BY TOM RIBE
It’s time for the Lab to stop its brutal vegetation management along State Road 4 between White Rock and Bandelier National Monument. What appears to be a jobs program is doing serious damage to the landscape and it is increasing fire risk along the highway.
For the last few years, LANL has sent crews out with heavy machinery to grind up trees, scrape the ground and remove native shrubs and plants in a wide band along SR 4. In the warm months the crews seem ever present and the result has been the uglification of this key tourism corridor, used by tens of thousands of Bandelier visitors.
It’s hard to imagine why this work is going on. Apparently, the Lab is creating a fuel-break to prevent fires from entering the Lab lands to the west. This makes little sense. Not only is fire highly unlikely to originate in the stunted, sparse pinon and juniper forests on the east side of Highway 4, the fuel break the Lab is creating is more flammable than the land around it! After disturbing the ground with heavy equipment, cheatgrass, an extremely flammable weed, grows in carpets across the battered land. Cheatgrass is a noxious exotic, and its spread displaces native wildflowers and other plants. One cigarette or spark in dry cheatgrass and we’re off to the races with wildfire.
The Lab has left some pinon trees standing but because they trimmed them in the warm months, these trees died from bark beetle infestation. If the Lab would consult forestry and fire ecology experts, they would find out that their efforts are counterproductive and unnecessary. Repeatedly killing native cottonwoods which do not spread fire is just cruel.
The Lab is an important place, but its managers might think about other things going on locally like the huge tourism industry that includes Bandelier. By making the road to Bandelier an ugly mess, while the pavement continues to deteriorate unrepaired, the Lab is not doing our region any favors.