land must be kept on the land and not allowed to leave the land. Perhaps that could also be the goal of other Placitas landowners. Anyway you look at it, erosion control is a fundamental requirement of sensible land management. We can walk right out into nature and start land-healing processes

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