The charred landscape from the Rodeo-Chediski fire, shown here from Limestone Ridge, stretches 36 miles across and 15 miles wide on the White Mountain Apache tribal lands.
Forester’s Log: Rehabbing the Rodeo-Chediski
Several months ago I took a job with the White Mountain Apache Tribe. With a job description that sounds like Mission Impossible, I was hired to coordinate efforts in rehabilitating the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. The fire, actually two separate fires that joined together, burned over 455,000 acres of New Mexico in June and July of 2002. Both starts occurred on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, involving 277,000 acres of tribal lands. Over 160,000 acres of this burn were classified as “high severity” meaning the fire effects were catastrophic.
In my new job I work with hundreds of people who have been involved with day-to-day recovery activities. This past year we built a hundred miles of fence, planted over 650,000 pine seedlings, cleaned and cleaned again hundreds of clogged culverts, dropped thousands of tons of hay from helicopters to mulch hillsides, placed tens of thousands of logs along the contour to capture eroding soil, and that’s just the short list.
At times, it seems our efforts are almost heroic, but when faced with the daunting expanse of burned-out drainage, next to burned-out drainage, next to burned-out drainage,I wonder if any human action can atone for the drastic impact this burn has inflicted on the landscape.
Then I am confronted by outstanding arrays of wildflowers, none of which we seeded, that carpeted the canyons during this summer’s monsoons. I find myself perched on the edge of a roadway carved away by raging floodwaters, marveling at the capacity of the valley floor to sustain this increase of water. Clearly the only trouble is that our road is in the wrong place. I crawl through acres of thorny New Mexico olive shrubs that have almost magically returned to carpet hillsides. Nature, not our feeble efforts, is the major force in this forest recovery.
There are so many lessons to learn here. One of the more obvious observations is the pattern of burn severity. Where the forest had been recently treated by timber sales, thinning projects, or prescribed burns, the fire intensity was less severe. There are still green trees and the soil is not washing off the slopes. These are the acres I do not lose sleep over. These are the acres where fire indeed seems to be a natural force in harmony with the landscape. If there was any doubt about the value of forest management in reducing catastrophic fire effects, the Rodeo-Chediski burn lays those concerns to rest.
We are facing an unprecedented challenge. Never before has so severe a fire burned so vast a forest in the Southwest. If we achieve nothing else, at least we can witness the role of nature in recovery and reestablishment of an ecosystem, somewhat or perhaps very different from the one that existed before the fire.
I am honored to have a role in this journey. I serve a people who are keenly connected to the land. I work with a team of dedicated people, tribal members, tribal leaders, and tribal and agency employees. We have diverse backgrounds, multiple talents, and varying perspectives, but we share the challenge of giving our best effort to this healing process.
At this point we have two more years of funding for our rehabilitation projects. As the drought continues and forests continue to accumulate fuel, we are positioned to keep having landscape-size catastrophic fires in our forests. Burn-area rehabilitation is becoming a major focus of forest management. We need to share the lessons the land offers.
Dead California trees are another fire waiting to happen
—Betty Wright, Crestline, California
I thought you might be interested in reading a firsthand account of what happened to someone who was personally involved in the wildfires in California. Below is an e-mail that I sent to my family yesterday regarding our lives for the past eighteen days. This is a prime example of what can happen to an area when the government is so slow in its response to taking care of the problem of bark beetles.
I suppose by now you've all heard about us being evacuated because of the fires here on the mountain. It started on Saturday the 25th and by the 27th the entire mountain had been evacuated. Seventy thousand people in about a dozen different towns covering a drive of one hour or more. We've lost over 3,700 homes and two towns have been just about completely wiped out. Cedar Glen, where we have several friends, has only twelve homes left in the whole town and no shops at all. The fire was arson, set in Waterman Canyon, which is about a eight-minute drive from here. We lost our power at 9:00 or so in the morning so had no way of keeping up with what was going on. We knew that Crestline was under voluntary evacuation but that's been the plan for a long time because of so many of our trees being dead [from bark beetles].
We packed a few things just in case, but being who we are we didn't leave. Around 8:00 that night we got a call—plugged in one of those old phones that I found—and it was the forestry department saying we had to get out now, that the fire was about ready to overtake Crestline and there was only one way out about 5 miles from here. Mostly everyone was gone and it was the strangest thing to be one of only a very few cars on the road—no lights anywhere and the police sirens wailing all over the place as part of a system they set up to help warn people of the fire.
When we got to highway 138—a little winding two-lane road that goes on for miles, then thru Cajon Pass to get to San Bernardino—there was fire burning everywhere on both sides of the road and the sky was bright orange. Pickups were stopping and picking up stranded people. It was a huge team effort to get everyone out, and there was nothing but cooperation from everyone on the road.
What we didn't expect is that after the two-hour ride to San Bernardino, the fire had not only burnt up the hill but had also gone down the hill and the foothills were burning. Overnight, three hundred homes in my niece's neighborhood burnt down. That’s where we were going, so we went to another niece's house and all of us stayed there—five adults, six dogs, six cats, five birds, and a lizard.
We all stayed up all night, sitting in the yard watching the fire burn and wondering if we would have to leave that area too.
For four days, the air was full of smoke and the ashes fell like snow—just a constant falling of them. At night the fires would be real lit up and you could see them almost anywhere you looked. They said the fire line was forty miles long.
Monday morning Christie got to go back home, so she called later and invited us all over to dinner. When we got there it was a surprise party for my birthday, which I had forgotten about, and the whole family was there. They all chipped in money for us to go buy some clothes and someone remarked on the fact that when I left my house I grabbed two different tennis shoes and had been wearing mismatched shoes for two days. It’s funny when you think you’re losing everything you've ever worked for, how easy it still is to laugh about the silly things, and we all laughed about my shoes for days. Jason and Katja had driven down for my birthday, which was so sweet of them considering the baby was due that day—they decided to spend the night at Christie's and go home in the morning.
When l went back to Kara's around 10:00 and at 1:00 I got a call. Katja had gone into labor and was at the local hospital. We and Chris stayed there with her and at 3:50 in the afternoon Liam Patrick, twenty-one and a half inches, three pounds nine ounces, and a ton of black hair was born. There was so much joy in that room that day that we all forgot our troubles and just laughed, took pictures, took turns rubbing Katja's back, and maybe it was just the stress of the past few days but when that little guy was born there wasn't a dry eye in the place.
We had seen our neighborhood on TV twice and there was smoke and flames everywhere so we decided that our home was no doubt gone. A friend of ours, whom we read about in the paper, Harold, lost both of his homes and a car and he's seventy, so we figured if he can start all over, so can we. I think it was Friday that we found out our house was still there so we were one of the lucky ones.
They had started letting people come back home on Monday and our area got to come back home on Tuesday, but no power until Wednesday night. The ride home was heartbreaking. Far as the eye could see there was nothing but black dirt and black tree trunks; nothing was left except an occasional tree that managed to escape being burned. The total for homes lost on the mountain is 993 and ten businesses. Since we've been home I've only seen one squirrel and a couple of blue jays. No raccoons or skunks or coyotes. Our neighborhood is fine except for a lot of smoke damage and we can't get the smell of rotting meat out of the refrigerator.
But I was standing outside today looking around and couldn’t help but notice that we still have all these dead trees surrounding us and it’s another fire waiting to happen.
These people up here amaze me though. They're all home and don’t want to be anywhere else and everyone just talks about rebuilding and all the help that everyone up is is giving to anyone who needs it, and there’s no talk from anyone about leaving.
So now our life is finally returning to some signs of being normal. The insurance company is buying us a new fridge and paying for someone to clean the walls and floors, and we just eat out of the ice chest for now. But every time I see a burned area or these dead trees my heart just breaks. Homes can be rebuilt but it will take a hundred years for this forest to be what it was just two weeks ago. How sad that is.
Thanks to all of you who called, offered to help, and just let us know how much you cared. Talk to you real soon.
Drought information on-line
The Governor’s Drought Task Force has launched a new Web site featuring information on task force activities, as well as links to drought forecasts and drought condition reports from around New Mexico. You can find the site on the Internet at www.ose.state.nm.us/DroughtTaskForce/Drought-menu.html.
Procedures to be standardized for water, wastewater systems
USDA Rural Development state director Jeff Condrey has announced that a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the state of New Mexico to standardize certain elements of water and wastewater application procedures. “By signing this MOU we have cut the red tape for rural communities applying for funds from both the federal and state governments to build water and wastewater systems. The signing of this MOU is significant because ultimately the taxpayer living in rural New Mexico won’t be paying for the duplication of effort,” said Condrey. Further information on these and other rural programs is available at local USDA Rural Development offices or at www.rurdev.usda.gov/.
The flu comes to visit
Why do people
fling themselves on my couch
and croak and quack about how sick they are?
There is a bad cold here
making its rounds through the houses
carried by messengers like these.
I hand them cans of chicken soup with rice
and urge them to
GO AND TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES
(What I really mean is: Don't touch my couch! Don't touch my cat! Bye bye!)
But they want to talk
want to put their sticky fingers on my Kleenex box
This being the Wild West
people blow their noses with toilet paper
like that is a superior survival skill
to just breaking down and buying
Kleenex with aloe in it
look like they've been chewed by rodents
So my Kleenex box
is a very desirable object
Could you back-to-the-landers
occasionally visit the store?
Okay, the real truth is:
when my first friend arrived
white as snow
with unnaturally red lips
I was still a nice person
I gave her soup
cooked it for her on my stove
exhorted her to stay on the couch
But while she was lying there, as if dead,
In came my next friend
here for the potluck
not taking off her hat or coat
because she was COLD
Announcing that people aren’t recovering from this cold
for days, weeks!
Great! Tell me more!
have a fever, and pass the butter!
the laws of biology are suspended in my house, after all!
The next day
at the café
a man with watery eyes
and a newly deep voice
patted the seat next to them
"Sit by ME!"
Right. In your DREAMS I'm gonna sit by you,
And now, today, I have a cold
And I want to go to the movie tonight
But I can’t—can I?
Lisa Jones is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org) in Paonia, Colorado, where the flu reigns.
Blood donors rewarded
In 2003, Hyatt Hotels began supporting the community blood program by sponsoring a celebration honoring blood donors during January, National Volunteer Blood Donor Month, when blood usage is extremely high and the number of donors decreases.
Two drives will be held in the month of January. The first will be at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque in the Atrium on January 8 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The second will be held at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa on January 14 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the Bear meeting room. The goal of these two drives is to supply at least 250 pints of blood to the United Blood Services, enough to supply New Mexico for one full day. Donors’ names will be entered in drawings for night stays and Sunday brunch at both Hyatt hotels, weekend ski packages at the Santa Fe Hilton, dinner at the Prairie Star and the two Hyatt hotels, and other rewards.
For information, directions, or to schedule an appointment for the blood drive, go to www.UnitedBloodServices.org, or call Michele Schwab at 771-6144, Linda Durand at 843-1234, Corrina Burns at 771-6039, or Donna Diller at 768-1408, extension 284. Donors who are not able to give blood during the Hyatt drives are encouraged to call 846-6227, 1-800-333-8037 or visit www.UnitedBloodServices.org to make an appointment at a more convenient time.