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Leave La Cueva Block E alone

by John Asher, July 8, 2017

For a number of Glorieta residents, a murder of sorts is about to be committed, ostensibly in the name of public safety. The perpetrator will be the United States Forest Service, which is moving ahead with a controversial thinning project – exactly the wrong time of year for such efforts.

The area that's about to feel the bite of chain saws, called Cougar Canyon by residents and "Block E" by the Forest Service, is a spectacular acreage consisting of massive ponderosas, mature piñons and abundant wildlife. Not only is a well-established cougar den located within "Block E," two archaeological sites estimated to be 1,400-plus years old have also been identified. One of these is signed and easily located, while Forest Service archaeologists have declined to publicly identify the second for fear of vandalism. They reportedly hope to do further studies of both sites, and believe there may be others as yet undiscovered.

New Mexico is well known for its stunning natural beauty, but few areas can compete with Cougar Canyon. In addition to trees topping 100-feet, the canyon features spectacular rock formations and supports a wide variety of wildlife that thrive on the lush plant life. Smaller predators like gray foxes, coyotes and bobcats find an abundant supply of food in rabbits and squirrels. As the project goes forward, the area may lose these animals in short order.

The project is touted as a safety measure because of the lone access road to La Cueva, but there is no fire history to justify the drastic nature of the project. Members of the volunteer Glorieta Pass fire department have expressed concern over the project, including flooding of N.M. 50, the main connection between Glorieta and Pecos.

The U.S. Forest Service plan calls for leaving the slash – the branches and smaller trees removed during the thinning – on the ground until some unspecified time in the future (usually 18-24 months) when prescribed burns will be utilized to remove it. The longer it sits, the easier an errant lightning strike or tossed cigarette will set it aflame.

From a close inspection of Cougar Canyon, it seems that this project hasn't been thoroughly thought through, but getting a slow-moving bureaucracy like the U.S. Forest Service to stop until further study is undertaken appears all but impossible.

At a time when funding for the Interior Department is being slashed, the money earmarked for "Block E" would be better utilized in other forest maintenance projects, of which there are hundreds in the Santa Fe National Forest alone.

John Asher is a resident of Glorieta.

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