Fire Ecology and Landscape Resiliency ~ What do southern Colorado and northern New Mexico have in common? In addition to sharing a border, the southern Colorado landscape of the South San Juan Mountains contains forested watersheds of high value to both states. The area supports traditional agricultural operations, substantial wildlife populations, tourism-based economies, and public recreation, including internationally renowned hunting and outfitting opportunities.
Located in the center of the region is the Bureau of Reclamation’s San Juan-Chama Diversion. This project moves 110,000 acre- feet of water annually from the San Juan Basin to the central Rio Grande Valley, providing approximately 50% of Santa Fe County’s and 90% of Bernalillo County’s water supply. Three watersheds – the Navajo, Little Navajo, and the Blanco – are tapped for water that is then transferred over the continental divide to the Chama River, and then to the Rio Grande. The wa-ters of the San Juan-Chama Diversion support nearly a million people, as well native fish and migratory birds. However, the Navajo-Blanco watersheds are at risk of large wildfires, and the subsequent post-fire debris and sediment flows that threaten communities and the consistent delivery of clean water to downstream water-users.
To proactively address these issues, the Chama Peak Land Alliance and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up under the auspices of the Rio Grande Water Fund. Forest treatments will be conducted over 800 acres , through prescribed fire and thinning, to improve forest health and restore wildlife habitat over the next three years. The goals of this project are: 1) Create fire plans for private lands, and coordinate fire management activities across jurisdictional boundaries, including private lands; local, state, federal agencies; and tribal and other jurisdictions in the project area responsible for fire management, including the U.S. Forest Service, 2) Share lessons learned from cross-boundary management in this forested landscape with others restoring forests in the Rio Grande Water Fund area, and with other members of the national Fire Learning Network, and 3) Increase the ability of local ranchers, community members, and local, tribal, state and federal government partners to conduct prescribed burns through trainings and workshops in the region.
Chama Peak Land Alliance ~ The Chama Peak Land Alliance (CPLA) is a diverse group of conservation-minded landowners committed to embracing and practicing responsible land, water and wildlife stewardship in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico for the benefit of our tri-cultural heritage for generations to come. Members of CPLA represent a land area that ranges from 7,000 feet to over 12,000 feet in elevation including portions of the Continental Divide covering approximately 250,000 acres. CPLA’s conservation efforts are further enhanced by the participation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation as an official cooperator. CPLA was launched in 2010 and has quickly developed as an effective group of landowners working across traditional property boundaries to:
- Share ideas and help educate one another in areas of land management;
- Promote the conservation of open space and help deter landscape fragmentation:
- Coordinate landscape-scale management efforts such as forestry, prescribed fire and wildlife.
The Fire Ecology and Resiliency project described in this article is a fantastic on-the-ground example of the Chama Peak Land Alliance’s goal of cross-jurisdictional land, water, and wildlife stewardship. Both organizations hope to build on this project with future investments and additional resiliency work. The development of a Navajo-Blanco Resiliency Plan will guide these efforts and is building additional partnerships for landscape-scale treatments for years to come.
“The Chama Peak Land Alliance (CPLA) is a diverse group of conservation-minded landowners committed to embracing and practicing responsible land, water and wildlife stewardship in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico for the benefit of our tri-cultural heritage for generations to come.”
By: Monique DiGiorgio Executive Director, Chama Peak Land Alliance (Water Fund News)
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