From the Limestone Fire Tower, burned trees and living trees form a mosaic on the landscape that matches up with forest management activities of the past decade. Where prescribed burns, thinning projects and timber sales occurred in the area, the fire burned less severely and trees survived the blaze.
Forester’s Log: Land Lessons
Years ago when some of my Pueblo friends would tell me stories, they would advise me that there was a season, “a specific time of year,” when I could share these stories with others, and the rest of the year, when thunder might be listening, we would keep these stories safely snug in our hearts.
Now that it has been raining for several weeks, and it seems clear the monsoon season is well entrenched, and leaders at Fire Management are no longer staffing large weekend patrols to prevent the next “big one,” I feel I can safely tell another kind of story. This one is about fire.
I work on the largest burn that has occurred in the Southwest region. The Rodeo-Chediski complex started in mid-June of 2002 on the lands of my employer, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, in east-central Arizona. The two fires were intentionally started by two people, for varying purposes that make no sense to the rest of us. For the most part, these two fires, which burned together over 469,000 acres, brought vast landscape destruction to much of this region.
Within the fire perimeter on the tribal lands, roughly 120,000 acres of the roughly 276,000 acres of tribal lands involved experienced low fire severity, and admittedly, may have even benefited from the fire. When I first came to this project I was told that anywhere I saw green trees, there had been some kind of forest-management activity in the area’s history. Being a skeptic, I have carried my “management-activity map” with me rather regularly in the burn area to test this theory.
Limestone Fire Tower is a good place for the story to unfold. Jutting up on a ridge several miles from the reservation-national forest boundary, the fire tower not only serves to host a spotter who cries alarm when wildfires start, but over the years Limestone Camp has hosted crews of firefighters who when not fighting fires worked diligently at thinning the forest. A large prescribed fire was conducted here a year before the big burn, and in the Eighties much of the area was thinned. Around the tower where most of these activities occurred, there is a forest of tall green pines, and a rich carpet of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs.
From the lookout tower, more lessons can be learned. To the northwest along the reservation boundary there are large islands of green, and these patterns on the landscape match the thinning and prescribed burning project maps. Directly to the west and southwest there is another anomaly to the treeless eroded slopes that dominate the burn. Here trees occur in clumps, sometimes isolated, sometimes not, and that area deserves closer inspection.
Last week I took a group of Navajo middle-school students there to observe these lessons. In a region known as White Springs we found some beautiful stands of large, yellow-bark pine that had missed being destroyed, as well as several other canyons, ridges, and slopes that seemed to have escaped the wrath of flames. Pulling out the management map, we learned that flames were really a major part of the story. The Carrizo Fire of 1971 had burned much of the area, and timber-salvage harvests followed in the years after that fire. A portion of the area had burned again during the White Springs Fire of 1996. The resulting mottled mosaic of forest now represents an area that has experienced three major wildfires in the past quarter century.
There are other areas of reservation lands within the Rodeo-Chediski burn that I am happy I do not know well. The story of this land will be told by others as graduate students from a neighboring university tease apart the evidence to see how forest management impacts fire severity.
The stories this land tells are complex and fascinating, with the major lesson being about the need for extreme care with ignition sources during certain times of the year. On the reservation this year, we take a deep sigh of relief that, at least temporarily–knocking on wood—we have escaped this fire season without having another major wildfire. As the rains pour down, and access restrictions are lifted throughout the region, it is time once again to tell the other fire stories; the stories, that if heeded, one day might guide us back to living within a healthy forest landscape.
To all Placitas/Bernalillo residents: volunteers needed!
Placitas Volunteer Fire Bridage Chief
Did you know that Placitas Fire and Emergency Services personnel are all volunteers? Did you know that the brigade responds to almost four hundred fire and medical calls each year? To meet the increasing demand we are asking you to consider becoming a member of the brigade
The brigade offers recruit classes in April and October of each year. These are the only times that new members may join. This is an entry-level course that prepares members with basic training needed to participate safely, effectively and helpfully in emergency scenes. The course runs for approximately forty hours and includes training in CPR, fire-ground safety, hazardous materials awareness, the incident command structure, radio operations, equipment familiarization and tours of our District and the Dispatch Center. It is held at the main station on weeknights and weekends The course concludes with a scenario training with the other members of the Brigade, at which time you will be issued your equipment and a pager and will be able to respond to calls.
The recruit class is open to all residents of Placitas and Bernalillo. After successful completion of the recruit class, additional training opportunities allow members to gain certification as firefighters and emergency medical responders including paramedic. All training is paid for by the brigade. If you are interested in this opportunity to make a difference in your community, call John Wolf at 771-3788 to get more information and sign up for a one-hour prospective-member session so that you can make an informed decision about joining.