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Ruhl’s ancient spear point find Photo credit: —Russell Ruhl

Folsom Point found in Placitas backyard

—Ty Belknap

Last spring, Placitas Trails resident Russell Ruhl found an ancient spear point in his backyard. He first took it to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History for analysis, and from there was told to take it to the Maxwell Museum to Bruce Huckle, Senior Research Coordinator, who has expertise in the Folsom Culture. Huckle confirmed that this was indeed a Folsom Point—estimated by carbon dating to be 10,200 to 10,800 years old. He said that it is a large tip fragment with the distinctive fluting pattern created by expertly chipping large flakes from either side of the point, creating pairs of flat or concave surfaces.

Huckle said that Folsom Points were attached to spears in the days prior to bows and arrows. They were probably thrown with an atlatl (which is a sling that provides, in effect, an extra segment to the arm to give more power and accuracy). He said that the point was probably a hunting loss in which the point was either broken, or fell out of an animal that got away. There is no evidence that Ruhl’s property was a Folsom encampment, as have been discovered along the Rio Grande from Bernalillo to the confluence of the Rio Puerco.

Huckle said that this is the first Folsom Point that he is aware of that was found on the east side of the Rio Grande in the upper part of this basin. Folsom artifacts have been found in the Sandia Man Cave in the strata above the controversial discovery of older “Sandia Man” artifacts.

The Folsom people were the second largest group of people to occupy North America and likely descended from the Clovis Culture. They named Folsom after a New Mexico town where the points were first found near fossils of an extinct species of bison in the 1920s. The find led archeologists to extend the timeline of the occupation of North America by about 6,000 years. The Folsom people were wide-ranging, probably nomadic, and inhabited North America toward the end of the Ice Age. Sites have been found in the Rockies, east to the Mississippi, and from Canada to northern Mexico.

Huckle advises that it is preferable to leave artifacts in place and notify archeologists who can then better analyze age and the nature of the site. His reaction to the find was one of amazement as well as scholarly interest, “What are the chances someone could pick up a ten-thousand-year-old spear point lying on the ground in his backyard?”

Jemez Mountains Restoration Project: Can we make a healthy forest?

—Kay Matthews

The proposed Southwest Jemez Mountains Restoration Project (SJMRP) is off to a rocky start and we’re just through the scoping period. Several letters to the editor in the Santa Fe New Mexican referenced Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) fuels specialist Bill Armstrong calling ponderosa pine trees “weeds,” and that we need to “get rid of 95 percent of them.” Armstrong, who has been with the SFNF longer than any forester I can think of, has often had to put his foot in his mouth over the years, but he’s also credited with lobbying for desperately needed thinning in the Jemez since the 1990s.

Theoretically, considering what’s happened to the Jemez Mountains over the past few decades it’s hard to understand why anyone would oppose a rigorous management plan of thinning, prescribed burning, and watershed restoration, which is what the SJMRP proposes. In practice, of course, it was a prescribed burn at Bandelier National Monument that started the Cerro Grande fire. You can also question United States Forest Service (USFS) policies that helped create monolithic tinderboxes like the Jemez, as well as why the service is now dependent upon special funding to do the work that local loggers could have done to keep their businesses alive. Instead we have a long history of crown fires that have burned through this range and threatened Los Alamos National Laboratory: the 1954 Water Canyon fire of approximately five-thousand acres that forced the first evacuation of Los Alamos; the 1977, 15,000-acre La Mesa fire; the 1996, 16,000-acre Dome fire; the 2000 Cerro Grande fire, which burned 43,000 acres and forced another evacuation; and the 156,000-acre Las Conchas fire, then the largest fire to date that also forced evacuations at Los Alamos and Santa Clara Pueblo (the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy fire in the Gila broke that record).

The SJMRP was among ten nationwide projects selected by the United States Department of Agriculture (the United States Forest Service is part of the USDA) in 2010 for funding under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Program (CFLRP), not to be confused with the Collaborative Forest Stewardship Program that has funded numerous local forest related projects over the past 11 years in all the forests of New Mexico.

Thirty-five million dollars of the estimated eighty million dollar cost of the SJMRP will be funded by CFLRP over the next ten years; the rest will be underwritten by regularly appropriated USFS funds, other grants, and possible service contributions (more on this later). The project is being fast tracked: the scoping period for the project ends on August 13; a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) is scheduled for April 2013, a Record of Decision for August of 2013.

The project proposes to thin trees on 90,000 acres and use prescribed fire on 76,000 acres within the Jemez Ranger District and the Valles Calera Preserve. Portions of Bandelier National Monument, Santa Clara, and Jemez Pueblos are also included. Most of the thinning is proposed for the ponderosa pine forests, but mixed conifer, piñon/juniper, and aspen are also slated for treatment. Site-specific methods will be used: chainsaws, mechanized equipment, or whole-tree mastication. Wood removal techniques will also be site specific: firewood sales, commercial harvest, and prescribed burning. The ponderosa pine will be thinned to establish groups of trees between four and twenty trees to a stand (the mixed conifer thinning is similar to this prescription). Riparian areas throughout the project area will be treated by various methods: planting of native plants; streambank stabilization; repair of degraded trails and campsites; treatment of headcuts; and protections of meadow habitat. Wildlife habitat and archeological site protection and improvements are also included in the project.

At the public hearing at SFNF headquarters on August 2, Forest Service personnel devoted most of their presentation to prescribed burning and the methods of tree thinning and removal, always the most controversial components of a project like this. The fire management specialist carefully went over the procedures that have been developed since the Cerro Grande fire to prevent another conflagration of that magnitude. The Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning Document is their Bible, from which they run computer modeling based on temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and smoke dispersion.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, of course. A planning section chief from the New Mexico Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau was at the meeting to talk about the risks to public health and visibility that may result from prescribed burning. What is called “fine particulate matter” has the most impact on the public, particularly those with respiratory problems and young children. The smoke from the Wallow Fire, which burned last year in Arizona, 150 miles away from Albuquerque, exceeded health standards for seven days with a two-hundred fine particulate count in the city. The smoke from last year’s Las Conchas fire had a count of one thousand in Albuquerque. The Forest Service air quality control specialist at the meeting stressed that managers strive for a prescribed burn that will send the smoke straight up into the air where it is then dispersed at a higher elevation.

Several of the New Mexican letters raised the specter of, oh my God, “commercial logging” as a method of tree thinning and removal. What the USFS actually has in mind acknowledges that there are almost no commercial loggers left in New Mexico, that there’s no market for small timber, and since CFLRP is footing most of the bill the Forest Service can hope for an “even trade”: through stewardship contracts the Forest Service will exchange goods for services. The bidding contractor can determine the value the wood they can use and trade that against what they would have charged to thin the smaller trees that they can’t use. According to the silviculturist at the meeting, the goal for the Forest Service is to pay “next to nothing.” Of the acres slated for thinning, about half have harvest potential. Other methods will include firewood sales, service contracts (thinning), and prescribed burning on very small diameter trees.

As the silviculturist so eloquently—with his tongue in cheek—put it, “We are getting behinder and behinder” in the race to thin and burn the hundreds of thousands of acres in the SFNF that need treatment. Today the Forest Service is mechanically treating three thousand acres a year and burning ten to 13,000 acres. According to the forester, ponderosa pine forest should burn every seven years or so; there are thousands of acres that haven’t burned in a hundred years.

Although the scoping period just ended, there will be opportunity for public comment when the DEIS is released, supposedly next April. It remains to be seen if the SFNF can compress the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) work that usually takes three years on a project of this magnitude into the projected one-year timeline. While some project areas are already NEPA ready (archeological, wildlife, and other resource clearances), many more must be analyzed and approved within this short time frame. La Jicarita will follow this project as it progresses through the NEPA requirements towards some actual work on the ground.

Reprinted from La Jicarita News at:

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