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DWI checkpoint alert

—Bernalillo Police Department

The Bernalillo Police Department will be conducting DWI checkpoints and DWI saturation patrols in and around the Town of Bernalillo from August 17 through September 3. Please don’t drink and drive.


County plan for wildfire risk

—Sidney Hill, Sandoval County

Sandoval County officials are in the final stages of developing a plan for minimizing the risk associated with wildfires. They sought public input in August. Sandoval County last developed a County Wildfire Prevention Plan (CWPP) in 2008, but the 2011 Las Conchas Fire dramatically changed the level of risk associated with wildfires in the county, prompting the need for an updated plan. The final draft of the plan is expected to be complete and submitted for approval by August 31. It will be posted on the county website at sandovalcounty.com.

The goal of a CWPP is to enable local communities to improve their wildfire-mitigation capacity, while working with government agencies to identify high fire risk areas and prioritize areas for mitigation, fire suppression, and emergency preparedness. Another goal is to enhance public awareness and understanding by helping residents better understand the natural, and human-caused risk of wildland fires that threaten lives, safety, and the local economy.

Local governments were required to develop CWPPs following passage of the federal Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003. This act gave communities the opportunity to influence how and where federal agencies implemented fuel reduction projects on federal lands and how additional funds may be used.

Once approved, the plan will be considered valid for up to five years, unless significant changes—such as a major surge in development or growth of potential fuels in the area—occur before then.

The New Mexico Forestry Division approves CWPPs on behalf of the federal government, and one of the requirements for approval is having extensive public input.

Work on the plan began in January, 2012. Since then, the core team working on the plan—which includes municipal, county, state, federal, and tribal officials—held a series of public meetings to gather citizen input.

For more information on the Sandoval County Wildfire Protection Plan, contact David Bervin, Sandoval County Assistant Fire Chief, at dbervin@sandovalcountynm.gov.

Send comments on the plan to Victoria Amato at: vamato@swca.com.


District begins timber thinning

—Signpost staff

The Cibola National Forest and Grasslands’ Sandia Ranger District plans to begin a timber-thinning project in late August. The Hondo Fuels Reduction Project is located a half-mile south of Casa Loma Road in Cedar Crest and extends north approximately two miles to the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center (SMNHC). The thinning operation will take five to ten days to complete.

The goal of this project is to reduce the potential for crown fires and to protect private property and firefighters in the event a wildfire were to occur in the area. The project would create a quarter mile-wide fuel break between the Sandia Mountain Wilderness boundary and the private land boundary by thinning trees and creating temporary openings. Some of the cut materials will be sold for fuelwood, while the remaining material would either be cut and scattered, chipped, or piled and burned.

Aaron Johnson of the Sandia Ranger District said that this project is nowhere near the scale of the proposed Southwest Jemez Mountain Restoration Project, although the district has begun the planning phase of a similar project. The project will require a four- to five-year environmental analysis. The district hopes to conduct a blanket analysis that will allow as series of thinning projects that won’t require individual analyses.

Johnson said that the Sandia Mountain Wilderness is currently off limits—that Sandia Ranger District is not prepared for the fight with environmental groups and Congressional regulation that would be required to make any changes in the way Wilderness Areas are managed.

The Wilderness is vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire like those that have burned so much of the forests in the West, because of drought conditions and heavy fuel load. Johnson said, “If the wilderness burns in the next five years, it is unfortunate, but we’re doing the best we can.”

It is possible that Congress will take action to change parts of the Wildernes Act to allow thinning projects or controlled burns in the future. Meanwhile, efforts like the Hondo Fuels Reduction Projects might protect the interface between private property and national forest. Several similar projects are in the planning phase in the Placitas area. San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant, the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District, Las Huertas Community Ditch, and Sandoval County are looking into grant funds available from the USDA Forest Service Collaborative.


Fire marshal issues burn permits

The Sandoval County Fire Department will resume issuing burn permits on Friday, August 24, 2012. Citizens can apply for a burn permit by contacting James Maxon—the County Fire Marshal and Interim Fire Chief—by telephone at 505-867-0245 or email at jmaxon@sandovalcountynm.gov.

To obtain a permit, you must to provide your address and the time-frame you will need the permit to cover. The county fire marshal suspended the issuance of burn permits in June, when severe drought conditions posed a grave fire danger. Though conditions have eased somewhat with recent rains, fire officials are still encouraging county residents to be extremely careful in handling fires.

With that in mind, burn permits will automatically be considered void when winds exceed ten miles per hour, a water source is not immediately available, or a fire is left unattended. A permit is not required for fires that are attended and are smaller than three-feet-wide and three-feet-tall. It is recommended that you still notify the fire department at 505-867-0245 when conducting a small fire, so they can make record of it to prevent false fire calls.

For more information on how to conduct legal—and safe—burns within Sandoval County, contact the county fire marshal. Burn status can be obtained by going to: www.sandovalfire.org.


Developing the Firewise approach

—Michael Crofoot

The local Firewise presenter this time around was Dan Ware, the state-wide Fire Prevention, Outreach and Firewise Program Manager for the NM State Forestry Division. We were also lucky to have Humberto Macias join us with his unique and much-experienced perspective. Humberto is in the Sandoval County Fire Department and Fire Chief for the Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade. The Fire Brigade also uses some of the Firewise material for their outreach work.

As a program of the National Fire Protection Association, the Firewise approach is to set up volunteer outreach groups to help communities all over the United States become more wildfire safe. At the Internet website Firewise.org, we can find all sorts of very useful publications about wildfire protection in what is called our Wildlands Urban Interface. For folks who want to improve the safety of their home and property these include “A Homeowner’s Guide to Wildfire Retrofit: Taking Inventory—Is Your Property At Risk?” Another pamphlet is “Be Firewise Around Your Home—Seven Features of Firewise Homes.” For local developers, there is: “Safer from the Start: A Guide to Firewise-Friendly Developments,” and for builders, there is: “The Firewise Guide to Landscape and Construction.” For many of these publications, there are accompanying CDs and DVDs, some of which could be shown at home with some of our neighbors. Imagine that—a Firewise dinner party!

The Firewise approach is not just about thinning out or trimming up fire-prone trees. The New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service has published a long list of Firewise plants. While all plants can catch fire under certain conditions, these Firewise species are fire-resistant, drought tolerant, and easy to maintain.

Finally, one important publication not part of the Firewise listing is: “Wildfire and Insurance”—a publication by the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA), published in partnership with a number of government organizations. The pamphlet says homeowners need to be aware of the importance of mitigating wildfire hazards and be aware of the insurance impact of living in high-risk areas. Many homeowners’ insurance companies are responding to the wildfire threat by asking customers to share the risk by taking precautions to protect their property against wildfire. Increasingly, insurance companies are conducting on-site inspections and notifying policy holders of what they need to do to mitigate wildfire hazards in order to keep their homes insurable and premiums affordable.

 
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