BY STEVEN RENEAU
When the U.S. Forest Service announced the closures of the Santa Fe, Carson, and much of the Cibola National Forests, I was pleased to see our Senator, Martin Heinrich, offering a different perspective. Understanding the importance of recreational access to public lands to New Mexicans, he asked the Forest Service to reconsider their blanket closures. While he acknowledged the value of certain actions including prohibiting campfires, barbecues, and overnight use, he questioned the need to prohibit all day use in areas like the Sandia foothills next to Albuquerque.
The County of Los Alamos manages 2 separate and quite different open space areas, one adjacent to the Los Alamos townsite and the other adjacent to White Rock. In justifying the complete closure of unpaved trails and adjacent areas (letter of May 19, 2022), the LAFD Fire Chief, Troy Hughes, only provided examples specific to the townsite open space, specifically the risk from potential fires in the forested interior canyons. The White Rock trail system, including the White Rock Canyon Rim Trail, the Blue Dot Trail, and the Red Dot Trail, with their much sparser vegetation, arguably have a much lower wildfire risk. Why are these also closed?
Bandelier National Monument provides a local example of managers taking varied settings into account when implementing closures. In the early days of the Cerro Pelado Fire, the National Park Service completely closed the main part of the Monument which was in the path of the fire, leaving Tsankawi open. Tsankawi, at the same elevation as White Rock and with similar vegetation, remains open.
Chief Hughes particularly stressed the potential for rapid fire growth during windy periods. Have he and the Fire Marshall considered limiting the closure to days with Red Flag conditions, allowing recreational use of open space areas on other days with lower fire risk? Red Flag warnings are readily available, and it would be straightforward to update this daily on a County website.
The current dry spell could easily extend into July, and I’m certain the citizens of Los Alamos County would greatly appreciate having more access to our open spaces during this period. I suspect there would also be more respect for the closure if it was clear that the environmental differences between the townsite and White Rock were being recognized and/or that daily weather conditions were being considered.