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Help Save Our Forest

May 6, 2017, Santa Fe New Mexican

On a recent, warm January morning, I was in my house on beautiful land near the Santa Fe National Forest and heard the roar of chainsaws starting. I immediately felt dread, because I have seen some extreme tree-thinning jobs taking place in forest/urban interface areas.

Within hours, trees were cut all over the neighboring property and a few on my land, too. From the east edge of my land, it looked like there had been a war against the trees. There was a sea of stumps, and trees and hacked off limbs were scattered all over the ground.

There had been a very beautiful "grotto" adjoining my land with a waterfall after it rained and surrounded by tall pines. It's gone now. There were chunks of the venerable pines lying down in the deep arroyo like pieces of trash. The pain is deep. I am heartbroken. My sanctuary is broken and can't be repaired.

The Forest Service, as part of the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition, is proposing to do similar tree clearing and prescribed burning throughout much of the nearby Santa Fe National Forest, with prescriptions calling for removal of more than 90 percent of the trees. A state forestry grant program is paying people to clear trees on their own properties.

When so many trees are removed that forest ecology is damaged – wildlife habitat is disrupted, ground becomes compacted and eroded, and sediment is deposited into waterways.

Research about whether this will significantly reduce fire hazard is mixed at best, and newer research strongly indicates it is not helpful. Extreme thinning destroys the forest canopy, and causes the forest floor to dry out and wind to whip through the trees, fanning up flames during fires.

Most research doesn't take into account the more subtle aspects of forest ecology. A forest is more than trees and obvious biology – its continuity, connectedness and life force pervades it all. All parts of the forest together are one organism. If you hack away at parts of the forest body, then the whole is harmed and weakened. New research indicates that trees are not necessarily individuals, but under the soil are so connected in "family groups" that they could be considered one organism, relying on all its parts for health and well-being.

In the area I live in, the Santa Fe watershed above the local forest was thinned more than a decade ago. Now the trees look weak, and the ground is bare and eroded. It appears so damaged, I wonder if it will ever recover. The Fireshed project is a huge experiment, and the effects will last into the next century.

If the Forest Service is allowed to do extreme thinning and extensive prescribed burns, a child growing up today will not know what an intact forest is like. Our forest is already damaged from logging, grazing and off-road vehicles, but it's still a beautiful and viable forest. Many people need intact forests to experience connection to the Earth and to help them experience balance, well-being and wholeness.

The only hope to protect the Santa Fe National Forest is for the public to be very engaged and vocal as the Fireshed project is developed. We need the Forest Service to do a complete study of all the impacts of the Fireshed project. Time is running out. Help save our forest. Call the Forest Service and U.S. representatives and tell them you want an environmental impact statement done for the entire Fireshed project.

Sarah Hyden is a Santa Fe resident and lives by the Santa Fe National Forest. She does what she can to help the forest.

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