As smoke from Arizona’s wildfires engulfed sections of New Mexico this week, Otero County commissioners approved the creation of an “emergency forest plan” that could open up more tree logging in the Lincoln National Forest.
The action gives the county the go-ahead to create a plan to control wildfires and to tell the federal government that it intends to log 10,000 to 20,000 acres near Cloudcroft. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), who in March proposed expanding New Mexico's logging industry, was quick to gush over the commission's latest move. In a statement, he thanked the three county commissioners for "putting the safety of New Mexicans first" and "choosing a course of responsible action."
Commission Chairman Ronny Rardin justified the action by telling the Alamogordo Daily News that the county isn’t “bound by the Forest Service regulations.”
"We're going in an emergency state with companies," Rardin adds. "We want to make sure we're not going in and destroying the forest, but managing it."
But Bryan Bird, a forest ecologist with WildEarth Guardians, points out that the Lincoln National Forest already does controlled burnings. He argues that the burnings, which are done primarily to reduce the wood fuel that can often be the bait for uncontrollable wildfires, dispel the notion that publicly-protected lands aren't properly managed. He's also skeptical that opening up logging would lead to any kind of production boom.
"You can't just create a logging industry," he says. "There's no market for lumber right now. There are few large mills left and few places to sell it."
He also characterizes the commission's move as "political theater."
"I think they're speaking to their core constituency, which generally has a fear of government and a fear of environmental regulations," he says.
Photo courtesy of National Geographic.